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Dental problems are one of the most common health issues in dogs, so it’s especially important to take care of their teeth and gums. Brushing their teeth is one way to help prevent the build-up of plaque, but what other steps can you take to help maintain your dog’s dental health?
What happens if you don’t look after your dog’s teeth?
After your dog eats, bits of food, saliva and bacteria mix to form plaque, a sticky film that can cover their teeth. If plaque isn’t removed, it hardens and turns into tartar. Tartar can irritate your dog’s gums and cause them to become swollen and red, eventually leading to bad breath and tooth decay.
Brushing their teeth
You should brush your dog’s teeth to help prevent the build-up of plaque. Starting when they are young is particularly helpful, as it protects their teeth from an early age and familiarises them with the process. For puppies, it’s important to start slowly. You should gently rub your fingers over their teeth to get them used to this feeling. Once they are comfortable with this, repeat the process with toothpaste on your finger (make sure to use dog toothpaste rather than human!). Once your dog is familiar and relaxed with this, move on to using a toothbrush. Remember to give your dog lots of attention and praise after brushing their teeth to help encourage them. Ideally, dogs should have their teeth brushed every day, but even doing it a few times a week can help.
Try using dog chews
As well as brushing your dog’s teeth, you can use dental dog chews to help reduce tartar build up. These chews scrape off food, tartar and plaque from the teeth and some are specifically designed to be porous and ridged, making them more effective. Dog chews are also useful for reaching the back teeth, which are more prone to dental disease.
Choosing the right dog chew
Dogs love to chew, whether that’s a toy or something they’ve found in your home or on a walk, but not everything they like to chew is safe or good for them. Some items can be dangerous to your dog and can cause broken teeth, an obstruction or pierced gums. It’s important to carefully choose what you let your dog chew and ideally only give them dental chews from a reputable company. The ideal chew shouldn’t be too hard or too tough for your dog’s teeth, should be an appropriate size and shouldn’t splinter apart when bitten.
Are chews good for my dog’s teeth?
Dental dog chews can help to remove tartar and plaque from your dog’s teeth. Not only are they good for improving your dog’s dental health, but they can also help relieve anxiety and stress.
Can dog chews be used to prevent bad breath?
Bad breath is often caused by the bacteria found in a build-up of tartar. Most dog chews don’t contain anything to help freshen breath, but they do help to reduce plaque build-up.
When not to use dental chews
If your dog has missing teeth, bleeding or inflamed gums, then you should contact your vet before giving any dental chews.
Bleeding gums in dogs
If you notice your dog’s gums are bleeding, we advise you take them to visit your vet as soon as possible. Light bleeding over a wide area of a dog’s gums could be a sign of gum diseases, such as gingivitis or periodontal disease. Both diseases can cause discomfort and lead to issues including weight loss.
If your dog’s gums are bleeding heavily, this is probably a sign that they have cut their gums rather than a sign of dental disease. Dogs can cut their gums on several different things, especially when on a walk. Items to watch out for when walking include:
Sharp or splintering sticks
Smashed or cracked glass
Rocks and stones
Used plastic food cartons
If you notice your dog’s gums bleeding heavily, take them to your vet as soon as possible. Once there, your vet will be able to stop the bleeding and help them to recover from the cut.
Tooth loss in dogs
Tooth loss is a very common issue for older dogs. This is because dental calculus builds over time and eventually causes teeth to fall out. As this is an issue primarily for senior dogs, it shouldn’t be as common in younger dogs. If you have a younger dog and notice their teeth are falling out it could be a sign of something different.
If you notice your dog’s tooth has broken off rather than falling out, they could have eaten or chewed something hard like a stone. If this is the case the remaining part of the tooth could still be in your dog’s mouth. This can lead to more serious issues as the tooth could dig further into your dog’s gum and it could also cut other parts of your dog’s mouth.
A broken tooth could also lead to a tooth root abscess. A tooth root abscess forms when bacteria is exposed to the root canal of a tooth, usually because of a broken or chipped tooth.
Bad breath in dogs
Bad breath in dogs is a common problem that most pet owners have to deal with at some point. If a dog has bad breath, they are not necessary suffering from a dental problem. However, if paired with any of the above conditions, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Pale gums in dogs
A dog’s gums should usually be pink in colour. If your dog’s gums aren’t pink, this could mean they have a dental condition. Pale gums in dogs usually appear when your dog is losing blood or has a problem with the creation of red blood cells.
One reason a dog may be losing blood is because of a severe parasite infestation. This can include either external or internal parasites. Parasites such as ticks and fleas survive by drinking their host’s blood. If your pet has a severe flea infection it could cause pale gums to appear.
Pale gums in dogs can also be caused by kidney disease. Kidney disease stops the development of a hormone that aids in red blood cell creation. As a result of this, fewer red blood cells are created, which, in turn, causes your dog to have pale gums.
Internal or external bleeding could be another cause of pale gums in dogs. It’s very easy to spot if your dog is bleeding heavily externally, but internal bleeding may not be so easily spotted. Shallow breathing and a rapid heart rate are all signs that your dog could be bleeding internally.
If your dog does begin to show pale gums, we advise that you contact your vet immediately, especially if you notice signs of internal bleeding such as a rapid heartbeat or shallow breathing.
Contact your vet
Always speak to your vet if you’re concerned about your dog’s teeth, diet or health.
If you're worried about your dog's health, always contact your vet immediately!
We are not a veterinary organisation and so we can't give veterinary advice, but if you're worried about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact your local vet practice for further information
Find a vet near you
If you're looking for a vet practice near you, why not visit the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Find a vet page.