78% of dogs over the age of 3 are affected by dental disease. Periodontal trouble in pets cause the same issues that humans experience: mild tartar and gingivitis; receding gums; significant inflammation; and, finally, tooth loss, with smaller dogs being more prone to such issues than larger breeds. Yet it isn’t just about teeth. As the condition progresses, your dog may be susceptible to more serious problems, such as liver, heart or kidney disease. Through the tiny broken blood vessels, dangerous bacteria can make its way through to the main organs, so it is vital that you keep up with your dog’s dental hygiene regularly. If you do so, disease prevention is easy.
Visit Your Veterinarian
If you notice that your dog seems to be having a dental issue, whether it is bad breath or they are picking at their gums, start with a trip to the vet. During the exam (which should take place annually), your dog will be put under general anesthesia, and the vet will inspect teeth and gums, remove any tartar and plaque, and take x-rays. If any teeth are loose or diseased, they’ll be pulled. While this may be a scary thought, by the end of it, your dog will be healthy and you’ll be happy you went through with it. Once your vet gives you the OK, may the brushing begin!
Timing is Everything
Try to choose a time when your pet is tired or has just woken up from a nap. Right before a meal is another good time, so the meal becomes a reward for a successful cleaning.
Using veterinary, species-specific toothpaste is very important. Human toothpaste contains too much fluoride for animals, and could be toxic for them. At your local vet or pet store, you’ll find animal-friendly flavors, like chicken, mint, and peanut butter.
The Right Tools
While holding or crouching next to your pet, start by giving her a small taste of toothpaste. Then gently insert your finger into her mouth and rub along the gum tissue. Once you and your dog have this down (which could take a few weeks), introduce a children’s soft toothbrush or animal toothbrush. For about a minute, rub away the plaque along the top and bottom gums.
It’s All in the Wrist
The most comfortable position for cleaning the teeth of a small dog is on your lap, your pet’s head facing away from your body. Use your left hand to brush the right side of her mouth and vice versa. Since you’re only brushing the outside of the teeth, there is no need to pry her mouth open. For a larger dog, face him while he’s sitting or standing and insert your finger or toothbrush into his closed mouth and rub. Afterwards, give him a reward– a bone to chew on, a pat on the back, or vocal praise are all good perks.
Safe, Tasty Treats
Try tartar-control kibble and treats. Look for products that contain antimicrobial chlorhexidine, and check with your veterinarian. Many treats out there say they’re ‘tartar control’ but aren’t. And keep on brushing! The benefits are endless!