How to Care for Your Dog’s Teeth
We buy the trendiest pet fashions for our pet, spend money on cute bowls, designer carriers, and luxurious beds.
But are we investing the same amount of time and money when it comes to the health of our pet’s teeth?
While it would be adorable if our pets could brush and floss their own teeth without our help, it falls on us to take care of our pet’s dental health. Ignoring our pet’s teeth puts them at risk of serious health issues and complications.
Below we’ll examine ways you can care for the dental health of your pet— and don’t worry, it’s not as hard as it sounds.
Slight discoloration is natural but you’ll want to inspect the gums frequently.
Caring for Your Pet’s Teeth
We love our pets like family members, but we have to remember that just like a child, dogs and cats need proper dental maintenance to make sure their baby teeth grow up healthy and strong and last well into adulthood.
This means you need to learn a few tips and tricks to take care of your pet’s chompers. Starting a dental care regime when your pet is young will get him used to the routine so it becomes second nature as he grows up.
You’ll start to see baby teeth (deciduous) when your pet’s around 8–12 weeks old.
Even though these teeth will fall out, it’s still vital to train not only ourselves, but our pet to get used to having his mouth, teeth, and face handled. We’re laying the groundwork for the rest of our pet’s life.
In the future, it will be much easier to give your pet a pill, vitamin, or pull that rock out of his mouth when he’s already used to you opening or being near his mouth.
Resting one hand on top of his muzzle and one hand underneath, open your pet’s mouth gently— never use force. Inspect the teeth (yes, they are tiny, white, and very sharp at this point) and massage the gums by running a clean finger along them.
If at any point your pet resists, stop the exercise, give some head petting and soothing words until your pet is calm again, and then you can resume. If they truly resist, make it worth their while by putting some peanut butter or savory broth on your finger and letting them smell and lick it.
Don’t ever make this a fight or you will have already lost the battle. When your inspection is completed to your satisfaction, give praise and a treat to reinforce that positive association.
You may notice (thanks to your meticulous inspection) that your pet’s baby teeth may have failed to come in (erupt). If by 10 weeks you don’t see enough teeth, check with your vet. She may perform x-rays to make sure the position of the teeth will encourage future arrivals. Toy breeds may need veterinary intervention to move this process along.
Healthy adult teeth in a whippet. Photo credit: Angelica.
Depending on the breed, permanent teeth will arrive when your pet’s around 7–8 months old.
This period is known as teething, just like it is with humans. During this time, your pet’s baby teeth and adult teeth may try to reside on top of each other before the baby teeth fall out. Your pet will chew things to massage his teeth and gums in an effort to dislodge the baby teeth.
If your pet seems to be developing behavioral issues such as biting expensive shoes or furniture during this period, don’t get angry and unfairly punish him. Human babies need remedies like teething rings to alleviate the pain and swelling associated with tooth development. So does your pet!
Factor in your tiny furball’s curiosity and you have a recipe for trouble. Teach your pet that chewing electrical wires is not okay, but chomping on the rubber chew toy you bought is. Choose toys that you can easily dent with your fingernail during this time; anything harder will not help the teething process and may even cause more pain.
If your baby seems to be biting metal he may be seeking something cool for his gums. In that case, wet a towel, ring it out, and let him chew on that. Make sure to monitor for loose strings. Or you could fill a bowl with ice water, dip your finger in it, and massage and cool his gums. This may help reduce the gum inflammation as well.
There are some awful tasting over-the-counter products such as bitter apple sprays that you can spritz on items that you don’t want your pet to chew or eat. This will save some aggravation, as well as possible injury to your pet’s teeth, by preventing him from messing with the wrong thing when you’re not around.
Does your pet chew rocks? There are two reasons for this: they’re bored and seeking attention, or they have a dietary imbalance which is making them seek minerals. Rocks will cause injury to your pet’s mouth and is never recommended.
Speaking of eating, now is not the time to skimp on your pet’s diet. These are formative years when your pet’s bones, muscles, and teeth are developing solid foundations. Forego the pricey little bowtie and designer leash and invest in amping up the quality of food formulated for your puppy or kitten. Alternating dry food meals with wet food meals, rather than feeding only wet meals, will help teeth stay cleaner and make them stronger. Or try topping the dry food with a dollop of wet for a healthy mix.
Buying Proper Chew Toys and Treats
Pets can develop abscessed teeth, tumors, jaw misalignment, and broken teeth that will certainly have an impact on your pet’s oral health. While these can all happen on their own, we don’t want them to happen because of the treats or toys we’re giving our pets.
Certain items are fine to buy in a dollar store, but don’t buy chew toys or treats in one. These items are usually manufactured in other countries and can manage to slip past U.S. inspection even though they contain dangerous ingredients or chemicals.
Then there’s the long-running controversy about rawhide chews and dried pig’s ears. While they are touted as ‘all natural treats,’ they can cause blockages and even death when large pieces break off and get stuck in the esophagus or other parts of your pet’s digestive tract. Even if they don’t get stuck, they are as indigestible as a brick and can cause your pet to suffer.
Likewise, be wary of table scraps with bones. Handing your dog that leftover T-bone with a nice amount of meat still on it will likely result in your dog tearing through it like he’s in heaven. But when the meat’s gone and he starts gnawing at the bone, that bone that seemed so sturdy and solid can break and splinter apart.
Chicken bones are the worst offender, but beef bones are just as bad. These shards— no matter how tiny— become daggers that can lacerate your pet’s throat all the way down the line to their anus.
Serve your pet better by taking that bone and boiling it in a cup of water on the stove. If you’re feeling ambitious, add a carrot and celery, but hold the onion or the onion powder as it’s toxic to pets. Take that delish broth when cooled and add it to your pet’s food.
However, you’ll definitely need to give your pet something to chew on to stimulate his teeth and gums. When we floss, our gum tissue is pushed upwards and away from the teeth, which loosens tartar before it hardens into plaque. So why not buy pet products specifically designed for this and not have to worry about shards of bone?
Look for the VOHC seal, like on Greenies.
The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) awards a seal of approval for cat and dog treats based on quality standards and their dental cleaning effectiveness. These edible treats are meant to remove tartar and freshen breath all in one. Greenies is one such company providing flavored dental treats for dogs and cats and they are VOHC certified for dental health.
It’s also important to provide the correct sized treat for your pet. While “Killer,” who only weighs six pounds looks adorable with a 20-pound toy in his mouth, you may be unknowingly overwhelming his tiny teeth and cause damage.
Rubber chew toys will massage the gums, but they’re not all created equal. Lesser quality ones will tear apart during a serious chew session and can cause choking or blockage problems. Squish the toy— does it feel like it will last long or does it feel slightly thicker than a balloon? We wouldn’t give our pet a balloon, right?
Rubber toys that have slits or holes to place treats in are great to massage the gums, keep your pet engaged, and provide a teeth cleaning reward all at the same time. Some even smell like mint to provide your pet with fresh breath.
Then there are the stuffed animal toys and ropes that tout flossing action from the strong rope fibers. Unfortunately, over time (and even sooner with lesser quality ones) these can shred and break off and again pose blockage problems. Rope toys are great to interact with your pet in a monitored tug of war and nothing more.
Many pets like comfort toys. If their plush animal is used for that purpose, i.e., sleeping or shaking side to side while working out aggression, plush animals are fine. But if they are the only toys given, they will quickly become chew toys with the danger of shredding.
When finding toys for your cat, some cats love catnip and some cats couldn’t care less. Those who like it often pounce on catnip-filled toys and clutch them to their chest, which leads to biting. Biting the material serves the same purpose as floss when the material pushes the gums upwards and swipes off the tartar on the teeth. But that alone is not enough.
Finally, don’t overlook good old-fashioned fresh fruits and vegetables to provide stimulation for your pet. Aside from great oral hygiene, they will also get a dose of fiber and fresh vitamins A, C, and E.
Apples are regarded as a wonderful teeth-healthy snack for dogs. Teach your dog to like them.
From a strictly dental cleaning perspective, the best fruits and veggies served raw are:
- Green beans
- Bok choy
Brushing Your Pet’s Teeth
Ok, the thought of brushing your pet’s teeth may scare or gross you out— until you watch this video. By simply manipulating your pet’s soft lips you can maneuver the tools and toothpaste to clean your pet’s mouth— yes, even your cat’s mouth!
NOTE: Don’t use human products because the flavorings and chemicals are too disruptive to your pet’s tummy and the bristles in human toothbrushes may be too stiff. Pet-approved products can be found at pet stores, online, or at your vet’s office. There are even holistic dental products for your pet.
A cat who starts refusing dry food may have gum issues.
Just as we have our routine dental exams, so should your your pet. It’s especially important for older pets.
Ever notice that when you take your pet to the vet, she almost automatically strokes your pet’s head and pops open his mouth before anything else? That’s because so many health issues can be related to and diagnosed with poor oral health.
A dental exam includes a visual inspection and a smell test. Yellow teeth or tartar buildup (hardened plaque) is a barometer for the health of your pet’s teeth. Red, inflamed, or receding gums could signal periodontal disease and may be the reason for that stinky breath.
Most dental problems are unseen and happen below the gum line. Your vet might start with a thorough exam and scaling, which is the removal of plaque under anesthesia, and polishing. They will also check for loose or broken teeth and cavities.
Making sure to follow these steps will ensure a lifetime of healthy dental checkups for your best friend. Remember: starting these routines early will make all the difference as you continue to monitor the health of your companion as he ages.
Craig is a lifelong pet owner and dog advocate with a special interest in animal and human longevity. He founded Vet Organics to develop an affordable, all-natural, safe and effective ear infection remedy for his dog, Lucy, whose chronic ear problems could not be solved by the vet.