Oral hygiene is as important for your dog as it is for you. If you don’t pay attention to your dog’s teeth and gums, they can very quickly build up a layer of plaque which can lead to tooth decay, gingivitis, gum disease and eventually tooth loss. It makes sense to introduce some form of daily oral cleansing routine from a very early age. But, how do I clean my dog’s teeth?
Most vets recommend that the best method is to use a soft toothbrush and a dog toothpaste or coconut oil, and to brush their teeth every day with an annual visit to the vet for a deeper clean, but have you tried it? Many dogs, mine included, think that anything approaching their mouth is either food or a toy to play with and we end up in a game of tug-of-war and the brush splintered into a dozen tiny pieces all over the living room floor.
Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks that will keep my canine’s canines shining and I will share these with you now.
Give Raw Bones to Chew
There is a lot of misinformation over whether you should give bones to a dog or puppy, but chewing the right type of bones can act like a brush and floss for your dog’s teeth and keep them clean and free of plaque. Most uncooked bones from the butcher are fine for your dog, although care must be taken to ensure that the bone is large enough not to cause choking and for this reason I avoid giving my dogs chicken bones, preferring the larger femur bones from lamb or beef. Dogs, and especially puppies, should be supervised when they are chewing on a bone to ensure they do not bite off a chunk which could choke them, or gnaw too aggressively and risk damaging the enamel on their teeth. Bones should also be removed and thrown away after about 15 minutes as this is long enough to have cleaned their teeth, but not long enough to have risked damage.
You may be tempted to buy processed bone or rawhide treats from the pet store or supermarket, but these will contain chemicals, preservatives and have the potential for contamination with salmonella and e-coli. They also often split, splinter and cause stomach upset.
Cooked bones should never be given under any circumstances. The cooking process will soften the bones and they may splinter and injure the mouth or gastrointestinal tract.
My dogs love dental sticks and will happily chew them every day. There are a few brands on the market, some are made from rubber and others from natural ingredients. They all work in the same way to stimulate the production of saliva in the mouth which has antibacterial properties to kill the bacteria that causes gum disease. For dental sticks or chews to be effective, they must be chewed for at least 30 minutes every day, so you need to make sure you buy the right size for the dog you have. If not you will soon get through that packet in just a few mouthfuls.
In recent years, vets have been actively promoting better dental hygiene for pets and as a result you may have heard of the trend to add an oral mouthwash into your dog’s drinking water. Anecdotal evidence shows that these do appear to work, but in addition to the natural disinfectant chlorhexidine, these mouthwashes may contain xylitol, a sugar alcohol which is toxic to dogs. The quantity of xylitol in the mouthwash is minimal and if used as per the instructions offers very little risk to your dog, but if you don’t want to take any risk at all you can make a natural teeth cleaning treat instead.
Natural Dental Balls
Many natural foods have antibacterial properties which help to keep teeth and gums healthy. Most are not likely to be to your dog’s taste, although one of my dogs will slurp at my green tea if I put the mug on the floor by mistake, and some, such as dark chocolate, are in fact poisonous to dogs. However, cheese, apples and coconut are often doggie favorites. Casein, the protein in cheese, stops bacteria attaching to the teeth and will help to prevent cavities; crunchy high fiber foods such as apples, celery and carrot will both scrub the mouth and increase salivation, and as we already know, saliva has antibacterial properties; in Ayurvedic medicine, oils such as sesame and coconut are used to pull out bacteria that are lodged in the gums.
Whereas you can easily give your dog a small piece of cheese or apple to chew on, it’s not so easy using oils to regulate the bacteria. You can however, make dental balls to give to your dog from coconut oil which will be solid a cool temperature. To make these, heat the coconut oil until it is liquid, then pour it into an ice cube tray or cake pop mold. Put the oil balls in a cool place to set hard and keep them in the fridge. Give one to your dog twice a day. It will pull the bacteria from his gums and freshen his breath. You can add turmeric, parsley or sage to the balls if you wish to add extra oomph to the antibacterial mix, or a handful of blueberries just for taste.
Most dogs will have dental problems by the age of 3 if you don’t follow a good oral hygiene routine right from the get-go. Using a toothbrush and an appropriate toothpaste every day is the best way to go and if you start introducing this on the first day you bring your puppy home, you can make it an enjoyable part of the daily grooming ritual. But if your puppy resists or simply wants to play with the toothbrush, don’t give up hope of keeping his teeth and gums clean, give him something to chew for at least 30 minutes every day, feed him healthy food, avoid sugars and add antibacterial ingredients into his snacks.