Are You Ruining Your Doberman’s Smile?
I was shocked recently to find out that my 11-year-old Doberman has terrible teeth. She had really bad periodontal disease, a loose tooth, and needed other teeth removed. Here’s a copy of my dental vet bill.
How had I neglected her dental health? How long had she been in pain?
I cried at the dental vet’s office and felt like an awful dog owner. Actually, I cried three times. 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 want to share to help others.
Dobermans usually have 42 teeth. I want to help you keep them all.
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 teeth problems.
Don’t assume that you’ll notice when your dog needs dental care. Some people think that a dog will just 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 (in the wild) is to starve.
So what can you do to avoid a vet bill like mine?
Tips For Protecting Doberman Teeth
- Avoid feeding raw bones. Yes, wild dogs chew bones and don’t need dentists. But 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. Bones might alleviate boredom, but at the expense of damaging their teeth.
Bones can be a nutritious recreational activity, but bones can chip teeth or wear them down. Or even worse, a marrow bone can get stuck around the muzzle. If you think bones are safe for dog’s teeth, ask a dental vet their opinion or if they have any patients who chew bones.
- Remember the knee-cap hardness test when deciding on dog chews. If you wouldn’t want the dog 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 can 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. Dog Bully sticks or pizzle sticks are also debated.
- If you won’t give up real bones, then just let your dog chew out the meaty stuff of marrow bones for a few minutes and then take the bone away. Marrow bones are high in fat and might give some dogs an upset stomach or diarrhea. Avoid the 3 B’s, barbecued / broiled / baked. These are brittle and can splitter.
- No tennis balls. The fuzzy material on the ball is abrasive and acts like sandpaper which can wear down teeth enamel over time.
- Don’t use questionable toothpaste. Some pet toothpaste contains sugar (sorbitol). Why does a toothpaste need sugar? Sure it makes it taste sweeter but I don’t think dogs care for sweetness. 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 have more teeth 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 a 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 with human teeth. Remember, plaque forms in hours, tartar forms in a few days.
- You don’t need pet toothpaste. The mechanical action of toothbrush bristles brushing plaque off teeth is just as effective. And for some dogs, toothpaste flavor 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. Here’s a soft finger toothbrush that works well for dogs.
- Buy dental products with VOHC seal of approval. And look for “plaque control”. Companies should back up their claims with valid research. The VOHC list is a good start. 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 the big chunks without much teeth chewing action.
- Next time your dog is going under anesthesia, consider getting teeth x-rays also. This is the perfect opportunity to check your dog’s 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 to brush your dog’s teeth for a long time, 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 tooth pain. Don’t brush his teeth until he’s vet checked.
- Use only a soft bristle brush, baby brushes are great. Or try finger toothbrushes. And don’t brush too hard! You’re just disturbing the plaque on the teeth and gums, not rubbing wax into a car. Or use a gauze/washcloth wrapped around your finger to gently rub the teeth, if that’s easier for you. It also massages the gums which help produce more collagen that firms the gums.
- Use dog rope toys. They can help “floss” your dog’s teeth at playtime.
- 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 calmly also makes it easier. Some dogs learn to enjoy you brushing their teeth. It can be a special bonding time together.
- 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, discolored tooth, chipped/worn down teeth, eats slowly, doesn’t play, looks sad, or 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 chart for easy kong stuffing ideas. (DO NOT plug the little hole in the kong toy, it’s there for a reason.)
- Educate yourself on dog dental care so you can take care of your pet. Here is a list of articles from a specialist dog dental vet, toothvet.ca.
I hope this article helps you and your dog. And hopefully, you won’t make the same mistakes I made. Remember dog teeth are the same material as human teeth. So it should be no surprise that their teeth need the same care we do. You can help your dog have healthy teeth and gums by just spending 2 minutes a day wiping/brushing away plaque.
Do you have any other advice on keeping dog teeth healthy?