Q. My dog has terrible breath. One of my friends mentioned I should try brushing his teeth. Can I do that and, if so, can I use my toothpaste?
A. If your dog’s breath is that bad I would recommend a visit to the veterinarian to have his oral health evaluated. Periodontal (gum) disease affects most dogs by three years of age. It is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding a tooth. It is a gradual process that begins with the formation of plaque on the teeth. One of the first things people will notice is the terrible breath you mention. Dogs with advanced periodontal disease tend to have especially foul breath. As the disease advances so does oral pain. You don’t want to start poking around in your dog’s mouth if it is sore and chance getting bit.
Your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning under anesthetic to remove existing plaque and tartar. What many people don’t realize is that dental disease, if not treated properly, can lead to many bad problems for the pet and an incredible expense for the pet owner. After getting a clean bill of health is the time to start brushing your canine’s teeth. If he did have a professional dental cleaning, your veterinarian will be able to advise you when you can start caring for your dog’s teeth.
You can train your dog to accept and even enjoy having his teeth brushed. It is important to go slow. Make sure your dog is relaxed and calm when you start. In order to be successful at brushing your pet’s teeth, you must make it a positive experience for both of you. Praise and give some treats to your dog throughout the whole procedure. Don’t get angry at your pet for not cooperating, which may mean you are proceeding too fast.
First get him used to having your hands around his mouth. Pet his muzzle and then pick up his lip and gently rub your finger on his gums and teeth. After he gets used to this, which may take a few days or weeks, put a little toothpaste on your finger and let him lick it off. Don’t use human toothpaste. It contains fluoride, which is toxic to dogs. You will need a pet toothpaste, which comes in different flavors such as poultry and beef. You may need to try a couple flavors to see what your dog likes best. The more he likes the flavor the easier it will be to train him to accept brushing. Once he likes the toothpaste, put a little on your finger and rub it onto to his gums and teeth.
The next step would be to introduce him to his new doggie toothbrush. There are toothbrushes sold specifically for pets. Once he is comfortable with it let him lick a little toothpaste off of the bristles. Then try lifting his lip and brush a couple of teeth gently in a circular motion. Depending on your dog, it may take up to a couple of weeks to be able to do the whole mouth.
Ideally brushing should be done twice a day. But doing it at least a few times a week is better that not at all. Brushing along with yearly dental exams should keep your dog’s teeth and breath in tip-top shape.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].