Oral hygiene in dogs
Proper dentistry is essential in ensuring a
dog’s long-term health – just as much so as
it is in humans. But it seems that not every
dog owner seems to be taking the issue as
seriously as they ought to. It’s the most
commonly diagnosed malady in adult dogs,
with some estimates claiming that as many
as nine out of ten dogs will suffer from a
problem in their lifetime.
There are many different ways in which
your dog’s mouth might malfunction. Let’s
take a look at some of them.
Plaque and Tartar
We’re all familiar with plaque. It’s a
translucent film that forms on the top of
your dog’s teeth. It’s caused by bacteria
which form in the dog’s mouth. When
bacteria mix with the saliva and tiny
fragments of leftover food, plaque results.
The problem can get worse just a few days
later, as the plaque reacts with the
minerals in your dog’s mouth to harden
into tartar. Tartar is responsible for a
number of dental conditions, most
notably gingivitis and bad breath.
Prevent plaque from turning into tartar by
feeding your dog dry foods as part of their
diet. The gentle abrasive action of
chewing such foods will help to remove a
significant chunk of the plaque before it
has time to calcify. Supplement this with
an occasional brushing session to give
your dog the best possible defence
against the diseases which can result from
unchecked tartar formation.
Periodontal disease is the most common
form of disease effecting a dog’s mouth. It
results from a prolonged build-up of tartar
beneath the dog’s gum line. Eventually,
this tartar will force the teeth apart from
the bones in the jaw, allowing pockets and
painful abscesses to form there. This in
turn provides harmful bacteria with the
ideal conditions in which to multiply – and
the effect from there is a negative spiral
which can quickly lead to permanent
When a dog is suffering from dental
disease, they’ll be in a great deal of pain.
They may lose teeth and bleed from their
mouths. But, perhaps worse than that,
they’ll suffer knock-on effects which will
impact their broader health. If left
unchecked, the bacteria responsible for
your dog’s plaque can migrate to other
parts of the body, potentially the heart and
lungs. Moreover, since eating will become
very painful, they’ll be start to lose their
appetite – which can have serious effects
on their health and general well-being.
Periodontal disease, then, is something to
be taken very seriously indeed.
Things to look out for
Since the effects of periodontal disease can
be so severe (and irreversible), the best
way of protecting your dog is to prevent it
before it occurs. This means observation:
pay close attention to your dog’s mouth,
checking periodically for irregularities.
The first of these irregularities often comes
in the form of bad breath. While a dog’s
mouth is hardly likely to smell pleasant
when it’s in perfect health, it’s quite
obvious when something is awry. Gingivitis
will cause an affected dog pain on a
particular side of their mouth – and so you
might notice them favouring one side over
the other, as well as losing their appetite in
Inspect your dog’s mouth occasionally –
and be on the lookout for abnormalities in
the shape of the jaw. You should pay
attention to the state of your dog’s gums,
which may be red and swollen, as well as
to your dog’s teeth, which may bear the
tell-tale yellow brown discolouration
which evidences tartar-build up.
It’s worth bearing mind that several of
these symptoms might have causes other
than disease. Dogs are known for their love
of picking up and chewing things – no
matter how unsuitable such things might
be for chewing. Branches, rocks, and
pieces of broken glass will all cause severe
trauma to the inside of a dog’s mouth –
which can easily be mistaken for oral
disease. Try to monitor what your dog does
and doesn’t eat, and to discourage it from
sniffing around the ground – particularly
during winter, when poisonous plants and
antifreeze spillages are more prevalent.
When should I brush?
As we’ve mentioned, the best way to
prevent the build-up of tartar is through
frequent brushing. This should ideally be
done daily – much the same as with your
own teeth. In practice, however, this goal
isn’t always achievable.
But something is better than nothing, and
brushing three or more times a week will
make a huge contribution to your dog’s
long-term oral health.
Brushing can be commenced early on in a
dog’s life – before a puppy first loses their
deciduous teeth at around six months old.
It is better to get this early start in order to
acclimatise the dog to the potentially
stressful ritual of teeth-brushing. If a dog is
older, bigger, and unused to having their
mouths poked around inside, they’ll
generally put up a bigger fight.
Getting an old dog to change their ways is
notoriously difficult, and so starting early is
key. It’s never too late, however, to start a
brushing programme, and with a little
patience you should be able to hugely
improve your dog’s protection against oral
disease. If you can’t persuade your dog to
accept brushing, then alternatives are
available in the form of specialised gels,
which help to destroy the bacteria which
cause plaque formation.
How should I brush?
To being with, brushing should be done
gently and systematically. Start with the
easiest teeth to reach – those on the side
of the dog’s mouth, just underneath their
lips. This should be done with a soft flannel
to start with, in order to make the dog as
comfortable as possible. At this early stage,
the goal has more to do with getting the
dog used to having their teeth brushed
than it does actually ridding the dog’s
mouth of tartar. You’ll therefore want to
offer some positive reinforcement after a
successful session – give your dog praise,
attention and a treat as a reward.
After a few rounds of this we can progress
to an actual brush. These are normally
obtainable from your vet. You can also get
toothpaste for dogs. Special enzymatic
varieties are available which cater to a
dog’s physiology. It should go without
saying that you shouldn’t attempt to use
these yourself – and neither should you
attempt to give your dog toothpaste
designed for humans.
To begin with, however, it’s generally not
worth the bother; simply use a little warm
water and gentle brush the bottom of the
dog’s teeth, where they meet the gums.
Over time, you can build up your dog’s
tolerance to the procedure to the point
that they will allow you to brush as often as
is required. You’ll thereby give them the
best possible protection against oral
Beeston Animal Health Ltd.,