Everybody knows that feeling of disappointment that sets in when the dentist says, “Yup, you’ve got a cavity. We’ll schedule you for a filling.” You think, “Damn, I could have prevented that if I had flossed more.” Then you realize how much that new filling is going to cost, and by the time you’re back in your car, you’re already mentally cutting date night out of your budget for the next couple of weeks, wondering if you could be convincing, making an Amazon-and-popcorn night sound just as fun as Ed Sheeran at Cross. And that’s like a relatively successful dental health experience.
As unpleasant as that is, your dog isn’t that lucky. Without human intervention, veterinarians warn, dogs are likely to develop dental disease, which damages their gums, the bones beneath, and the ligaments that hold the teeth in place. The bacteria of which dental tartar is mostly composed can even enter a dog’s bloodstream, eventually infecting the kidneys, heart, and other vital organs. Needless to say, this is not a pain-free experience for your pup.
Obviously, a program of preventive care is a much healthier, less expensive alternative. Here are some things that animal experts say you can do to keep those fearsome fangs smiling:
Use dry food (kibble), not wet. When dogs eat kibble, the chomping, crushing action on the hard pellets naturally abrades plaque and tartar off the teeth. Wet food, on the other hand, not only does not provide this cleaning factor, but also can stick to teeth, actually accelerating decay. So give wet food on occasion as a treat, but on a daily basis, if possible, feed your dog a high-quality dry food from a reputable manufacturer.
Speaking of treats, you may have suspected that those oral-care focused doggie treats were nothing but a marketing ploy, but we have it from Dr. Michael Tuder, owner and director of four animal hospitals on the East Coast, that they do work. Snacks like Greenies or Natural Balance “... microscopically rub against the teeth and remove debris.” So compared with expensive veterinary procedures down the road, the price of dental dog treats is justified for loving dog owners.
Watch for behavioral indicators from your pet that would stem from dental discomfort, so you can spot any problems early. If your dog is chewing on one side only or avoiding chewing in general, or their breath is uncharacteristically smelly, or you detect swelling on the jaw or around the eye, the teeth are more than likely involved. Time for a vet visit.
Finally, and most importantly, brush your dog’s teeth as often as possible (once a day is ideal). Yes, at first, it can be as much work as getting them into the bath. And yes, we know that you are a busy adult with limited extra time. But if you and your dog can work together and ingrain this habit into your lives, you will head a lot of trouble off at the pass. (Note: use enzyme-based canine paste, not human paste, as fluoride is harmful to dogs.)
Of course, no matter how conscientious you are, serious issues can rear their ugly heads. Rosie (see photo), Phoenix reader Jenny D’s Chiweenie (chihuahua/dachshund mix), is in need of some help with her teeth. So if you are in a position to do so, go to her fundraising page at https://www.gofundme.com/RosieChiweenie and lend a hand.