Pet Dental Health: Brushing Mr. Fido - The Trupanion Blog
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Pet Dental Health: Brushing Mr. Fido

The following post was written by Nikka Harvey and was originally published at Happy Pets Magazine. Nikka is a Positive Dog Trainer, Certified AKC CGC Evaluator, Wildlife Rehabilitator and owner of Zoo Mommy Pet Care. She is also continuing her education with a degree as a Veterinary Technician. 

Nikka and Cowboy

I’ve had pups all my life, and despite hundreds of vet visits with several different veterinarians throughout the US, only recently have I been formally educated about the real importance of canine brushing. It was only through my educational studies as a veterinary technician that I was able to learn that the importance of dental hygiene in pets is as vital as caring for our own.

Dogs are susceptible to the same dental issues as humans, including calculus and gingivitis. More than half of dogs suffer from these ailments. Since dogs can’t wear dentures, the irreversible damage can only be alleviated through preventative care.

First things first. Take your pup to a veterinarian to have a thorough brushing. You know, kind of like your 6 month visit to the hygienist? Same deal here. Get a clean slate. Also, your vet can address any existing dental issues your pup may already have.

Next, understand that this should be a great experience for both of you. Turn it into a game. Give LOTS, I mean TONS of praise. Reward with treats and next thing you know, once you go for that toothbrush, your pup will be wagging his tail rather than hiding under the bed.

Take things slow. Don’t restrain your pup too much. Keep these introductory sessions short and exciting. Don’t move on to the next step until your pup is ok with what you are doing. It could upset the entire process and leave you both frustrated.

Now, for the toothpaste. It should be yummy to your pup. That will obviously make things much easier. There are many different canine toothpastes on the market specializing in the luscious flavors of beef, poultry and malt – perfect for the pup’s palate. Please don’t use human toothpaste as the ingredients could upset your dog’s stomach.

If you’re a canine chef, then here’s a couple alternatives that your pup may enjoy.

Toothpaste Recipe:
1 Tbsp baking soda
(alt: 1 Tbsp potassium chloride if your pup is on a salt free diet)
1 tsp water
2 tsp low sodium beef broth (optional for taste)

Toothpaste Recipe:
6 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp salt
4 tsp glycerine
2 tsp low sodium beef broth

Better than nothing alternative:
Dip dog toothbrush in chicken or beef broth and go.


Nikka and Zeus

Let your pup taste the paste. Treat and praise him when he licks it. Remember: This is a fun game.

Next, run your finger along his large canine teeth in front of his mouth and, if he does well, along his gums. You can use gauze or a cloth around one finger to get him used to a foreign object on his teeth. Do this for under 1 minute.

It is highly recommended that you use a brush specifically created for dogs. Although you could use a child’s toothbrush, the bristles may still be too hard on your pup’s teeth. Would we want to use something meant for a dog? Uh, No!

Let him enjoy licking the toothpaste off the brush so he can get accustomed to the texture and feel of the bristles.

If he’s good with that, brush along the gum line in circular motions at a 45 degree angle (slightly tilted). Don’t worry about the inside of your dog’s teeth. His rough tongue takes care of the plaque there pretty effectively.

Brush just a couple teeth and small area of gums first. If he’s ok with it, slowly increase the number of teeth and area of gums you are brushing. Try to cover 3-4 teeth at a time and brush up and down on the teeth. Treat and praise lots. For some, the toothpaste is the treat so another treat or affection, or even a game of ball is a welcome bonus.

And, that’s that. You did it! Now, can you do it again?

As it is for us, it is best to brush you’re pup’s teeth daily. Many people brush their dog’s teeth after they brush their own, talking to them and creating an excitable experience for them both. Kind of like a happy couple!

If daily dental care is out of the question for you, then every other day is acceptable. Don’t let the frequency overwhelm you. Some is always better than none. As with all things, the hardest part is getting started. Once you get over that hump, it’s smooth sailing.

If you notice excessive bleeding when brushing, it could be a sign of periodontal disease. Consult a veterinarian before continuing your dog’s brushing routine. A small amount of bleeding that stops quickly is normal.

Feeding your dog table scraps or super sweet treats increases tartar and plaque build up. Keep treats small and to a minimum and for many reasons, it is best not to feed your dog from the table. That is my big no no.

Look out for your pup sliding his mouth on the floor. He could be trying to alleviate tooth pain.

Watch for changes in diet. If your dog is not wanting to eat hard food, it may be because it is too painful.

Watch for your pup biting himself. It could be fleas or a skin issue, but it could also be dental problems as well.

Water-piks for dogs: Uses chlorhexidine to kill oral bacteria. The water stream removes the plaque.

Food: Hard food is better than soft as it helps reduce plaque build up

Toys: Special toys are on the market to help with tartar control and other dental preventions.

Treats: Some treats are intended to help with plaque and tartar. Look for ones approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC).

Enjoy your pup’s road to a healthy life!

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