Did you know that February is National Pet Dental Hygiene Month? Periodontal disease, also known as dental disease, is one of the most common diseases that vets see, but fortunately, it can be easily prevented and managed through regular dental care at home. We’ve asked Freshpet vet, Dr. Aziza, to answer our top questions about canine dental health and how pet parents can get started with at-home dental care.
Like humans, it's recommended to brush your dog's teeth twice a day. Understandably this is a hard ask for most pet parents, so at a minimum, try to clean your dog's teeth regularly. Even if it’s only twice a week, consistent toothbrushing is better than no brushing at all!
Just because your dog’s teeth appear normal doesn't necessarily mean that they are healthy. Dogs' teeth are like icebergs. Remember, 90% of an iceberg is actually below the waterline so at an initial glance you don’t know the scope or size of the iceberg. The crown of the tooth is what is visible above the gums, like the top of icebergs seen above water. However, the root of the teeth is hidden away below the gums. It is possible for a tooth to appear healthy, but is actually diseased below the gum line. This is why it is recommended for dogs to receive full mouth dental radiographs once a year. Radiographs allow veterinarians to assess the teeth below the gums as well as the integrity of the surrounding bone that holds the teeth in place.
The short answer is, yes. All dogs are susceptible to periodontal disease and therefore all dogs need to have their teeth brushed. What’s interesting is that due to several factors, there are dogs that tend to develop periodontal disease much faster than others. So, if you have multiple dogs and you brush their teeth the same amount of times per week, you may still see different stages of periodontal disease between them!
It's never too early to start brushing your dog's teeth. Like toddlers, it's best to get puppies used to toothbrushing as soon as possible. Dogs who were consistently exposed to toothbrushing as puppies are much more accepting of the process as adults, and they also tend to be less stressed during oral exams by a veterinarian. If your dog is an adult, don’t worry, it’s never too late to learn. Try incorporating positive reinforcement when training your dog to accept toothbrushing and use healthy treats like Freshpet's Dog Joy Turkey Bacon as a great reward.
If you want to brush your dog’s teeth, the first thing you should do is find toothbrushes that are labeled for use with dogs. The ideal toothbrush for your pet will be influenced by your dog’s size, your dexterity, and ease of use. Thankfully there are many different types of toothbrushes, including those with multiple bristle heads, angled brushes, and even those that fit on your fingertips. For toothpaste, use products that are labeled for dogs – just like with the toothbrush. Not only do they tend to have good flavors like beef or poultry, but they will not have ingredients like xylitol, which is safe for humans but toxic in dogs.
If you want to skip the doggie toothpaste, try using a small amount of coconut oil when brushing your dog’s teeth. An added benefit of using this natural toothpaste over store-bought is that coconut oil can also help with bad breath.
After meals, food particles are left behind on the teeth, interacting with bacteria in the mouth and collecting along the gums. If these particles are not bruised away, they begin to transform from plaque to tough tartar and build up. This progression is the formation of periodontal disease. As more tartar forms, inflammation of the gums increases, which causes bleeding and bad breath. Eventually, the teeth become severely diseased and the attachment between the teeth and surrounding tissue, including bone, are disrupted. This whole process causes significant oral pain and can cause lethargy, inappetence, and weight loss – all of which will require veterinary care to address.
In practice, it is very common to see progressive periodontal disease in toy breeds like Yorkies, Maltese, and Daschunds. This reinforces the importance of pet parents of toy breeds to start at-home dental care from day one.
Even dogs with no teeth can still benefit from good oral hygiene! Try gently brushing your dog’s gums with a soft-bristle toothbrush or using water additives and oral rinses to enhance their dental care.
The best way to maintain good dental hygiene is to constantly brush your dog's teeth, but that’s not the only thing you should do. It’s also important that your dog is healthy and has a strong immune system, so a good diet is critical. Try recipes like Freshpet’s Nature’s Fresh® Grain-Free Chicken Recipe with, Carrot, Pea, and Spinach or Freshpet® Select Small Dog Bite-Size Chicken recipe which are both full of high-quality ingredients.
Have further questions about your pet’s oral health? Schedule an appointment with your vet! They’ll be happy to discuss ways you can continue to improve your pet’s overall dental care from the comfort of your own home.