You’ve probably heard that you should brush your dog’s teeth. But why? And how often?
Every day, says Dr. Adriana Mendoza, a veterinarian at Firehouse Animal Health Center in Leander, Texas.
“With canines, there’s absolutely no reason not to,” she says.
Brushing their teeth helps prevent dental tartar from building up, which can lead to infection and tooth loss. Brushing their teeth prevents dental disease. See, dogs are just like us.
What about cats?
“I’ve only found one cat owner that is able to brush the cat’s teeth religiously,” Mendoza says.
Start brushing when the dog is young if you can and start by letting him taste the canine toothpaste. It’s usually poultry or peanut butter flavor. Human toothpaste is toxic to them.
After he gets used to the taste of the dog toothpaste, you can put some on a toothbrush or a silicone toothbrush that fits over your finger. Try putting the brush into the dog’s mouth and moving it around. They’ll want to chomp down on it, though, so be careful.
“Ideally you would brush their teeth every day, just like us,” Mendoza says. “But if you can, do it at least a few times a week.”
What about all those dental treats for dogs that are supposed to brush their teeth or at least prevent plaque buildup?
Usually dogs eat them so quickly that they don’t do a whole lot of good, Mendoza says, plus they are high in calories.
“It’s like eating a Snickers bar on a daily basis,” she says.
If you have a dog that is particularly fearful of the toothbrush, you can use dental treats as a last resort. Just make sure to choose chews that will take the dog a while to eat.
Vets recommend that most dogs and cats get an annual dental cleaning. The cleanings are usually under anesthesia and include X-rays as well as a deep cleaning that goes under the gumline, where problems can lurk.
“The mouth is full of bacteria,” Mendoza says. Dental disease “can make kidney and heart disease worse.”
The cost of the cleaning might seem like a lot, but it’s saving the teeth and preventing other illnesses, Mendoza says.
“Every animal out there, unless they’re a puppy, has some degree of dental disease,” Mendoza says.
Often it can be genetic or breed-specific. For some reason, greyhounds struggle with this, as well as dogs that are brachycephalic (meaning they have a squished-up face) such as pugs, Pekingese and boxers. They have lot of crowding in their teeth, Mendoza says, and they also often have an under-bite, so their front teeth build up tartar because they aren’t being worn down as much by eating food.
The thing about dogs, though, is they often won’t tell you when there is a problem in their mouths. They’ll keep on eating, Mendoza says.
“Dogs will eat until their teeth rot out of their mouths,” she says. Look for signs such as excessive drool, bad breath, an unwillingness to have you touch a part of their mouths, dropping food on one side, or bleeding on their toys. Owners can lift up their dog’s upper lip and look for a bright red line along the gumline that indicates gums are inflamed.
Cats with dental problems, on the other hand, will become standoffish.
A dental cleaning can be done at any age as long as there isn’t an underlying disease such as liver or kidney that would make anesthesia dangerous. Doctors will draw up some bloodwork before the cleaning to rule that out.
Some clinics might offer non-anesthesia dentistry, but Mendoza says that means they aren’t able to check under the gumline, where problems tend to fester. They also aren’t taking the X-rays to look at things that might not be visible such as flaws in the enamel or problems in the roots of the teeth.
The best way to minimize the amount of dental cleanings that need to be done over your dog’s lifetime is picking up the toothbrush every day and trying to brush their teeth. Just be prepared to lose a few good brushes to the dog who turns them into his new favorite chew toy.