Does the thought of brushing dog teeth make you cringe, roll your eyes, whimper, slink away–and feel guilty? You’re not alone. But once that puppy-sweet breath morphs into curl-your-eyebrows stench, it’s long past time to address that stink-icity.
By the time dogs (and cats!) reach the age of three, 80 percent of them have some amount of dental disease. The issue is so serious that veterinary dentists created February National Pet Dental Health Month to raise awareness. After all, pets don’t brush their teeth, and they tend to gulp—not chew—their food. Just think what your teeth would look like in three years if you never brushed!
Dogs (and cats) share a lot of the same dental issues with humans. A veterinary dental visit involves anesthesia, ultrasonic scaling, polishing, and sometimes fluoride treatment or antibiotics, especially if teeth are pulled.
You can reduce the number of veterinary dental treatments (and your guilt-factor) with easy home care tips. Here’s 6 no-guilt tips to freshen up your dog’s breath.
6 Easy Fresh Breath Tips
- Dry food won’t “cure” dental disease, but it doesn’t stick to teeth as readily as wet foods. Crunching dry food can reduce dental problems by about 10 percent, though, so offering your dog “crunchies” after moist dinners can help.
- Many dogs relish healthy people foods like raw veggies or fruit, and chewing on these “detergent” foods can help scrub teeth clean. Offer dogs carrots or apple slices for healthy natural dental snacks. Make ’em big pieces, too, so he must gnaw off a piece rather than gulp it whole.
- Special “dental diets” and treats available in grocery stores or dispensed from the veterinarian can help especially with dog breeds that seem more prone to dental issues like Yorkshire Terriers. Look for sodium hexametaphosphate (sodium HMP) listed in the food, which helps prevent plaque from attaching to teeth.
- Most veterinary dentists dislike cow bones, pig hooves, and other hard chew objects that may break your puppy’s teeth. Sterilized bones designed for doggy dental care, though, may be just the ticket.
- Puppies love to chew. Offer your dog a legal object that also has dental benefits, like the “dental toys” that contain a nubby surface designed to scrub the teeth.
- A wide range of commercial dental chews (rawhide, ropes, treats) available for dogs may also prevent doggy breath. Some are infused with special enzymes that kill bacteria and help prevent plaque. Also look for dental rinse products from your veterinarian.
How To Brush Doggy Teeth (Without Getting Bit!)
Adult dogs often object to tooth brushing. It’s best to start puppies with a dental hygiene program while they’re too little to argue. Just turn it into a tasty game and your pooch will BEG for the attention. Here’s how.
- Mess With His Mouth. Over several weeks, get your dog used to having his mouth handled. You can get pups used to having something inserted into their mouth by flavoring your finger with low-salt chicken broth, or peanut butter (yum!).
- Treat With Toothpaste. Offer doggy toothpaste as a treat. Special meat-flavored toothpaste is available from pet product stores or your veterinarian that gives pups the incentive to open wide. Never use human toothpaste. Puppies can’t spit so they end up swallowing the foam, and swallowed fluoride can be dangerous and damage your puppy’s internal organs.
- Use Toy Props. Once they accept mouth handling and like the toothpaste, try propping the puppy’s mouth open with a favorite toy. Simply encourage him to bite on a chew object, and wrap your hand around his muzzle to hold it in place. That gives you access to his open mouth and also gives him something to do with his teeth. Use the same toy each time, so he identifies it with tooth attention–and getting a GREAT reward afterwards. Practice doing this several times and praising him while giving toothpaste treats before you introduce a toothbrush.
- Choose Pet Brushes. Special pet toothbrushes are smaller and may be designed to better fit the dog’s mouth. A soft child’s toothbrush works well.
- “Finger” The Teeth. Some puppies better accept your finger. Finger toothbrushes are available for brushing pet teet, or simply wrap a damp cloth over your fingers and use that to scrub the outside of his teeth. Puppy tongues clean the inside surface of teeth so you won’t have to worry about poking too far inside the mouth.
- Praise The Performance. Brushing after every meal is recommended, but a two to three times a week is good. Always be sure to praise and throw a happy puppy party afterwards so your puppy is left with a good taste over the experience—literally!
Keeping breath fresh goes beyond good dental hygiene, too. Pungent breath makes you avoid dog kisses and lap snuggles (awww, you hurt his feelings!). It also points to potentially painful, dangerous dental problems that can damage your dog’s organs. Yes, it’s THAT important.
So…do you brush your dog’s teeth? What about offering “dental-friendly” foods and treats? How do you keep your pooch kiss-able fresh? Do tell!
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