Dental care for dogs

our top tips for taking care of your dog's teeth

Much like humans, our four-legged friends are susceptible to problems with their teeth, and with them having a whopping 42 adult teeth (that's compared to 32 for a human - not counting any wisdom teeth), there's plenty of opportunity for problems to arise.

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Unlike humans, dogs don’t tend to suffer from serious tooth decay, but staggering statistics show that the majority of dogs over the age of three do have dental disease in some form.

Dental disease develops in four stages, starting with a build-up of plaque and tartar which leads to mildly inflamed gums. This condition is commonly known as gingivitis in dogs. If gingivitis is left untreated, it can then develop into more serious gum disease (called periodontal disease) which may involve the loss of bone and soft tissue around the teeth. Gum disease can leave dogs more prone to infections that may even affect other organs in the body.

What are the signs of dental disease in dogs?

  • Gradual loss of interest in playing with or chewing toys
  • Fussiness with food, favouring certain types of food (softer foods for example), eating on one side only or problems picking up food
  • Rubbing or pawing at the mouth
  • Salivating (dribbling) more
  • Pain when you try to examine the mouth
  • Blood in the water or food bowl

Other symptoms of dental disease can include smelly breath, red or swollen gums and yellow and brown or missing teeth. Dental disease in dogs can be extremely painful, especially if left untreated.

What to do if you think your dog has dental disease

It’s vitally important to speak to your vet as early as possible to avoid both irreversible damage and other health problems. Research shows pets with periodontal disease are more likely to develop heart, kidney and liver disease. This is the result of bacteria from the gums entering the bloodstream and sticking to the arteries around the heart. You should contact your vet straight away if your dog or puppy is showing any signs of dental disease.

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When is it normal for dogs to loose teeth?

Puppies begin losing baby teeth around 12 to 16 weeks of age, so don't panic if you notice your puppy losing teeth - this is completely normal. By around four months, almost all of a pup’s 'baby' teeth will have fallen out and many of the 'adult' teeth will already be in place.

If your dog loses teeth as an adult, this should be a serious concern and you should speak to your vet as quickly as possible about your dog's dental hygiene. Much like us humans, dogs cannot regrow adult teeth if they are lost, so we must take good care of them to ensure they remain in tip-top condition throughout your dog's lifetime.

Top tips for good dental hygiene

Following a regular routine at home will help to prevent any dental issues, some of our top tips include:

Brushing your dog's teeth

Just like us, brushing your dog’s teeth is the most effective way of removing plaque. There are lots of specifically designed dog toothbrushes that are made using soft bristles and are shaped to fit your pet's mouth. You should aim to give your dog's teeth a brush each day and replace toothbrushes every 4-6 weeks. Finger brushes are also available and are a good option to help familiarise your dog with the sensation of brushing. Your vet is sure to have toothbrushes and dog toothpaste available, and it's also widely available in pet shops.

Make sure that you always use a toothpaste formulated specifically for dogs, and never use toothpaste intended for humans. Most human toothpaste contains fluoride which is extremely poisonous for dogs.

If you haven't brushed your dog's teeth and suspect that dental disease may already be present, speak to your vet before you begin brushing as at this point it may be ineffective and could be very painful for your dog.

Oral rinses and gels

If brushing every day isn’t going to work with your pet, there are lots of oral rinses and gels which may help slow down the build-up of plaque.

Dental chews & toys

There are lots of chews and toys available for dogs, which are designed to help clean their teeth without them even realising! These are a great way to help keep plaque at bay in between brushing. If you plan to use dental chews, be aware that these are often high in calories, so you may want to consider cutting back a little on food at mealtimes to prevent your dog gaining weight. 

If you prefer a more natural chew, whole, raw carrots are great for your dog to chew on, and they can have the same effect as a specifically designed dental stick - without the cost, with fewer calories, and without any 'nasty' ingredients. If your dog hasn't had raw carrot before, slowly introduce this using smaller pieces initially and work up to a whole carrot.

Regular oral check-ups with your vet

Regular check-ups with your vet will help to highlight any concerns around your dog's oral health. If your vet recognises any areas for concern, a dental clean up may be needed, and they can suggest carrying out treatment that is similar to humans, which may include tartar removal, checking the teeth for cavities, gingival (gum) pockets and removal of any loose teeth.

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I struggle to brush my dog's teeth, what should I do?

Well, firstly, rest assured that you're not alone! It's very common for dog's not to like having their teeth brushed and this can make it very difficult to keep on top of day-to-day brushing, or prevent it altogether!

The foundation of trust

The first step to getting your dog to be comfortable with brushing his teeth is getting them used to you touching his mouth, teeth & gums without feeling uncomfortable and without the potential of biting. Starting when your dog is a puppy certainly makes teeth brushing easier than trying to train an adult dog to get used to this new sensation. 

Be patient, and begin by simply touching your dog's mouth - regularly lift his lips so that you can see his teeth, open his mouth and gently run your fingers along his teeth & gums. Over time, your dog will become used to this sensation, and he'll trust that nothing bad comes of it. Rewarding positive behavior during this initial introduction using treats may help too. Hopefully, over time, you'll feel confident that your dog trusts you to carry out these activities, and any nervousness that may have been there initially will have subsided.

Introducing a toothbrush

Once your dog is used to being handled around his mouth you can introduce a toothbrush. Hold the toothbrush up to your dog's nose to let him sniff and investigate as he pleases. Do not allow him to bite the toothbrush, or take it away from you.

Introducing toothpaste

With a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your dog's new toothbrush, introduce the paste and the brush to your dog. Let him sniff it, let him taste it, but do not let him eat it - or before you know it your needed tooth-brushing time will become snack and no-brushing time!

Reward

Make sure to reward your dog for allowing you to brush his teeth. As with all dog training, treats are a valuable tool in creating an initial link between positive behaviour and reward, so be sure to follow through on this to make teeth-brushing time an exciting (and rewarding) time for your dog.

Build up

As your dog becomes more used to having his teeth brushed, you can increase the frequency and length of your teeth-brushing sessions.

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Diet and dental care

It’s a common myth that 'kibble' or dry food is good for dental health, but this simply isn't true. We regularly speak to dog owners who even believe that their dog's teeth will fall out if they don't have something crunchy in their dinner! This misguided advice has historically been provided by vets & other dog owners (amongst others) and has driven many dog owners to choose a heat extruded dry food diet for their dog, often packed with unnecessary junk & fillers. 

The truth is, most kibble is too small to do any good. There’s just not enough chewing going on. Feeding kibble doesn’t promote cleaner teeth at the gum line, where it really matters - but a natural healthy diet can certainly help to maintain your dog's overall health, including where his pearly whites are concerned.