Are You Ruining Your Dog’s Teeth?
I was shocked recently to find out that my 11-year-old Doberman has terrible teeth.
Here’s a copy of my $2,396 dental vet bill. She had bad periodontal disease, a loose tooth and needed tons of other teeth removed.
How had I neglected her dental health? How long has she been in pain?
I cried at the dental vet’s office and felt like an awful dog owner. Actually, I cried three times that day. I cried when I got the x-ray results, when I left her for surgery, and when I picked her up after surgery. It was an awful day for her, for me and for my wallet.
But I learned a few things and I hope to help others not have the same experience or dental surprise. Dogs usually have 42 teeth, I want to help you keep them all.
And don’t assume that you’ll notice when your dog needs dental care. Some people think a dog will stop eating if their teeth hurt but it’s not true. Dogs will hide their pain or injuries (it’s a survival instinct from the wild). Dog’s will continue to eat through pain, since the alternative is to starve.
Now having said all this, my 8-year-old Doberman has great teeth. Both dogs eat the same food and have the same lifestyle. This shows that genetics also determines a dog’s resistance to dental problems.
So what can you do to avoid a vet bill like mine?
Tips For Protecting Your Dog’s Teeth
- Don’t feed raw bones. Yes wild dogs chew bones and don’t visit dentists. They also have a shorter lifespan than domestic dogs. What makes bones clean teeth is not the bones themselves, it’s the teeth ripping through the hides of prey and fibrous tissue, meat, and organs. This action is what cleans the teeth, not the chewing on bare bones. Bare bones might alleviate boredom, but at the expense of damaging their teeth.
Again to emphasize, yes dogs love bones and they can be a nutritious recreational activity, but bones may chip his teeth or wear them down. Or even worse, a marrow bone can get stuck around his muzzle. This has happened to dogs. If you think bones are safe for dog’s teeth, ask a dental vet if they have patients who chew bones.
- Remember the knee-cap hardness test when deciding on chews. If you wouldn’t want the treat whacked against your knee, it’s too hard for your dog’s teeth. Avoid these common “treats” found in pet stores: real bones, antler chews, cow hooves, nylon chews, and Himalayan yak cheese. Even ice cubes wear down tooth enamel.
- Rawhide treats are ok sometimes. Look for rawhide pieces that are digestible, thin strips. If the rawhide strip looks too thick, you can try soaking it in water to make it softer. Bully sticks or pizzle sticks are also debated.
- If you won’t give up real bones, then let your dog chew off the meaty stuff and then take the bone away when all the meat is gone and only the hard bone remains.
- No tennis balls. The fuzzy material on the ball is abrasive and acts like sandpaper which will wear down teeth enamel.
- Don’t use questionable toothpaste. Some pet toothpastes contain sugar (sorbitol). Why does a toothpaste need sugar? Sure it makes it taste sweeter but I don’t think dogs care for sweetness. Also beware of the ingredient chlorhexidine. Some people think this chemical can be absorbed into the bloodstream and over time cause neurological problems. A recommended toothpaste is Petsmile Pet Toothpaste.
- Use caution with baking soda as it has a high sodium content. Also use caution with hydrogen peroxide as it’s too harsh and harmful if swallowed.
- If you own brachycephalic breeds (pug, boston terrier, bulldog) or highly miniaturized breeds, pay special attention to your pet’s teeth. These dog breeds have poorly proportioned mouths that are prone to problems.
- Brush your dog’s teeth every day or every other day. Plaque (the slimy film) hardens into tartar quickly. Within as little as two days, undisturbed plaque starts the process of turning into tartar! Plaque is slime made of bacteria, saliva, and food particles. It collects minerals from saliva and turns into tartar. Once your dog has tartar, it needs to be scraped off by a vet, just like humans.
- You don’t need pet toothpaste. The mechanical action of bristles brushing plaque off teeth is just as effective. And for some dogs toothpaste flavour is too distracting and just makes brushing harder. A study of human patients found that brushing without toothpaste was 98% as effective as brushing with paste. In other words, the mechanical action of the brush does 98% of the work.
- Buy dental products with VOHC seal of approval. Companies should back up their claims with valid research. The VOHC list is a good start. Although I wish the research wasn’t provided by the companies themselves since this could lead to some bias. Still, it’s better than nothing. GREENIES dental cleaning chews are on the list but unfortunately are not suitable for all dogs. My dog tends to break a Greenie biscuit into large pieces and swallow big chunks, without much teeth chewing action.
- Next time your dog is going under anesthesia, get teeth x-rays also. This is the perfect opportunity to check on your dogs teeth. Don’t wait for obvious signs of dental pain or loose teeth. And remember that sometimes teeth may look ok, but below the gum line x-rays tell a different story.
- If you’ve neglected brushing your dog’s teeth, get them checked first before you start brushing. If he has bad gums or loose teeth, you may actually cause him more pain and he’ll see the toothbrush as a torture instrument. If your dog doesn’t like having his face touched, he may have teeth pain. Don’t brush his teeth until he’s vet checked.
- Use only a soft bristle brush, baby brushes are great. Or use a gauze/washcloth wrapped around your finger to gently rub the teeth, if that’s easier. And don’t brush to hard! You’re just disturbing the plaque on the teeth and gums, not rubbing rust off a car.
- Use rope toys. They can help “floss” your dog’s teeth.
- Make a routine. I’ve placed my dog’s baby toothbrush in the bathroom where I can see it. After I finish brushing my teeth, it’s easy to remember to brush my dogs also. Brushing in the evening when they are lying calm also makes it easier. Some dogs learn to enjoy you brushing their teeth. It can be a special bonding time together. Make a little brushing song to sing to your dog. Make it a fun time.
- Keep an emergency medical fund, just in case. You’ve seen my scary vet bill. This was from a Canadian dental specialist vet. They are expensive, you have been warned.
- Give your dog healthy fresh food to boost their immune system. A healthy, happy dog can fight disease better.
- Beware the warning signs. If your dog has bad breath, red inflamed gums, chipped/worn down teeth, eats slowly, doesn’t play, looks sad, doesn’t like his face touched, have a vet check his mouth.
- Give your dog a stuffed kong. This is probably the best and safest recreational chew for your dog. You can make it interesting by changing the stuffing inside. I created a kong stuffing chart to give you new stuffing ideas. DO NOT plug the little hole in the kong, it’s there for a reason. Dogs have died from their tongue creating an air tight suction in a closed kong.
- Educate yourself so you can take care of your pet. Here is a list of articles from a specialist dental vet, toothvet.ca.
I hope this article helps you and your doggie friends. And hopefully you don’t make the same mistakes I made. You can prevent some dental disasters and avoid a ridiculously expensive vet bill like mine.
Please share this article to help others.
Do you have any other advice on keeping dogs teeth healthy?
And if you’re one of lucky few with genetically gifted dogs with great teeth, let us know also.