Let’s talk about keeping dog teeth healthy

Last night pups went to bed looking disappointed. In fact, they somewhat hesitated before they joined me. Fred went off and sat by the kitchen door staring at it… Coop, who can, at times, be utterly British in showing his emotions, just sighed.

Then, around 11 o’clock, it suddenly hit me. I forgot to brush their teeth! And so off we run to the kitchen to get our tools out and “clean our teethies”

As soon as the process was complete, pups trotted back to the bedroom and fell asleep peacefully.

It makes some people laugh, but the boys love their dental routine and always gather in the kitchen at 9 in the evening waiting for me. If I don’t appear on time, Fred gives me a quick bark as a polite and slightly impatience reminder.

To be honest, I am glad they turned out to be like this. Not only it’s a joy to brush their teeth, but it also makes me happy to see those almost pearly whites, especially Fred’s. Coop’s teeth are alright, but he had to be on certain antibiotics as a young puppy – and some meds do affect the enamel making it dark.

I got into the habit of teeth brushing long time ago. Not that I am very good at following all my routines, but I do loathe the idea of dental cleaning and general anaesthesia. I know it’s safe, but I don’t believe it’s fair on my pups to go under once every couple of years simply because I failed them at daily tooth brushing.

So we brush. Every night. And interestingly, even science is on our side. According to the research and veterinary articles, daily tooth brushing is still the best way to prevent dental problems. It helps to keep the teeth clean, maintains correct levels of good mouth bacteria and controls the bad ones, In addition, healthy teeth also reduce the risk of other illnesses and lip fold dermatitis.

Just in case you are new to this or not sure how and where to start, here are the steps I use and recommend.

Start early, from the first week you get your puppy. He needs to learn that having your finger in his mouth is totally ok. If you fail this step and the pup is much older, with his adult teeth in full glory and need of proper brushing, he may not be so cooperative if you suddenly try to include tooth brushing into his beauty routine. It’s not natural for dogs to have their teeth and mouth touched and the early introduction will make a massive difference.

For puppies, aim to get him used to the touches and contact. His teeth don’t really need thorough brushing. Use a microfibre brush first, then move onto a finger brush. At this stage you may not need any tooth paste at all. And if you do decide to use something, always check with your vet to ensure that the product is suitable for puppies.

Adult teeth should be brushed with either the finger brush or dog tooth brush.  Don’t forget the toothpaste, too. I like the enzymatic ones and have been using Logic for many years because all my dogs love the flavour and the enzymes in the paste take care of the teeth upon application, without need for the actual brushing (in case you are tired or the pup isn’t too keen on the brush)

The technique is to start by sliding your finger under the lip without actually opening pup’s mouth. If you do use the paste, let the dog smell and lick it. It may take a few days or weeks. Just be gentle, patience and keep going in tiny steps.

When the dog is happy to cooperate, apply a dot of toothpaste on the brush, lift the lip on one side, and brush moving the brush across the teeth in a circular motion. Keep the brush at a 45° angle. Pay particular attention to the back teeth and canines.

If you are unsure or feel stressed about having your pups teeth brushed, book an appointment with a nurse at your vets. It is usually free and they show you how to do everything correctly.

What about dental aids?

There are plenty of chews and chew toys on the market right now. Personally, I don’t use anything edible. Firstly, because studies didn’t show any special effects of dental chews or diets on dogs dental health when compared to daily brushing.

I am also extremely picky about ingredients that go into those chews and am yet to find the one I’d be comfortable with.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the chews must be age- and size- appropriate. Puppies mustn’t chew anything that you cannot bend. You also need to be careful with heavy chewers because they can chomp off larger pieces of chews turning them into choking hazards.

I also never use dehydrated body parts and raw hides.

My pups like their home-made crunchy biscuits, raw carrots and frozen slices of cucumber among other things.

And the bones?

The subject is controversial and I know that many people swear by raw bones. Some studies do say that the bones may reduce or prevent plaque formation. However, the same studies also say that the bones will not reduce the risk of periodontal disease and are likely to increase the risk of broken teeth, dislocated jaws and, if the dog manages to swallow a piece of bone, digestive blockages or life-threatening perforation.

And dry dog food?

There have been studies done on dogs fed moist, dry or a combination of moist and dry foods. The dogs who had dry food showed lower levels of plaque and deposits and reduced risk of periodontal disease compared to dogs from the other groups. I sense that this will be met with plenty of scepticism but I like to go with the science and I do feed kibble to my boys as a part of their diet.

As you can tell, I am a little bit obsessed with canine dental health… I talk about it, I dedicated a part of Perfect cocker spaniel to discussing ways to maintain pearly whites and I will continue reading every research and study focused on nutrition, products and techniques that would help my boys because I cannot even imagine them having pain or extractions and feeling less of a dog because of it.

Especially considering that it only takes a few minutes a day to prevent so many problems…

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