Dental hygiene. When you see these two words, you probably think - sure, what of it? If you take the dentist’s recommendations, like I do, you’re probably getting your teeth professionally cleaned at the very least every 6 months, On top of brushing twice a day (okay, fine, maybe just once in the mornings at times…. Shhh) Bottom line, you take care of your teeth, on a daily basis, and with a professional on a routine basis. When was the last time your dog got a dental cleaning? Or even just a daily brushing? Probably never, right?
According to past surveys, it is estimated that less than 10% of pet owners actually brush their dogs’ teeth [https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/most-95-pet-owners-brush-their-own-teeth-daily-few-brush-their-dogs-8-or-cats-4-teeth-daily-basis]. Whoops! We really should be brushing our dogs’ teeth daily, but even a few days a week is better than nothing at all. Without it, we’re risking plaque build-up, bad breath, tooth decay, and even gum disease in the mouths of our canine companions [pets.webmd.com]. We do everything in our power to keep the furry (and hairless!) members of our families healthy and happy. So… why does the simple task of brushing their teeth slip our minds?
If it’s anything like nail trims, it’s probably not an enjoyable task for most family dogs. Dogs hate it, humans dread it, and it just simply gets put off time after time. It does get done though, maybe not as often as it should, but because groomers and vets usually offer to take care of it for you during scheduled visits (Which is such a life saver!). Considering that brushing teeth is such a regular occurance, like trimming nails, you would think it would be a more common conversation topic than it is now.
You may ask - My dog doesn’t let me brush his/her teeth, what should I do? There ARE other options to help keep your dog’s teeth clean besides brushing. If you take a walk through a pet store, one of the most common options you’ll come across is a dental chew toy, or, a dental treat. The toy will be more helpful in actually taking some plaque off the teeth, while the treat is more likely to help with bad breath. Before you decide to cover up that bad breath though, you’ll want to mention it to your veterinarian. Why? One of the indicators of periodontal disease is bad breath [https://www.akc.org/press-releases/prevent-periodontal-disease-in-your-dog/], which none of us ever think too much into. (They’re dogs, they stink! SO what.) Some speculate that the majority of dogs show signs of periodontal disease by the young age of just 3 years old. Maybe it’s time to ask the vet about that bad breath.
Another option to help clean your dogs’ teeth, is something a lot of pet owners overlook, which is surprising given that dogs are carnivores who evolved directly from the Timber Wolf about 15,000 years ago. [Dog Food Advisor] Raw, meaty bones. (Yum!) This type of bone will keep your dogs’ teeth clean and healthy by scraping away plaque and tartar. AND they don’t even leave behind a starch like many dental chew treats do. [https://primalpetfoods.com/blogs/news/why-raw-bones-are-great-for-dogs-and-cats] Above this, a nice bone will keep your dog occupied and happy for quite a bit of time. Eh hem - enrichment!
Not everybody has the capability to brush their dogs’ teeth on a regular basis. (We’ve all been there, regardless of who we are) A great example of this is a busy farmer taking care of his working dogs, such as Border Collies. Border Collies are an integral part to keeping a farm running, and while farmers love and care for their dogs, sometimes regular rushings are simply not practical, and they need another option. Happens to the best of us, time is just not on our side sometimes, and that’s where convenience really shines. Two words: Tooth Wipes. They basically sound like what they are, you wipe away your dogs’ plaque. It doesn’t work as efficiently as a toothbrush and toothpaste, but in a pinch it works just fine. If it helps get a cleaning within that day versus nothing at all, then so be it. [https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/5-tips-for-keeping-your-dogs-teeth-clean1/]
Just to really drive home how crucial dental care is for our beloved dogs - companion dogs, working dogs, show dogs, sports dogs, service dogs alike - believe it or not, there is evidence that periodontal disease can be linked to cardiopulmonary diseases such as endocarditis according to the WSAVA. Along with the heart, the liver is also prone to developing inflammation from dental disease. We care so much about what our dogs eat, etc, let’s start looking at the full picture. [https://www.petmd.com]
At the end of the day, most of us are guilty of not brushing our dogs’ teeth. We need to forgive ourselves, right here, right now, and move on. Luckily for us, dogs live in the moment and don’t hold grudges. (As if we need another reason to love dogs!) Let’s do better for them. If you need help desensitizing your dog to a toothbrush, contact your local dog trainer. If you think your dog may be suffering from a dental disease, or it’s honestly not possible to brush your dogs’ teeth on your own, contact your regular veterinarian. It’s never too late to start a healthy habit, especially when it comes to the four-legged members of our families. We need them in our lives, and they need us to advocate for them.