Dental Hygiene for Dogs
People giggle at the idea of brushing a dog’s teeth. Surely anyone who sticks a toothbrush in their dog’s mouth is crazy, right?
Neglecting your dog’s dental hygiene can lead to some miserable consequences.
Dogs aren’t always good at telling us what’s bothering them. In fact, it is believed that animals tend to hide pain instinctively to avoid showing weakness. Unfortunately, the result is that pet owners rarely spot the issue until it’s in its advanced stages. When they’re experiencing tooth or gum pain, you might notice:
Pawing at their mouth
Reluctance to eat
It’s important to note that these symptoms do not necessarily mean that a dog has a dental issue, but they might indicate a need for inspecting, monitoring, and possibly taking a trip to the vet for a checkup. Left unchecked, as with any other health issues, minor issues are likely to develop into major issues. Mild discomfort becomes major pain and the issue may require more drastic measures to resolve.
If you believe there might be an issue, it is best to contact your vet as soon as possible for guidance and likely to get an appointment have your dog seen by a professional. The vet may recommend waiting to brush your dog’s teeth until he/she has been examined. If the gums are swollen and sensitive, brushing may open up blood vessels and allow infection to enter the bloodstream.
Take caution and be smart.
Regular brushing is important for dogs, and they rely on you to help them keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy. In between brushes, some toys and chews are helpful at keeping plaque off their teeth. Avoid bones and toys that are too hard and could cause weak teeth to crack. In addition to the pain your pup may go through, your wallet will be hit hard. Dogs must be under anesthesia for dental exams and for any further action needed, which isn’t cheap.
Now... onto the fun stuff!
If your dog is still a puppy, adding dental care to the basic training can be fun and it will make it much easier to do as he/she grows up. As it is with most training, this will require time, patience, and repetition. It may not be the easiest thing you do with your puppy, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it.
Getting the right tools for the job is crucial. Toothpaste made for human use can be dangerous and even fatal for dogs. In addition to the potentially deadly ingredients in some toothpastes, human toothpaste is mean to be spit out after brushing. Toothpaste made for dogs is made with safe ingredients and is designed to be swallowed. You’ll also want to get a toothbrush made for dogs. The two most common types of toothbrushes for dogs are the finger brush and a longer brush. Choose the brush you will use depending on the size of your dog and how comfortable he/she is with the process.
Show the toothbrush to your dog. Let them inspect and get comfortable with it. Show the toothpaste to your dog and give them a taste. Follow that with lots of praise. (Praise is KEY to making this process a success!). Try repeating this process for a few days until you feel a positive connection between your dog and the brushing equipment has been made.
Next comes the brush-to-mouth introduction. Go through the previously mentioned introductions again to get them comfortable, then apply the toothpaste to the toothbrush and gently brush the outside of the front teeth. If this is too stressful for your dog, then give some praise and try again tomorrow. Even if they seem to take the front brushing well, it might be best to celebrate and praise and hold off on moving to the other teeth just yet. The more they can enjoy the process and think of it as a positive experience, the easier it will be to keep the routine going in the future.
Now that you’ve gotten your dog comfortable with the brush, the toothpaste, and you moving it around on their teeth, it’s time to move to the back. Go through the same motions you’ve gone through before… show, taste, praise. Dogs don’t generally like it when we open their mouths with our hands, so try sliding the toothbrush between their cheeks and the outside of their teeth. If they’ve made a positive association with the process, they are less likely to get distracted by the small changes you’re making to the routine. Just as you’d do with your own teeth, move the brush around in a circular motion. It may not last long, but celebrate anyway… you’ve just brushed your dog’s teeth!
If things didn’t go well, take a step back in the process and proceed gradually. Training takes repetition and patience. At the end of the day, if your dog doesn’t trust what’s going on, he/she is not going to respond well to force or frustration. It’s important that you be kind to yourself and not feel defeated. This isn’t the easiest task, but you’re taking on the challenge and doing your best to help your dog stay healthy.
Brushing the inside of the teeth is the most challenging. It’s not impossible, but you should continue to watch your dog’s reaction to everything you’re doing. If you decide to try this and your dog responds negatively, stop and don’t force it. It could end up being dangerous to you and your dog. Also, you’ve worked so hard to get to this point and it’s not worth turning a positive experience into a negative one. A dog’s tongue helps to clean the inside of their teeth, so it’s not quite as necessary as brushing the outside.
Contact your vet with any concerns or questions before starting to brush your dog’s teeth. They will be able to advise on your dog’s specific needs and may have some tips of their own to share with you. There isn’t one best way to brush your dog’s teeth, so be open to trying other variations that might work better for your pup. There are many videos online that can guide you through the process, and we’ve selected one below to get you started.