Home dental care for your dogs can make a tremendous difference in their comfort and health. There are a wide variety of home care options from which to choose, but keep in mind that anything you can do to help prevent plaque and tartar accumulation will pay back big dividends. The more dental care you can do at home for your dog, the less that will have to be done by a veterinarian. Below we have listed the common forms of home care that have been proven to be of benefit for dogs. Frequently the best approach is to combine several methods of control to achieve best results. All methods of home care share the goal of minimizing plaque (bacterial film) accumulation, and preventing the mineralization of the plaque to form calculus (“tartar”). This list is not exhaustive, but contains those things that Dr. Woodward has found to be of value in his dental practice. Please consult your regular veterinarian for other ideas.
BRUSHING: Brushing your dog’s teeth is the single most effective means to curtail dental disease. This makes sense because the bacterial film known as “plaque” is the root of many dental problems. This film is easily displaced by simple mechanical disruption as the teeth are brushed. Daily brushing is required to improve dental health, while brushing every other day will help maintain the dental health in its current state. Almost all dogs will eventually accept brushing. The key to success is to be patient and gradual in your approach, brushing mainly the outsides of the “cheek teeth”. A pet that resists brushing frequently does so because they have painful areas in their mouth that need to be addressed. We recommend CET toothpaste, which is pet safe and come in several flavors such as poultry, malt and mint. Avoid human toothpastes as they usually contain abrasives and detergents that can be irritating if swallowed. Specific veterinary toothbrushes are very soft and angled to assist in brushing the back teeth.
CHLORHEXIDINE ORAL RINSE: This rinse provides antibacterial benefits lasting up to 12 hours. It is safe for pets and rarely causes any problems. The rinse is applied by squirting a small amount inside the cheek on each side of the mouth. The chlorhexidine binds to the oral tissues, tooth surfaces, and existing plaque, and is gradually released into the oral cavity. Some dogs may object to the taste of the product.
OXYFRESH ORAL HYGIENE SOLUTION: Oxyfresh in the drinking water helps to improve the breath as well as detoxifying certain bacterial products that can interfere with healing of oral tissues. Simply add 1 cap full per quart of water daily.
CHEW TYPE PRODUCTS: Anything that helps increase chewing can be of benefit. To the surprise of many owners, feeding exclusively dry food is of little benefit.
Several specific diets have been shown to be of benefit in decreasing dental disease. Science Diet T/D and Science Diet Oral Care are both “mesh-type” diets that scrub the teeth with a fibrous mesh as your dog eats. Acceptance of these mesh-type foods varies from dog to dog. Friskies Dental Diet, and Eukanuba Dental Defense Diet both employ a chemical coating (sodium hexametaphosphate) that safely decreases tartar formation, and is very well accepted by most patients.
Tartar–chek biscuits are of benefit and contain the same ingredient as the Friskies Dental Diet. Pedigree Denta-bones are also of benefit, but contain a significant number of calories and are occasionally associated with diarrhea. Normal “Milk Bone” type biscuits are of little benefit.
Other chews: Rawhide chews have been shown to be safe and effective in reducing plaque accumulation. CET rawhide chews contain a dual-enzyme system that improves their effectiveness compared to plain rawhide chews. Kongs are firm rubber toys that come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some of the Kongs allow you to place cheese or peanut butter inside to improve acceptance. The flexible “Gummi-bones” produced by the Nylabone company are safe for most dogs.
Greenies are safe and help with reduction in plaque and calculus.
Hard chew toys do help in decreasing dental calculus, but are associated with an increased incidence of broken teeth. Although touted as being part of a natural diet, dogs that are given hard chew products usually end up with painful dental fractures, which can actually expose the nerves of the teeth. The dogs end up with an abscessed tooth. Since they do not complain about it or act any different, these can go unnoticed for many years, leaving your pet in chronic discomfort. Wild dogs, such as wolves, also suffer the same dental fractures. They have no choice but to live with the pain. Fortunately, you can avoid most dental fractures in pets by controlling what they have access to.
We do not recommend cow hooves, thick pig ears, natural bones, or hard Nylabones. These are all harder than teeth, and are frequently associated with broken teeth. Ice cubes are also harder than teeth and can cause painful dental fractures.
Please note: All chew toys require that you monitor your pets while they are using the product. Never leave pets unattended while they are enjoying any chew toy. Some dogs tend to swallow large pieces of whatever you give them to chew on. These dogs should be closely monitored, and the pieces of the toys should be discarded as they break them apart. Some experimentation is required, but you should be able to find chew toys that work well for your individual dog.