Do I Really Need to Brush My Dog's Teeth?
As a responsible pet owner, you owe it to your pet to take her dental care seriously, both professionally and at home. If you start as early as possible in your dog's life getting her accustomed to having her mouth handled, then dental care should be as easy as feeding her.
Periodontal disease: the number one health problem
Do you know what the most common health problem is in dogs? It's periodontal disease. Eighty percent of domestic dogs 3 years and older are affected by infection of the gums. Yet it's one of the most overlooked problems by pet owners.
What are some possible signs of dental disease?
- Bad breath
- Discolored teeth
- Red or swollen gums
- Loss of teeth
- Difficulty in chewing and eating
- Weight loss
- Broken or missing teeth
- Nasal discharge
- Blood in the saliva
- Tearing or swelling below one eye
How does a dog get periodontal disease?
Periodontal disease starts with plaque. This is the white film that accumulates on our teeth. If the plaque is not removed through regular teeth brushing, it will mineralize (harden) and turn into tartar. As the tartar builds, the plaque continues to accumulate and infect the gums.
This infection can eventually enter the bloodstream and cause disease in the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
How can periodontal disease be prevented?
Unfortunately, periodontal disease cannot be reversed. It can, however, be slowed or stopped with proper dental care.
There are several things you can do to prevent this disease from affecting your pet:
Brush your pet's teeth regularly.
Your pet's teeth should be brushed as often as possible, ideally every day. Try to get in the habit of brushing your pet's teeth after you brush your own!
You can purchase toothbrushes made especially for pets, or you can use a soft child's toothbrush, a finger toothbrush, a gauze pad around a finger or a cotton swab. Use toothpaste specially formulated for pets. These have ingredients that continue to work in the mouth even after brushing. Canine toothpaste has a special food flavoring to make it more appealing to your pet. Stay away from human toothpaste, baking soda or salt. Many dogs don't like the foaming action these give, and they may upset their digestive systems.
Try to reach the inside surfaces of the teeth, and the back upper molars. These teeth tend to quickly build up tartar.
Feed a nutritionally balanced diet, preferably dry.
A hard, crunchy specialty pet food will scrape against the teeth and help keep bacteria from growing.
Provide dental chew toys and chew items.
Not only are they fun for your dog, but he doesn't even realize how good they are for him. Supply your dog with plenty of "teeth cleaning" chew toys and bones, especially knobby toys, rope toys and floss toys. Rawhide is another chew item that rubs against the dog's teeth and removes harmful plaque. Check out PetSmart's dog treat buying guide to select something just right for your pet.
Get regular dental exams by a veterinarian.
Have your pet's teeth professionally cleaned regularly. Frequency of cleanings depends on each pet's individual needs, so consult your veterinarian at least once a year.
How do I get my dog used to brushing?
Get your pet accustomed to having your fingers in his mouth. Squeeze a bit of toothpaste on your finger and place your finger between the cheek and gum. As your pet licks the paste, praise him calmly. Once he's comfortable with that, you can place the toothpaste on the toothbrush and do the same thing. Soon your pet will be comfortable with the process. Spend only a few seconds at first, then build up to spending a minute or so brushing the teeth.
Learn the tips and tricks for dog toothbrushing with this PetSmart video.
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