Companion Animal CareDoggie Dental 101
A Companion Animal Care Article from All-Creatures.org

This Companion Animal Care article is being presented to help people seeking reliable resources, tips, and information for companion animals.

From The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
February 2014

Ah February. Itís the month of boxed chocolates, mail order flowers, and becoming more aware of your petís dental hygiene. February is Pet Dental Health Month; and while getting your car inspected may seem comparatively more exciting, maintaining your petís dental health isnít as difficult as you may think. Many pet owners who otherwise provide excellent care to their pets may have never given much thought to pet dental care. Hopefully after reading this monthís Our 2 Cents, you will agree that pet dental care isnít nearly the hassle it might seem and that it is rewarding to you and your dog.

As in humans, canine periodontal disease starts with gingivitis (infection of the gums) because of plaque buildup. If the plaque isnít removed, it hardens into tartar. If gingivitis is not treated, it may progress into periodontitis, which may cause teeth to loosen and fall out. These conditions may cause pain, eating problems, and severe halitosis (bad breath) that could become a barrier to interactions with people.

Starting a dental regimen early in life is the best way to accustom your dog to brushing. Purchase a specially made dog toothbrush and toothpaste kit from a pet supply store or retail store. (Never use human toothpaste or brushes.) Before brushing, invite your dog to sniff the brush and toothpaste. Allow him or her to taste a pea-sized amount of toothpaste, and offer continuous affection and encouragement. Once the dog is familiar with the brush, place the toothbrush against the outer side of the teeth and brush gently in a circular motion. The first session only needs to last about 10 seconds, followed by a dental treat. Gradually increase the duration to a few minutes. If your dog does not have periodontal disease, brushing two or three times a week is usually sufficient.

Even with regular brushing, dogs may require a professional dental cleaning about once every few years, but that ultimately depends on the individual dog. Typically, the better you care for your dogís teeth at home, the less often your dog will require professional cleaning. The cost of professional cleaning varies, but is generally around $250. Your dog is usually put under general anesthesia, so the veterinarian can also use this opportunity to do a detailed oral exam and even trim your dogís toenails while he or she is under! Best yet, you can typically expect to take your dog home the same day.

Pet dental care may have once seemed above and beyond the mainstream standard of pet care. However, in addition to the well-known consequences of poor dental hygiene, medical studies are examining the relationship between poor dental health in humans and life-threatening health problems like heart attack and stroke. In time, these studies may be expanded to include companion animals. Sooner rather than later, we hope that more pet owners will see dental hygiene for pets not just as an optional grooming practice, but as an important part of overall wellness.

More tips for keeping your dogís breath fresh and teeth in top condition:

  • Offer high quality treats designed for dental health.
  • Limit table scraps, especially those that are sugary, starchy, or sticky.
  • Ask your veterinarian to check your dogís teeth during every visit.
  • If brushing is not feasible, ask your veterinarian to recommend an additive for your dogís drinking water, a chew product, and a professional cleaning schedule. Some dogs who will not tolerate a toothbrush may tolerate the gauze-wrapped finger of a human they trust.

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