Between feeding, playtime, grooming, and training, keeping your dog’s teeth clean may be the last thing on your mind. But regularly cleaning your dog’s teeth and gums is very important. According to the ASPCA, regular maintenance prevents the buildup of plaque, which can harden into tartar. Just like humans, dogs can experience gingivitis, receding gum lines, and even loss of teeth!
Many veterinarians suggest oral checkups for dogs once a year. But these can be very expensive, since many vets recommend the dog be under anesthesia for a proper cleaning. How can you maintain good oral health in your dog without breaking the bank? Here are four easy ways to do so.
1. Brush, Brush, Brush!
The very best way to keep your dog’s teeth clean is by brushing. The ASPCA recommends brushing two or three times a week to protect against gum disease. A new brushing routine can take a bit of getting used to – for you and your dog! But there are a few ways to make the process easier:
- Always use dog appropriate products. Human toothpaste and toothbrushes won’t cut it! Special canine toothpaste is formulated to be digestible for dogs – and tastes better too! Dog toothbrushes are also smaller than human toothbrushes, and are designed to be gentle. Choose products that are recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council or by your trusted veterinarian.
- Slowly introduce your dog to the idea of brushing. The ASPCA recommends starting your dog on a brushing routine by first massaging their lips and gums with your fingers. This will get your dog used to the sensation of having something moving in their mouth. Next you want to introduce the toothpaste to your dog. Using the same circular motions, place a bit of toothpaste on the end of your finger and massage it on to your dog’s teeth and gums. The last step is to introduce the toothbrush. Brush with a little bit of toothpaste, using circular motions along the outside of the teeth.
- Be patient! For some dogs, this process may take a long time to get used to. But take your time. And be aware that most plaque buildup occurs on the outside of the teeth. There is no need to start brushing all sides of the teeth if your dog is feeling uncomfortable. Ease into it, and wait until your dog is used to the sensation.
2. Use “Doggie Mouthwash”
Yes it really exists – and is very easy to use! Canine formulated mouthwash is great for fighting plaque and bad breath. Dog mouthwash actually comes in three different forms, all a bit different from the human variety.
- Water additive: A water additive dog mouthwash can be poured right into your dog’s water bowl. This is similar to the fluoride treated water that humans drink. Your dog can drink their water as they normally would – and will never know their teeth are being cleaned!
- Oral spray: With a spray formula, simply spritz the solution into your dog’s mouth following the recommended dosage. The spray then works to dissolve the plaque buildup.
- Oral gel: An oral gel is applied in a similar fashion to brushing, but works the same way a spray does. Choosing a mouthwash comes down to your personal preference and your dog’s preferences and temperament. When choosing between a water additive, spray, or gel, always choose a product that is recommended by either the Veterinary Oral Health Council or by your personal veterinarian.
3. Switch Your Dog’s Food
Maybe your dog isn’t quite ready for really big changes in their oral care routine. Maybe you need to be a little sneakier. Why not try some teeth-friendly food? Some dog foods are actually designed to fight the buildup of plaque and tartar. This is a great additional step for a dog who may take more time getting used to a brushing routine.
Remember to go slowly when introducing your dog to a new food. If you switch a food too quickly, this increases the chances that your dog will experience digestive troubles. Begin by offering the new food to your dog as treats. Get your pup used to – and excited about! – the new flavor you are giving them.
Gradually start mixing the new food in with the old. Start with a small amount on the first day, then day by day add more of the new food and less of the old. This process should take you between seven and ten days. After at least one week, your dog will be eating a full serving of the dental friendly food!
As you follow this process of switching foods, be sure to pay attention to your dog’s bowels. (This is the “fun” part of being a dog owner!) If you notice any major changes that do not subside, consult your veterinarian. And as always, before choosing a new food, ask your vet for their recommendations.
4. Chewing on Treats
You may be thinking, “Aren’t treats supposed to be bad for your teeth?” And while that may be true for human treats, this isn’t necessarily the case for dog treats. Many dog chews are now formulated to be good for a dog’s teeth, and help fight the buildup of both plaque and tartar. Plus a dog chew will keep your pup busy for hours!
Dental chews come in all varieties. Some treats have a strong flavor; some less so. Some are designed for small dogs, while others are designed for large dogs. The great thing about treats and chews is you can experiment! Take some time testing out new flavors, and switch things up to keep dental care exciting and fun for your dog.
But while a wide variety of chews can be fun and exciting, not all are created equal. It’s important to do a bit of research to find out which ones will work best for you. Ask your vet about their favorite dental chews. Or check out your local pet supply shop to see what they recommend.
As you start a new oral hygiene routine, consult with your veterinarian at your next appointment to be sure things are going well. Try to only use products recommended by your veterinarian or products listed on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website. Happy brushing!