February is a short, but busy month, celebrating several holidays and events. Amongst all the festivity, this month celebrates the importance of your dog’s dental health. Bad breath isn’t anything to disregard, and neither is the care you need to provide to keep your dog smiling bright. Dogs can’t readily use a toothbrush to keep their teeth, gums, and breath looking and smelling fresh. You need to understand how and why dog dental care is an important part of the relationship between you and your canine companion.
Unlike humans, dogs lack an opposable thumb so they can properly brush their teeth. Silly as it may sound, dogs instinctively understand that their teeth need to stay clean. Certain habits, such as chewing on sticks and other items (hopefully not your hat) actually help keep your dog’s teeth clean. Because they don’t brush every day, like our dentist tells us to do, dogs naturally help keep their teeth clean for longer periods through the chewing process.
Goodies to help
A dog’s natural instinct to chew makes for an excellent way for you to help them take care of their teeth. There are various dental toys and treats on the market that promote dog oral health. Some of them work well, while others can have odd side effects (some of them smell like mulched grass and the smell sticks to your dog). Preferably, treats that have shaped ridges and provide quality nutrients are the best. Though they may be a little expensive, they won’t make your dog’s breath smell funny or even lead to some digestive tract trouble (diarrhea).
Rawhide has been the ideal solution for puppy dental health for the longest time, but unfortunately, it can clog up a dog’s intestines and accumulate over time. Young dogs who are teething may not have as much trouble with rawhide, but as they get older, rawhide should be used sparingly.
But, chewing doesn’t guarantee the health of their teeth. A dog’s diet is important, providing the necessary nutrients to strengthen teeth and promote oral hygiene. Be sure that you select your dog’s food properly for all health and hygiene related reasons.
This leads us to your important role in your dog’s dental health. Brushing teeth can be difficult, especially if your pup isn’t used to you putting your hands or any other object in their mouth. Not many dogs will just up and let you start brushing, so you have to work with them and get them used to the process. Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth once every two weeks. Perhaps this could coincide with bath time, followed by something exciting for them. Remember, you don’t want your dog to fear the process. When you’ve successfully brushed, be sure that your dog realizes that this is a positive experience. Offer them a treat, or take them out for an exciting afternoon with you. Whatever you do, let your dog know that when they brush, they will be rewarded.
Start by getting them used to you touching their teeth. First, wash your hands thoroughly, and don’t leave any soapy residue on your hands. Then, sit down with them on the floor, spread their lips to reveal their teeth, and start brushing in a circular motion with your finger. Generally, you would start at the back and work your way to the front and across. This gets them used to the idea of you having your hands in their mouth. If they nip or lick, stop, pause, and start over. Practice for a few days. When your pup becomes accustomed to the process, you can add a brush and toothpaste to the challenge. Here is the important part- there is a large difference between dog toothpaste and human toothpaste. Never use human toothpaste on a dog, as the chemicals, primarily fluoride, can make a dog extremely sick. Dogs can’t, or won’t, spit out toothpaste. This means that they swallow whatever goes in their mouth. Keep that in mind while you’re brushing, and be generous with the doggy toothpaste.
There are a variety of brushes available for dogs, the most effective being the finger brushes. These brushes slip on your finger so you can easily control the motion of the brush and won’t confuse or scare your dog (or give him any ideas about turning a toothbrush into a chew toy).
Taking care of your dog’s teeth is an important role in your relationship with your dog. Regular brushing, healthy dental treats, and time and effort well spent will help ensure that your dog keeps smiling a bright pearly smile for a long, happy lifetime.