Dog Behaviour

Sue Gilmore MA FCFBA

Dentists – love them or fear them – are as essential as doctors to our healthcare, but dental care for dogs is not as high on our priority list as perhaps it should be. Dogs rely on their teeth for eating, chewing, playing and picking up things, so it’s essential that their oral hygiene is our priority. Plaque and tartar build-up offers the ideal environment for bacteria to populate a dog’s mouth leading to bad breath, gum infection, toothache, root abscesses and serious infection to internal organs.

Chewing and biting on raw bones or strong rubber toys (Kongs) stimulates enzyme production in the dog’s mouth, which strengthens the teeth and promotes good oral health. When we humans visit the dental hygienist once or twice a year, the plaque is removed and we are advised how to care for our teeth: daily brushing, flossing, etc., is recommended, so why should we assume that our dogs’ teeth will be OK without regular daily oral care and oral hygiene checks? 

As devoted owners we want the best for our best friends, so a few minutes spent in brushing their teeth can ensure that they are kept in tip-top condition. All you need is a toothbrush and some toothpaste specially formulated for dogs, which contains enzymes that break down bacteria and tastes good to dogs. Our toothpaste is not suitable for dogs: it foams, tastes awful to dogs and has chemicals in that may cause them to run a mile from you on sight of the toothpaste tube!

The latest research proves that manual brushing is best and whilst initially your dog may be a real fidget and make life difficult for you, with persistence she will soon enjoy the extra attention and taste of the toothpaste, too.

Here’s how to do it:

Start by gently stroking your dog’s cheeks for a minute or so and let her lick the toothpaste from your finger. When she accepts this, gently rub a small amount of toothpaste onto the gums and along the teeth. It may take a few days for your dog to accept this, but persist! Using a soft brush to start with, gently apply some toothpaste either on the brush or continue applying it with your finger, then with the brush. Just a point, if your dog tends to snap or will not calm, keep yourself safe and go back to stage one, stroking the cheeks until eventually she will trust you to apply the toothpaste etc. If using a brush to too difficult, try using a rubber pimpled finger tooth cleaner, which are available at pet stores.

A trip to the vet can be avoided by regular brushing, but in the event that your dog will not tolerate  it, you may need to have her teeth scaled and polished for a more thorough cleaning. She will have to be sedated, which generally means a day’s stay at the veterinary surgery.

Tripe sticks and similar natural dried chews also help keep dogs’ teeth healthy, but avoid commercially produced dental sticks that contain additives and sugar.

Just a couple of minutes a day can make the difference and keep your dog away from the dog dentist!