7 Tips for Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Sparkling and Healthy

Veterinarians routinely tell dog owners to brush their dog’s teeth; I know my vet does. The normal recommendation is to brush their teeth daily to prevent food and bacteria from building up on them which can lead to plaque, gum irritation, and infections. But do you actually brush daily? I don’t and my veterinarian admitted he doesn’t either even though he fully intends to; it just doesn’t happen as often as he prefers. So for those of us with excellent intentions but less than perfect follow through, what else can we do to keep our dog’s teeth clean?

Feed Good Food

Feeding your dog a good food helps your dog in many ways, including keeping his teeth healthier. Quality food, preferably made with whole foods, will nourish his body, which also means stronger teeth. Avoid foods made with by-products, meals, and cereal grains as they are more apt to stick to your dog’s teeth. Instead, look for a food made from meats, vegetables, and fruits.

Offer Vegetables and Fruits for Snacks

Dogs love snacks and owners love giving them. But many snacks are horrible for your dog’s dental health; especially those that contain sugar, fats, and cereal grains. However, carrots or carrot slices, apple slices, or a chunk of squash or pumpkin are good snacks that most dogs enjoy—and the best part is they won’t stick to your dog’s teeth. Plus, although these foods won’t cause established plaque to disappear, as your dog chews them they will scrape food off his teeth. Feed appropriate amounts to your dog based on his size; never more than ten percent of his overall daily calorie intake.

Dried Meat Treats Are Good Chew Treats

There are a wide variety of dried meat treats available that provide excellent chewing action that will help keep the teeth clean. Dried beef ears or snouts, dried tendons, esophagus, and similar pieces are eagerly accepted by most dogs, even those who are finicky about their snacks.

Chew Toys Can Help

If your dog will chew on hard rubber or nylon chew toys, these are excellent for scraping and cleaning teeth. Offer the toy after each meal and encourage your dog to chew on it for a bit.

Raw Bones Can Scrape Teeth Clean

Just like a good toy, bones will clean off teeth, too. The best bones are uncooked and large, preferably from a cow. A small bone (or a cooked one) will break or splinter, may get stuck in your dog’s mouth, or your dog may try to swallow it whole. Always supervise your dog when he’s chewing on a bone to make sure he doesn’t break off pieces of the bone. Some veterinarians argue against the bone-chewing idea, so if you want a second opinion, go ask yours to see what they say.

Avoid Chew Bones Made of Starches

The commercial chews or bones made from starches (usually potato, corn, or rice flours) tend to be more sticky than vegetables or dried meat chews. When your dog’s teeth scrapes up against this sort of stuff, it normally has the opposite effect as chewing on a cow bone. Plus, if you read the ingredients labels of these treats, you may find you don’t want your dog to eat the treats anyway.

Start a Routine

Even if you know deep down in your heart that there’s no way you’ll brush your dog’s teeth after every meal or even every day, try to establish some kind of a teeth cleaning routine. If you can follow a few of the suggestions above, and then clean your dog’s teeth at least once a week, it’s better than nothing.

Use a piece of gauze wrapped around your index finger, get it wet, and then dab it in some baking soda or dog toothpaste. Gently rub it on your dog’s teeth. Don’t try to do the entire mouth at first; even a quarter of the mouth at a time is great. Just each time you do it, rotate around his mouth. With practice your dog will become more accepting and you’ll be able to clean his entire mouth in just a few minutes.

Sometimes, even with all your best efforts, dental problems can occur. The first sign may be an offensive odor from his mouth. If a quick sniff of his mouth causes you to grimace, then take a look at his teeth and gums. Ideally, your dog’s teeth should be clean and white and the gums pink. It there is a brown build up on his teeth and his gums are white or red; call your veterinarian. A red line on the gums at the base of the teeth shows an irritation is beginning. Other signs of dental disease include drooling, a lack of appetite, difficulty eating, or loose teeth. Take your dog to the veterinarian if you see any of these symptoms.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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