For some pups, chewing kibble, toys and treats keeps their mouths in fine shape. In general, these are the larger dogs. Veterinarians aren’t sure if it’s genetic or just that they have more powerful jaws and are able to give their periodontal muscles more of a workout. But for most – and there are certainly exceptions – large dogs regular chewing is sufficient for dental good health. At the risk of offending some veterinarians, I will share that I’ve had German shepherds all my life, all living between 12 and 18 years. Not a single one had a professional cleaning nor did I ever brush their teeth. I will certainly note that they all were great chewers.
Smaller pups tend to be a different story. Some little guys produce so much tartar that they need a professional cleaning by their vet at least once a year. This seems to be especially true of pups who were rescued from puppy mills where their pre-rescue nutrition was generally terrible.
To keep an “at risk” dog’s mouth healthy you have to remove plaque as it forms, before it hardens into tartar. Just like in your mouth, the newly produced plaque is soft so you can remove it (remember your parents teaching you to brush your teeth twice a day?) before bacteria colonize and before it turns to tartar. Once it becomes tartar, you need a veterinarian to remove it professionally – just like your own dentist does to you, but not quite exactly. Most dogs have to be anesthetized for them to “allow” poking, prodding and even some hurting in their mouths.
Anesthesia isn’t cheap nor is it without risk. A quick survey of Brooklyn veterinarians shows charges for basic dental cleaning, including the pre-anesthesia blood work, x-rays and the anesthesia itself, run from $400 - $900 and up. We’re not saying it’s not worthwhile but we are saying you can avoid having a professional cleaning for pup or at least stretch out the time between cleanings.
As strange as this may seem, you can brush your pup’s teeth.
And even stranger, once you and your pup get started, you pup is likely to love it. Hint: doggie toothpaste comes in flavors such as chicken, beef, peanut butter and bacon.
How to do it:
The younger your dog is, the easier it is to start, but you can start with your dog at any age.
Step one – put your finger in your dog’s mouth and move it around, touching his gums. Most pups trust their people enough to do this immediately. If your dog needs a little help building up trust, start by touching him all over on his body. This is necessary to do a well-dog assessment but that’s another blog. Right now focus on building the trust that lets him let you put your fingers in his mouth.
Step two - do the same thing with a little doggie toothpaste on your finger. Most dogs love this because of the yummy flavors. Do not, I repeat DO NOT, use human toothpaste. Dogs cannot spit and swallowing human toothpaste can give you an upset stomach. People, too, in case you wondered. Also, most dogs find the tingle of human toothpaste very alien. Doggie toothpaste is available at pet stores and online.
Step three is optional. You can buy a finger brush to practice. This is a rubber finger cot with nubs you slip on and use to simulate tooth brushing with pup.
Whether you do the finger brush step or not, the next step is to use a soft people toothbrush and do a real brushing. If you have a little pup, consider a child’s toothbrush. And be sure you buy one with soft bristles. If your pup will tolerate an electric toothbrush, that is even better, but most dogs find them too scary. Brush in a smooth, circular motion, starting from the back and working your way forward.
Surprisingly, veterinarians tell us if we brush the outside of pup’s teeth that’s sufficient to disrupt the plaque. This is fine with us.
Once you both are proficient, the whole brushing exercise shouldn’t take more than about two minutes. Of course, as any good pup parent you know to offer a lot of praise and a few treats along the way.
It takes a little while to become proficient but once you do you this should become quite enjoyable to do.You should do this daily but minimally every other day. Reason: plaque hardens into tartar in about 48 hours. Once hard, it requires professional removal.
Sharing a regular activity with your pup, getting sweet kisses and reducing your vet bills. What could be better for you and pup?
If you have 5 minutes to spare, take a look at this veterinarian explaining how. YouTube Doggie Toothbrushing.