How to Take Care of Your Dog’s Teeth

Many pet owners ask how to take care of their dog’s teeth.  No matter that your dog’s age, sex, breed, or state of overall health, the biggest source of disease in your pet lies in his teeth.  But you can take measures TODAY to stop dental disease in your pet.  Three out of four dogs over the age of three years have problems with oral health and if not fixed, it will impact not only his or her teeth, but the animal’s entire body.  The surface of the gums breakdown and mouth bacteria enters the bloodstream and then your beloved pet’s whole body.  Organs that include the heart may finally effected.

But before you run screaming with Fido to the vet, it’s good to know that with regular brushing and regular checkups with your dog’s doc, you can protect him.  Ever notice how your vet checks you baby’s teeth everything he comes in?  I had a show dog, an Norwegian Elkhound, that was having an unrelated problem and the vet told me that he had a serious case of plaque.  After putting him under anesthetic, Rocky had such nice teeth the judges in the ring would comment on it.  But that wasn’t very cheap.  Senior dental care is about $125 and adult dental cleaning runs $200-$400.  If extractions and other work is needed, you may be looking at up to $700!


Affiliated Dentists says that your dog’s teeth are different from your teeth.  They are sharper and stronger.  They don’t chew their food – they just slice it up until they can swallow it whole.  Like other babies, a puppy will lose her teeth between 4 months and 7 months.  Your mom likely told you that if you didn’t brush your teeth, they would rot out of your head.  Guess what?  The same is true for your pet.  Bacteria from residual food stuck in the teeth cause dental decay and teeth become yellow and rotten.  My old Lady was nine when I got her and she only has four teeth left.  The rest were pulled by the rescue group vet because they were all rotted out, causing her pain and problems eating.  Today, she eats fine with those four molars.  But doing dental care for your pooch is important while his teeth are still good.

The American Veterinary Dental Society states that 80% of dogs will demonstrate dental disease by the time they are three years old and it’s one of the most common problems in veterinary clients in the United States.  Who knew? Little dogs are the most often afflicted because they have little baby mouths and crowded teeth, but all canines need regular oral care.


How do you know if they have dental disease?  THEIR BREATH STINKS!  And I don’t mean the usual bad breath from eating things you don’t even want to think about.  I mean turn-your-head-away-good-grief dog bad breathe.  If Fifi’s mouth smell offends you, it’s time to see the doc.  The teeth will be yellow (check out the gross photo below) and maybe even be loose or fall out.  Also, your dog may not want to eat anything she has to chew or show discomfort when she does eat.  Don’t put off visiting the vet, because a disease process could be already started that could take your guy out of your life way sooner than you ever wanted.  Plus, she may be suffering!

There are doggy tooth brushes and doggy toothpaste, because their mouth isn’t shaped like a humans and as much as you may like it, they don’t want minty fresh breathe.  And just like your teeth, he needs to brush – or have them brushed by you since he doesn’t have opposable thumbs to grab the toothbrush – every day.  Don’t let that tarter and plaque build up to the point that Rocky’s did.  If a toothbrush is too much effort (c’mon on!), wrap a piece of gauze around your finger.  Your pet won’t know what to make of it at first, but he’ll get used to it and it will part of his normal   daily rooming routine like brushing or trimming his nails.  Starting when Fido is a puppy is a good way to get him used to brushing his teeth.

Here are four steps to taking care of your dog’s teeth:

1) Have his/her teeth checked regular by your veterinarian.  Discuss your concerns with the doc concerning the state of his oral hygiene.

2) You should use a soft bristle toothbrush, rough finger covers, or just a piece of gauze.  There is chicken-flavored doggie toothpaste that they really like.  Do NOT use people toothpaste!  He doesn’t need minty-fresh breathe.

3) Brush his teeth every day and even if you can’t (for whatever reason), use the chicken-flavored dental gel.

4) Give Spot a yummy chew bone during the day.  A good dental chew will also scrape your dog’s teeth as he grinds on them; however, these don’t get the junk off their teeth that hard bones do, and in fact, may be bad for your dog.  I don’t recommend anything you feed your dog because I don’t want to get sued by some bereft dog owner down the line, but I use Dozer Dental Chews.  Check the package like you would for your human child.  You don’t want ingredients like gelatin, HSH, or soy-protein isolate – these yuckies are  not helpful and may cause cancer in your pooch.  If they’re too hard, they might be swallowed whole and cause choking or bowel obstruction (dangerous, painful, and very expensive!).

Let’s talk about the special dental needs of puppies and seniors.  I have one of both.  I’ve gotten to where I listen for unusual noises in other parts of my house because it usually means something has caught Sally’s eye and she’s decided to chew it up.  Most dogs will stop this destruction of your house with proper attention and training (I hope!), but your little one chews for a number of reasons.

  • They are growing new teeth and chewing feels good,
  • They’re bored and/or lonely (one reason I have three fur babies),
  • To learn new textures and their ability to withstand razor-sharp teeth, and
  • It’s fun!

Puppy chews should be soft enough for tender gums, gentle enough for developing baby teeth, not break or splinter, have no harmful ingredients, and taste good.  Sally gets so excited when I open the cabinet where her chews are kept!

My old girl Lady, however, has lost some of her teeth.  As a rescue from the Houston flood, she had either been a stray or not taken to the vet often enough.  In addition to thick, malformed ears from constant and untreated infections, Lady had to have a number of rotten teeth removed.  This concerned me at first, but she does well enough with what she has left.  She doesn’t chew like Sally still does, but she still gets oral hygiene.  The chews are easy for her to munch on, taste good so she knows I still love her (they need to be reminded constantly!), and they perform dental care along the way for the teeth she has left.  Let’s face it, even at the human age of 60, dentures are not an option for that girl.  Some dogs do get restorative dental work and they like to chew also.  But like that $2000 crown I lost to a piece of taffy, you don’t want an inappropriate dental chew to mess us up with costly tooth work.

One final note.  Get the right size for your dog’s mouth.  While it’s cute as heck to see Sally dragging around a bone bigger than she is, she needs to chew on something her own size.  Dental chews come in three different sizes, so pick the one right for your canine best friend.  Today.  Don’t put it off! 




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