Do you really have to brush your dog's teeth?

dog dental health

Here's a happy dog that's proud to show off his bright pearly whites!

It’s that time of year again… February is here and that means it’s another month to talk about the importance of your pet’s dental health!

…I can hear the groans from here. And believe me, I get it. I think just about every dog owner would be lying if they said they were truly diligent about brushing and flossing their own teeth regularly, let alone brushing their dog’s teeth. As if there wasn’t already enough to do in the day, right?!

But there are some pretty important reasons why you shouldn’t ignore that “doggy” breath. It doesn’t have to be the norm that dogs have terrible breath; in fact, bad breath is usually a sign of a more serious health problem, ranging from rotting teeth and periodontal disease, to potentially life-threatening diseases in the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

How can a lack of pearly whites cause heart disease, you ask? It’s a valid question: the two don’t seem like they’d be at all related. But over time, the plaque and bacteria build-up on the teeth can enter the bloodstream and travel to the most critical organs in the body and lodge there, creating disease.

Most people don’t know that the most common health problem in dogs is actually gum disease. In fact, over 75% of all dogs show symptoms of this oral disease by the time they are three years old! And unfortunately, once periodontal disease sets in, there is no way to completely reverse it. The upside to this somewhat alarming statistic and statement is that oral disease is both a preventable health problem, and one that can be slowed or stopped with vigilant care once you notice it sets in. And as always, with problems like these, the sooner, the better.

If you’ve actually started a dental hygiene program for your puppy, our hats go off to you. You’re more vigilant about your dog’s dental health than 98% of the population, including veterinarians (we checked: out of all of the vets we asked, not a one replied that they brushed their dogs’ teeth daily… though all admitted sheepishly that they know they “should” and they still recommend the practice to their patients)!

If you’re unsure how periodontal disease manifests, we’ve listed the symptoms below, from least to most severe indicating the increasing progression of the disease. Since this month is all about pet dental health awareness, take some time this month to check your dog for:

  • Bad breath
  • Discolored and yellow teeth
  • Swollen gums
  • Drooling
  • Blood in the saliva
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Nasal and eye discharge

Changes in behavior including:

  • Difficulty in chewing (including reluctance to chew/disinterest in toys and treats)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

EASY things you can do to ensure your lovable canines have nothing but healthy and strong canines and molars include:

Feeding a good quality, excellent dry dog food, without the wheat and corn that can act like decay-causing sugar to the teeth. Dry dog food also acts like mini scrubbies that brush away plaque and tartar, whereas wet dog food creates sticky tartar formation. If you feed wet food to your dog, make sure that the majority of his diet is made up of dry food.

Giving your dog dental chew toys and bones like knobby toys, rope toys and flossy toys – all of which help to scrape plaque and tartar off of the teeth. Pork skin is also a great choice as it is more digestible and nutritional than rawhide but still scrapes off tartar very effectively.

Making a yearly dental exam appointment (for the two of you, while you’re at it!). Most vets actually honor Pet Dental Health month and offer specials on teeth checkups and cleanings during February! Ask your vet’s office about this today!

And, ideally, of course… you’ll be:

Brushing your dog’s teeth at least once a week. Once you get into this habit, and incorporate it into his weekly brushing/grooming routine, it won’t take much time at all.

  • Use a special toothbrush made especially for dogs, a soft child’s toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, a gauze pad around a finger, or even a cotton swab.
  • Use special dog-specific toothpaste specially formulated for dogs, as this toothpaste is flavored to taste appealing to dogs, and, much like human toothpaste, also contains ingredients that continue to fight plaque formation and tooth decay long after brushing.
  • Focus on the back molars as they tend to develop plaque more quickly than frontal teeth.
  • DO NOT USE human toothpaste because human toothpaste contains foaming ingredients that can be toxic to dogs. In addition, the taste of human toothpaste, baking soda, or salt are all unpalatable to dogs and could upset their tummies or create an allergic reaction.

Keep smiling!