Does your dog have stinky breath and yellow tartar buildup on their teeth?
Taking care of your dog’s dental health means more than fresher kisses. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 80 percent of dogs will have some stage of gum disease by age 2. Gum disease can lead to tooth loss, oral pain, and infection that can spread to the jaw, and even lead to blindness.
Harmful bacteria can spread through the bloodstream and put a strain on your dog’s entire body – leading to chronic kidney disease, diabetes and heart failure.
You can save your dog from so much pain and suffering, not to mention vet visits, by making their dental health a priority.
Here is our complete guide to every option out there for your dog’s dental health. Not every product is equal, and every dog has different needs, but if you experiment and mix and match these options, you can keep your dog’s teeth clean well into their senior years.
Bones And Chew Toys For Dental Health
One of the easiest ways to improve your dog’s dental health is to provide plenty of appropriate chewing options. Chewing works out your dog’s neck and jaws, stimulates saliva production to help wash away oral bacteria into the gut, and helps remove tartar and plaque.
Note that chewing bones typically breaks down plaque and tartar on your dog’s molars. Your dog will not use their incisors or canines to chew, so bones will not be effective at cleaning every tooth. You’ll need to use chew toys in combination with other methods to keep your dog’s entire mouth clean.
Not Recommended/Depends On Brand
Most rawhide bones are no longer recommended by most veterinarians because they have been known to cause gastric blockages. Rawhide also breaks down into a gummy paste with the moisture of your dog’s saliva, and can actually stick to the teeth instead of cleaning them.
If your dog enjoys rawhide, be selective about which brands you buy them from – look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal, like on Tartar Shield vet-approved rawhide chews.
Soft Toys And Rope Bones
Simply playing with your dog more often can benefit their dental health. Dogs typically do not play with toys until we engage them. Playing tug-o-war with a rope bone or soft, stuffing-free toy helps clean your dog’s teeth and exercise their jaws.
Plastic Or Nylabones
Nylabones, or hard plastic bones, are losing popularity as a convenient chew. Though they are made of plastic, and do not generally leave behind any odor or residue, this also means that they are completely indigestible.
The packages on plastic bones state that it is normal for your dog to chew off and swallow small pieces of the toy, up to the size of a grain of rice. These pieces normally pass through your dog safely. However, shards of plastic cause tears along the digestive tract on the way out.
Himalayan Yak Milk Chew
Also known as churpi or yak cheese chews, these all-natural treats from the Himalayas are made with just three ingredients: milk, lime juice and salt. Naturally preserved with salt and lime juice, along with a long dehydration process, yak milk chews are formed into a hard block that your dog whittles down with their teeth.
The chews soften slightly with your dog’s saliva, and small pieces that chip off are completely digestible and very nutritious.
There are dozens of varieties of edible dental chews available. Only a select few are tested to be effective at removing tartar and plaque, earning a spot on the VOHC’s approved product list. These products, including Greenies and Virbac products, are generally healthy and safe for dogs, but can contain ingredients that are high in calories or starches, so you may not want to feed them on a regular basis.
Not Recommended/Use With Caution
Deer antlers are incredibly hard and dense to stand up in deer-to-deer combat. Antlers give vigorous chewers a compelling challenge, but they also lead to fractured teeth – and thousands in vet bills. Cow horns and hooves, similarly, are too hard for your dog’s teeth.
Pig Ears And Bully Sticks
Not Recommended/Depends On The Dog
Pig ears are high in fat, and some dogs can eat them in minutes, making them unsuitable for dental cleaning.
Pizzles, or bully sticks, are dehydrated bull penises. They can be high in calories, but provide more of a challenge than a pig ear. For some dogs, they make a great dental treat, lasting a few chew sessions. They are not ideal for heavy-duty chewers who can devour them in minutes.
Not Recommended/Some Exceptions
Avoid cooked bones – even the ones found in many pet sections of grocery stores, and in pet supply stores.
Once cooked, the structure of most bones becomes hard and splintered. When chewed, cooked bones break down into sharp pieces that can cause internal bleeding and gastric obstruction.
If your dog must have them, try a trusted, USA-based brand like Jones Natural Chews. Their bones are cooked at a low, consistent temperature, and the bones are tested to ensure that they do not crack into splinters.
Raw Feeding For Dental Health
A raw diet can help your dog’s dental health. They can still benefit if you are only able to provide occasional raw bones and treats, so you do not have to switch to a completely raw diet if it does not suit your dog or your lifestyle.
Raw meat contains enzymes that fight harmful bacteria. A raw diet is also low in starches, which are found in all kibbles. Starches stick to your dog’s teeth and break down into sugars that feed harmful bacteria.
Whether your dog eats a raw diet, kibble or canned food, they can enjoy raw bones. Raw bones have been found to reduce oral bacteria by 79%, compared to brushing, by 70.3%, bully sticks, 60.2%, and VeggieDent chews, 54.6%.
Some examples of completely edible bones include chicken or duck feet, necks and wings. Bird bones are soft when raw, they easily dissolve in your dog’s acidic stomach tract and provide a source of calcium. Rabbits, similarly, have small, easy-to-eat bones.
Recreational bones are not meant to be eaten, just gnawed. Some examples are beef marrow bones and knucklebones (soup bones). These bones should be bigger than your dog’s head.
Though raw bones are completely digestible, they carry the same choking, tooth fracture and obstruction risk as any other chew, so match the bone to your dog and take it away if they are chewing too heavily. Offering your dog a recreational bone after a meal, instead of when they are hungry, ensures that they chew it at a slow, relaxed pace.
Natural Food Options
There are some natural foods that can fight harmful bacteria and bad breath.
Kelp is a great source of iodine, so you should add it to home-cooked and raw diets. You can also add it to commercial diets. Bacillus licheniformis, found in seaweed, dissolves the film of plaque that coats your dog’s teeth. Kelp is a common ingredient in natural dog and human dental products, but you can sprinkle kelp powder directly on your dog’s meals.
Coconut oil is known for its antimicrobial and immunity-boosting properties. You can use extra virgin coconut oil as toothpaste when you do not have canine toothpaste, and you can add it to your dog’s meals, or feed it to your dog between meals. Feed 1/4 tsp to 1 tablespoon of coconut oil daily, depending on your dog’s weight.
Water additives are easy to add to your routine – just add a splash to your dog’s water bowl every time you refill it.
Bacteria lurking in your dog’s water bowl can lead to dental and digestive issues. You should refresh your dog’s water daily, and wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water at least once per week. A clean water bowl plus a dental additive can help keep your dog’s mouth fresh.
The downside to water additives is that they do not do all of the work. They can help break down the film of plaque on your dog’s teeth, but they cannot break down already-hardened tartar deposits.
Also, some pets will avoid drinking water that contains an additive. Oxyfresh is unflavored and has a very mild scent.
A water additive is a helpful part of your dog’s dental care routine, but it needs to be used in combination with other products.
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Using a canine toothpaste is the most effective way to clean your dog’s teeth – and, admittedly, the most difficult. With a bit of training, though, you can teach your dog to enjoy having their teeth brushed.
Brush your dog’s teeth very gently, focusing on the outer canines. Those big, sharp fangs are essential to your dog’s ability to eat, though they are difficult to clean through chewing.
You may need to build up slowly to brushing over a few training sessions. Practice touching your dog’s lips and teeth with your fingertips for just seconds at a time, then praise them for being patient.
To reward your dog while you are training them to tolerate having their teeth brushed, you can offer them a smear of coconut oil to lick off a spoon. You can allow one lick per tooth brushed. Coconut oil makes a tasty reward that won’t undo your cleaning.
Look for a dog toothpaste with the VOHC seal. One of the most popular is Virbac Poultry Toothpaste, most dogs seem to love the taste, and it’s made with enzymes that continue to fight gingivitis-causing bacteria after brushing.
Dental Sprays And Gels
Dental spray and dental gel can be applied directly to your dog’s teeth with no need for brushing. Brushing is preferred because of the abrasive, scrubbing action, but no-brush products are the next best option for dogs that do not tolerate brushing.
Some dogs will find dental sprays to be more aversive than brushing. They are generally harder to use with smaller dogs because you must carefully control the direction of the spray to avoid getting it in the dog’s eyes. For tiny dogs, whose eyes are very close to their mouth, this can prove to be difficult.
You can squeeze dental gel directly onto your dog’s teeth, or apply it with your fingers. Your dog will then lick their lips, distributing the gel throughout their mouth.
When using gels, toothpastes and dental sprays, do not give your dog food or water for about thirty minutes to allow the product to continue working after application.
Most veterinarians offer dental services – either with general anesthesia, or while your dog is awake.
While your dog is under anesthesia, your vet can clean under the gumline, get x-rays, perform extractions, and completely clear your dog’s teeth of hardened plaque that you may not be able to remove with brushing.
Your veterinarian may recommend a yearly dental cleaning. Though it is expensive, some dogs are particularly sensitive to dental issues, so brushing may not always be sufficient. Toy breeds and greyhounds are notorious for needing regular dental cleanings.
If your dog is old or has other health issues, going under anesthesia might be risky – they may not wake up. Most veterinarians order pre-dental blood tests to ensure your dog is healthy enough.
Anesthesia-free dentals are also available, but they are not as thorough. Your pet is restrained while the surfaces of their teeth are scaled. It is very difficult for veterinary hygienists to clean under the gumline without having your dog put under, so some patients end up with shiny white teeth that are rotting under the gumline.
Clean Teeth Are Worth The Effort
Veterinarians and shelter workers often guess dogs’ ages by the condition of their teeth. That’s how predictable it has become for dogs to experience tartar buildup and tooth decay.
It may take months to restore your dog’s teeth if they already have hardened build-up. You may have to invest in products and professional cleaning. You’ll need to set lifelong habits to maintain those pearly white fangs for the rest of your dog’s life.
Learning to properly care for your dog’s teeth is a long journey, and it takes commitment, but it’s well worth it. You cannot control what diseases and illnesses your dog may eventually develop, but you can keep their teeth clean. It’s your strongest chance of adding many more healthy years to their life.
How Do You Take Care Of Your Dog’s Dental Health? Share Your Experience And Ideas Here So It Can Help Other Doggy Parents And Their Canine Counterparts!