Dental care is a vital part of your dog’s health regimen. In fact, many vets would say that caring for your dog’s teeth is as important as caring for you own. While dogs are nowhere near as prone to cavities as humans, they still develop issues like tartar and plaque build-up, along with gingivitis (gum disease). This is significant, as not only is it vital to preserve your dog’s teeth for his general well-being and dietary needs, but just as with humans, poor dental hygiene can result in life-threatening diseases affecting the heart, liver and kidneys.
Signs that your dog has a dental issue and needs to see the vet:
- Yellow and brown deposits of tartar towards the base of the teeth, at the gum line
- Generally discoloured teeth
- Bleeding gums
- Inflamed gums
- Difficulty eating or change in eating habits
- Pawing at the face or mouth area
- Excessive drooling
- Bad breath
- Visible missing teeth or ‘wonky’ teeth
- Broken teeth
- Bumps, growths or cuts/ulcers within the mouth
As with any health issue with your dog, you need to discuss the signs you have noticed with your vet, to ensure that dental disease is indeed the cause of the issue. Once your vet has confirmed this, you will need to instigate a proper dental hygiene routine. [end box]
How to take care of your dog’s teeth
You need to take care of your dog’s teeth in much the same way as you take care of your own, with daily brushing and annual check-ups.
There are plenty of brushes available on the market, some of which are short and sit on your finger and some that have longer handles for manoeuvrability. It is also possible to use a human toothbrush if this is preferred. However, human toothpaste must be avoided, as it can be toxic to dogs. Instead, you need to purchase an animal-specific toothpaste – many companies in South Africa manufacture these – as these toothpastes taste better to dogs and are safe for them to consume.
To get your dog used to having his teeth brushed, it is best to start when he is young. However, a dog of any age will ultimately get used to the process if it is introduced sympathetically and gradually. It is advised that for the first few brushing attempts, you keep the session short (just a few seconds at a time), and let your dog have a taste of the toothpaste before you even introduce the brush. When brushing it is important that you are gentle and provide constant reassurance to your dog, as this can be an unsettling process initially. The brushing motion should be circular, with particular attention being paid to the gum line, as this is where the major issues tend to occur.
You must brush your dog’s teeth at least once a week, but once a day is the ideal.
Alternatives to brushing
There are multiple specially formulated dog foods and treats on the market that can help to reduce tartar build-up and decay or even avoid the onset of dental disease. These foods and treats are the simplest and least invasive way of ensuring your dog’s teeth get some form of ‘brushing’ every day. It is worth discussing the options available with your vet to see if they have any particular preferences for one product over another. As a general rule, however, the hard kibble is better for your dog’s oral health than any soft food. Soft food has a tendency to get stuck between the teeth, causing decay, whereas hard food aids more with the brushing action.
Chew toys are also another great option for dogs who enjoy these. There are lots of chew toys that dogs can benefit from in terms of dental health. You must just make sure that the objects you give as chew toys are safe for your pet. If an object is too hard it can break the teeth, and if it may splinter it can be a choking hazard.
While treats, food and toys can all help with dental care, the gold standard practice is still brushing. If for some reason this is not possible, then the options mentioned above will at least provide some dental care. However, generally speaking, these options should just be used as adjuncts to your normal brushing regimen.
Even if your dog has healthy teeth, he needs to see a vet to have them checked at least every six to twelve months. A dental check is generally included as part of the annual check-up by most vets, but if not, you can (and should!) request it. As with all health issues, prevention is better than cure, so engaging in proper dental hygiene practices early in your dog’s life can save on painful and expensive veterinary procedures later on.