More Than a Pretty Smile

“A cold, wet nose buried in my hand in early morn, large brown eyes, soft ears, wagging tail, and dragon breath. He is my friend – this beast of black fur and white stomach in spite of bad breath. He is such a treasure, but a human after eating onions is nothing compared to my treasure’s breath. Smells like he eats and drinks from a septic tank. Disgusting! But let him whimper, begging me to pick him up, and I hold him on my chest and watch him get all cozy listening to my heart beat, and I realize just how much he means to me. He is a true treasure, odoriferous breath and all.”  – (author unknown)

“Dog breath” is often joked about, but it is really not a laughing matter. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that more than 80 percent of dogs suffer from some type of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, and the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners puts that percentage even higher.

Periodontal disease impacts a dog’s overall health and well-being in many ways, causing discomfort and pain, and compromises his quality of life. Oral infections and fractured teeth can be painful, and infection in the mouth can spread to the internal organs through the blood stream to major organs. Researchers have shown that dogs with advanced periodontal disease usually have bacteria in the heart, kidney, and liver that can be traced directly back to their oral infections.

It’s important to take care of your dog’s teeth…often caregivers are not even aware that their companion is experiencing discomfort because dogs are such stoic, non-complaining creatures. In nature, dogs survive by not showing weakness, so it’s in their nature to mask their problems, so it is the responsibility of the humans to be proactive in finding oral problems before they get too big, and too painful.

Regular tooth brushing is the best way to insure your pet’s oral health…..with patience and persistence, most dogs can learn to accept the tooth brush routine. No, we are not kidding….brush your dog’s teeth if you are serious about his dental health. The idea of brushing your dog’s teeth can be a bit daunting at first, but it really is the most effective way to control gum disease. Start slowly and gently, allowing your dog to adapt at her own pace.

  • Begin with your finger rather than a toothbrush. Gently rub the top front teeth and all the way to the back teeth. Then do the same on the lower teeth. Praise her often and keep the sessions short.
  • Once she is comfortable with your fingers in her mouth, wrap a damp cloth around your fingertip and rub the teeth.
  • The next step is to use a safe, natural dental cleaning product designed for pets and apply a small amount to the cloth before you rub her teeth. (Do NOT use toothpaste formulated for humans!).
  • Once your accepts this intrusion into his mouth, the experts say to use a finger brush or a soft toothbrush the right size for your dog. Okay, sounds simple, right? Simple, but not easy, and I understand that some of you are not ready to use a toothbrush on your dog’s teeth, so stick to a damp wash cloth around your finger and use that instead of a brush. Not the best, but better than nothing!

Let’s face it: many caregivers will not brush, so animal care companies have been hard at work formulating no-brush products. There are specially formulated non-toxic solutions and sprays that require no effort beyond spraying them in the dog’s mouth or adding to his water. Some of these products are more effective than others, and before you rush out to buy one, check with your vet…Do not buy an over-the-counter solution.

Even with daily at-home-care , just as humans, dogs need their teeth checked and cleaned by a professional on a regular basis. Remember that taking care of your dog’s teeth is like changing the oil in your car – if you do it regularly, you will avoid bigger and more expensive problems down the road, and you will certainly save your dog from unnecessary discomfort and pain.

Bad Breath, Bad News

Most pet caregivers do not take “dog breath” seriously, but if your dog has foul breath, it is probably periodontal disease. The American Veterinary Dental Society declares February as Pet Dental Health Month, and states that more than 80 percent of dogs have some form of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old. Partly because the mouth is warm, moist, and has significant nutrients present for organisms to grow on, the oral cavity of dogs is a perfect incubator for all kinds of bacteria. For the health of your dog, take a look inside your dog’s mouth. What’s in there? What does it look like? Healthy with firm gums or red, inflamed gums, with teeth held hostage in clumps of plaque and a foul smell.

Can you imagine not brushing your own teeth for a couple of years? Or even a couple weeks? According to the AVDS, many caregivers do not recognize the importance of dental hygiene for their dog, with more than half not making dental care part of a consistent routine, and only eight percent considering it as one of the top health concerns. When food remains on your dog’s teeth, it forms plaque which, if not removed, continually builds on his teeth and eventually hardens and usually results in serious tooth and gum issues. If not addressed thoroughly, dental disease can strip your pets of not only their teeth, but their overall health, allowing billions of harmful bacteria to enter their bloodstream and affect multiple other organ systems, doing damage to the heart, liver, kidney and lungs.

If your dog has bad breath, he needs a trip to your family veterinarian for a complete oral exam, because halitosis usually indicates both serious tooth and gum issues. Your best friend could already be suffering without your even realizing it.

You can usually tell if your canine is suffering from periodontal diseases. Strong or offensive breath is the most common sign of oral disease, and buildup of yellow and brown tarter on the tooth surface offer obvious visual clues. Other signs of this disease include loose teeth, gingivitis, drooling, lack of appetite, difficulty chewing, bleeding gums, and pawing at the mouth.

Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a leading veterinarian in Chicago, who includes Oprah Winfrey’s canines as his patients, says, “People brush their teeth twice a day and see a dentist regularly. Dogs need the same level of care and concern. All too often, I see terrible health problems because of poor dental care.”

Dr. Rubin suggests three ways to take better care of a dog’s teeth and health:

  1. Get a complete dental check up from a professional veterinarian.
  2. Make dental care a daily habit for your dog. Keep your dog’s dental care schedule parallel to your own, so it’s easy to remember. Tooth brushing is the single most important part of oral care and cannot be overemphasized.
  3. If necessary have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned by your vet.

Oral health is essential for the well-being of all dogs, but they don’t know how to tell us that their mouths hurt, or that they don’t feel good, so by the time we recognize a problem, the disease may in an advanced stage.

Veterinarian Brook Niemiec emphasizes that “taking care of your dog’s teeth is like changing the oil in your car. If you do it regularly, you will avoid bigger and more expensive problems down the line.”

Brush Up on Dental Health

We all know that we need to take care of our teeth so that plaque and tarter buildup doesn’t cause bacteria that can migrate into our bloodstreams, resulting in serious health problems. The same is true with our pets. Along with good food, exercise, and lots of love, regular brushing of their teeth is one of the most important things we can do for them.  Poor dental health isn’t just about your dog’s teeth and gums.  Over 80 percent of them are affected by dental problems including serious periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, which affects their overall well- being.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month with the “Pets Need Dental Care Too” campaign. Remember what your teeth looked and felt like this morning when you got up?  That rough, thick feel to the surface of the teeth after going only overnight without brushing.  Can you imagine not brushing your teeth for a couple days…or weeks…or years?

Dogs depend on healthy teeth and gums for survival.  Like their caregivers, they are susceptible to bacterial plaque, tarter, cavities, and tooth aches.  Periodontal disease, caused by bacteria and their toxins, if left untreated, will damage the teeth, gums, and supporting tissues. They can also spread through the bloodstream to other organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart. Since dogs cannot brush their own teeth, it is the responsibility to the caregivers to keep their teeth and gums in tiptop shape.  According to recent surveys of dog caregivers, almost all confirm that they would proactively do anything to help their dogs live longer, healthier lives, but fewer than l0 percent recognize dental care as one of the top health concerns for dogs. Very few recognize the importance of brushing their dog’s teeth.

Symptoms of periodontal disease include brownish or discolored teeth, tarter buildup at the gum line, swollen, bleeding, or receding gums, irritability, decreased appetite or reluctance to chew, eat, and drink, pawing at the mouth, rubbing the face on the ground, and persistent bad breath.

To help your dog keep a healthy, lifetime grin, humans need to practice preventative care.

  • Don’t dismiss doggie breath.  A dog’s bad breath is often an early warning sign of dental problems.
  • Pay attention to your dog’s eating habits. If she is reluctant to eat hard kibble, it could be due to a tooth ache.
  • Provide fresh water daily. Bacteria can escalate inside bowls containing water that is more than a couple days old.
  • Treat your dog to a raw baby carrot or two every day. Raw carrots help scrub plaque away as well as provide vitamins and fiber.
  • BRUSH her teeth…no, we are not kidding!  The idea of brushing your pet’s teeth daily can be a bit daunting at first, but it’s the best way to keep gum disease from getting started.  If you have never done this, start off easy. Begin by handling his mouth for a couple minutes every day for a few days. Stroke around his face, and then reward him with praise and maybe a carrot!  For the next week, work toward getting your dog comfortable with having his mouth handled.  Don’t even try to brush….

Next week’s Paw Prints will cover basic tips for actual brushing.

Please don’t be one of the majority of caregivers who will become discouraged …as Mark Twain said, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”  With patience (and carrots), you’ll eventually have a dog who happily lets you mess with his mouth!!