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Canine Dental Health

Canine breath is often the subject of jokes, but would you be startled to learn that according the American Veterinary Dental society, over 80% of all dogs suffer from some kind of periodontal disease by the time they reach age two? For dogs, bad breath isn’t simply an unfortunate byproduct of a spicy lunch. It can cause frightening health complications, leading even to heart disease. To help combat the seriousness of these complications, the American Veterinary Medical health Foundation as well as several veterinary organizations are sponsoring National Canine Dental Health Month, all February long. Today, we’ll help you start the month off right with our discussion of why maintaining the health of your four-legged friends is so important, how you can maintain dental health at home, danger signs to watch out for, and when you should make an appointment to see your dog’s vet.

Why Canine Dental Health is Important

Just as it is with our own dental health, for dogs, a healthy mouth equals a healthy dog. Dogs’ mouths do get into all sorts of nasty things and it’s not necessarily time to rush off to the vet if your dog’s breath isn’t as minty fresh as yours. However, chronic, persistent bad breath that is worse than the usual slightly unpleasant odor could be a sign of dental disease, gum disease, tartar buildup, plaque buildup, or in some cases, even much more serious medical issues involving the digestive system. For instance, dogs’ breath is impacted by the food they eat just as much as anything else. If a dog has been eating foods poor in quality or without high-quality ingredients, he may be having problems digesting them. This can lead to sour, stinky breath that’s indicative of a deeper underlying nutritional problem. Additionally, just like our own mouths, dogs’ mouths are warm, dark, and wet, which makes for a perfectly inviting home for bacteria to take up residence. Again, as with our own mouths, most bacteria that live within the mouth are healthy, perfectly benevolent bacteria. However, when dogs experience plaque buildup, especially for a prolonged period of time, the mouth’s bacterial balance is thrown off and hosts of pathogens can take up residence, causing periodontal disease. In fact, according to Jan Bellows, DVM, of Hometown Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic and American Veterinary Dental College, “The toxins from periodontal disease are absorbed into the dog’s blood stream. As the kidneys, liver, and brain filter the blood, small infections occur causing permanent and at times fatal organ damage. After periodontal disease is treated, and the owners give proper home care, most dogs respond wonderfully due to the decreased pain and infection.”

Home Dental Care for Dogs  (including types of products to help make the task easier)

With a little patience, a couple of products made especially for the task, and a little diligence, you can provide expert home dental care for your pets, helping to keep their teeth clean and their mouths healthy, avoiding the scary problems mentioned above.


The first and most obvious way to establish and maintain healthy teeth and gums is to brush your dogs’ teeth, every day if you can, or every week at least! If you’ve never brushed those pearly whites before, it can seem like an intimidating task, but if done well, some dogs actually grow to enjoy it. To begin, you’ll need a soft washcloth, a toothpaste made specifically for dogs, and of course, a toothbrush made specifically for dogs. Now, there are a couple of notes I want to be sure I mention here. Long ago are the days of one-size-fits-all canine dental tools. Nowadays, pet-owners can choose from several types of brushes, including the KissAble Brush (on special promotion in the store!) with a unique round shape, and several types of toothpaste, including not only mint flavor, but tantalizing beef and chicken flavors (note: dog toothpastes are edible whereas human toothpastes are not. no swapping!). You’ll need to position yourself and your dog so that you’re both in a comfortable position and so that you can reach her mouth. Raise her upper lip and begin to brush in a circular motion, just like you would your own teeth. Don’t forget to reach all the way to the back, where she’s most likely to develop problems. For a more detailed look at exactly how the process works and some key steps to helping your dog not only tolerate, but like the brushing, take a look at the following video on YouTube, by Dr. Sheldon Rubin, speaking for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Secondly, dental rinses help to keep teeth clean between brushing and are absolutely essential for those pets who simply won’t tolerate the toothbrush. These dental rinses are simply mixed with water and when your dog takes a drink, deliver their potent benefits. While these won’t provide a canine equivalent of your favorite minty mouthwash, they do a couple of important things: they work to break down plaque along the gum line and actually remove bad breath odor. Pet owners who use these rinses with their dogs often say that the dogs’ breath doesn’t smell like anything anymore, a pleasant switch!

Next, chew toys, dry crunchy food, and cleaning treats like real antlers and bones can help dogs work the plaque off of their teeth before a problem arises. Naturally, dogs are likely to chew on anything that looks interesting, so using this option is a great one for everyday maintenance. Many companies make special cleaning treats and toys to help keep dogs’ teeth clean, but many veterinarians prefer all-natural options like antlers and real bones, as I mentioned above. These are particularly good options because they aren’t susceptible to salmonella, like rawhide bones are. In this case, it’s best to use the safest option that your pet likes best. All hard chew toys and even crunchy foods will help.

Speaking of crunchy foods, adding more fruits and vegetables to your dogs’ diet will certainly help with both digestion and dental health. The crunchy fruits and veggies will make your pups work to chew them, helping with plaque reduction, and can actually help to scrub your pups’ teeth clean while adding a pleasant scent to their breath.

Dental Health Danger Signs

Once you begin taking a closer look at your dogs’ dental health, you’ll be the first to spot a problem when it arises. When you brush your dogs’ teeth or even in your usual course of play or snuggling, be on the lookout for the warning signs that a dental problem is fast on the rise. First things first, dogs are not likely to show pain, even if it’s chronic, persistent, and serious. A dog who has been experiencing dental pain for even weeks will still come running up to you when you get home, will still play and snuggle with you on the couch. This is why it’s so important that you get up close and personal when you do the brushing and other maintenance. This will allow you to see first hand what’s going on in there. Things you’ll want to be especially careful to watch for are bad breath (truly bad breath, like we mentioned, not simply unpleasant breath from a meaty meal or a sniff around outside), excessive drooling (a common physical symptom of periodontal pain as well as the psychological or emotional pain that often accompanies it), inflamed gums (gingivitis), tumors on or in the gums or mouth, cysts (particularly under the tongue), loose or otherwise weakened teeth.

When to Make an Appointment With the Vet

If you’re doing your routine teeth-brushing like we mentioned above and you notice any one of these warning signs, it’s time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Even if it’s the first time you notice a problem, it could be a symptom of an underlying problem that has been impacting your dog for a while already. Your vet can treat and cure these problems so that when your pooch comes back home, you can start with a clean, healthy slate. Additionally, don’t forget to bring your dog in for regular professional teeth cleanings along with his regular grooming checkup or medical checkup. Having a professional examine your dog’s mouth and determine that its healthy and clean can provide great peace of mind for you and inspire you to keep doing what you’re doing!

Ultimately, canine dental health is a big problem with a pretty easy solution. This February, commit to helping give your dogs the best care possible. Start slow with a brushing session and work your way up from there. If you come across any tips or tricks, let us know!


Sources: WebMD; ASPCA; PetSide; PetMD; AVMA; Mother Nature Network; Dog Breed Info


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