February is Pet Dental Health Month! You might buy your pet the best organic, locally-sourced food, natural treats, walk him daily, and maybe even dress him in designer doggie duds, but do you also give the same level of attention to his doggie dentifrice? Most people don’t know that the most common health problem in dogs is actually periodontal disease. In fact, over 75% of all dogs show symptoms of oral disease by the time they are three! Poor dental hygiene isn’t just about “doggie breath!” In fact, bad breath shouldn’t be an acceptable norm for dogs or cats. Tooth and gum problems can become painful and serious if left untreated and could cause a whole host of health problems, even aggression. Over time, unchecked dental problems can result in plaque and bacteria build-up that can enter the bloodstream and cause serious disease in the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
The best thing to do is to start a dental hygiene routine as early as possible (puppies who have been raised with regular grooming, nail trimming, socializing, etc. will treat these routines like it’s no big deal, and teeth-brushing is no different), but it’s never too late to start!
Unfortunately, once periodontal disease sets in, there is no way to reverse it, although its progress can be slowed or stopped with consistent dental care. Given the unpleasant and painful nature of the symptoms of periodontal disease, including:
- Bad breath
- Discolored and yellow teeth
- Swollen gums
- Changes in behavior including:
- Difficulty in chewing (including reluctance to chew/disinterest in toys and treats)
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Broken or missing teeth
- Nasal and eye discharge
- Blood in the saliva
…you probably want to do all that you can to prevent the disease from taking hold, or to stop it if it’s already present. Here are the best ways to start a dental hygiene routine with your dog:
1) Brush your dog’s teeth at least once a week.
- You can buy a special toothbrush made especially for dogs, or a soft child’s toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, a gauze pad around a finger, or a cotton swab all also do the job well.
- 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.
Here’s a handy 5 minute how-to video by the American Veterinary Medical Association on how to brush your dog’s teeth. It’s so easy!
2) Feed 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.
3) Give 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.
4) Just as you get yearly dental check-ups, make sure your dog also gets a yearly dental exam by the vet. Most vets actually honor Pet Dental Health month and offer specials on teeth checkups and cleanings during February!