Friday, December 5, 2008

Home Dental Care

In my post, "Holly Goes to the Dentist," I showed you what you showed expect from a professional dental cleaning. In the comments, Denapple (Kathy of Life, Birding Photos and Everything) mentioned that her vet had told her to brush her dog's teeth, but she "couldn't get him to rinse and spit." Her comments reminded me that I should do a follow-up post on ways to help your dog's teeth stay healthy and postpone the next dental cleaning. Remember, these tips don't mean your dog never needs his teeth cleaned. People brush their teeth twice daily and we are still supposed to see our dentists every six months for professional cleaning, so don't expect an occasional rawhide chew will replace your veterinary team.

First on our list of options for home dental care are dental diets. There are several brands available; these are the two we carry at our office.

Dental diets may use the size and shape of the kibble, as in t/d to help minimize plaque build-up. The size of the kibble must be matched to the size of the dog - small bites won't have much benefit for a Rottie like my Grace.

t/d (tartar-control diet)
by the Hill's company

Royal Canin's dental diet also uses the size of the kibble, as well as a unique combination of ingredients, to reduce the accumulation of dental plaque.

Royal Canin's Dental Diet

While the above two diets are by prescription only from your veterinarian, there are over-the-counter equivalents, like Science Diet's Oral Care, or the product below. Whole Meals uses a totally different approach to to dog feeding, blending the concept of chew treat with a complete and balanced meal. Like other diets, they are available in several sizes to match your dog.

The shape encourages dogs to slow down, even lie down, and chew their food thoroughly, rather than standing over a bowl, gulping mouthfuls of kibble. The company states that this not only helps with oral health, but promotes better digestion as well.

I use these as quick and easy meals for my dogs when we are away from home, like on days when they come to the office with me. However, at $25 for a bag of 24 meals, I would quickly go broke if I fed this diet exclusively.

There are a number of vegetable-based chew treats that have positive effects on dental health. Greenies got a bad rap a few years ago when large, undigested pieces caused intestinal obstructions in a few dogs. Since then, Greenies have been reformulated to be more digestible, thus safer.

Still, one should still be careful when offering any dental treat like this, including Nylabones' edible vegetable based chews, and Booda Bones, made from corn starch. Remember, these items are designed to be chewed slowly, not swallowed whole. Monitor your dog during chewing and take the treat away if it looks like he is breaking off chunks and swallowing them.
Also, be sure to purchase the correct size for your dog, don't try to save money by offering a small chew to a large dog.

Rawhides have been around for a long time, and can be used as part of an overall dental plan. I recommend the flat pieces, not the knotted "bones" or the compressed rawhide bits that are formed into a myriad of shapes. Compressed rawhides don't have the same dental cleaning benefits, and the knotted ends of rawhide bones can come undone.
As with dental chew treats, swallowing large pieces of rawhide could cause an obstruction. If your dog is swallowing hunks of any rawhide chew, take the product away and don't offer it again.

Virbac CET, a well-known
company that provides dental health supplies, impregnates their rawhide chews with ingredients for added oral health benefits. CET products are available from your veterinarian.

Pig ears have the same benefits as rawhide chews, and the same concerns about obstruction. As for me, I don't offer them to my dogs because of aesthetic reasons. I just think they look disgusting. Case in point:


There are a number of good dental chew toys on the market. I prefer toys with some "give," not hard objects like cow hooves, marrow bones, or hard platic toys like Nylabone Durable. These objects tend to break teeth. Kong has some dental sticks with grooves that you can fill with dog toothpaste, so that the dog brushes his own teeth as he chews. Nylabone's Flexible (formerly called "Gumabone") and Rhino toys are also safe. See this post for our review of dog toys, including those with dental benefits.

The gold standard for home dental care is tooth brushing. There are several "Do's and Don't's" when it comes to canine tooth brushing. Don't use human toothpastes or mouth rinses. They are designed to be spit out and dogs swallow. Do use canine products that are safe to be ingested. CET products come in several flavors and have an enzymatic action to help remove dental plaque. There are many other brands of doggy tooth paste on the market.

You can use an old human toothbrush, but I like the dual ended canine brush for my dogs. Fingertip brushes are also available and better tolerated by some dogs. You just have to try several things to see what works best for you and your pet.

How to brush:

Don't start out by loading a toothbrush up with toothpaste and shoving it in your dog's mouth. Do start out slowly, by getting your dog to accept gentle handling and to learn to be comfortable with you putting your fingers in his mouth. This is best taught to puppies (Remember this post?) but you can teach an old dog to tolerate this new trick. Next, get him used to the taste of the toothpaste and the feel of the brush. You can even dip the brush into beef broth or other yummy liquids and let him lick and chew at it.

Small steps are important when learning any new skill, especially one that is so foreign to a dog. Take your time, work gradually, and always stop on a high note, praising your dog lavishly for putting up with one more human idiocyncracy.

"Good girl, Holly!"

When brushing, you only need to worry about the outer surface (cheek side) of the teeth, not the inner (tongue) side. You especially want to focus on the large premolar teeth on the top and the canine ("fang") teeth top and bottom. Side to side or up and down, the direction makes no difference to me. The mechanical action of brushing is what matters.

Remember, tooth brushing only removes plaque, not tartar or calculus. To acheive the most benefit, toothbrushing should be done daily, since soft plaque hardens to hard calculus in 24 hours.

Food, treats, toys, and toothbrushing - all ways you can promote good oral health in your dog!


holly-the-person said...

Lucy lays down while eating. She is so funny, she gets comfortably situated in front of the bowl and then picks out certain bits to eat one at a time. I have no idea what her criteria is but she noses through the bowl looking for a particular kibble to her liking. She used to wolf her food in the beginning so I would guess this is a good sign of her comfort level here?

NCmountainwoman said...

Wow! I had no idea there were so many food products designed for dental care. We have brushed our dogs teeth regularly since they were puppies. They accept it as a routine part of grooming.

Kyle said...

Great info, Kathi, but I'm curious... do you have any good tips on oral hygiene and tooth care for cats? Our half-grown Maine Coons may be almost the size of dogs, but they definitely have a different personality. We were told by our vet last week that one has some tarter build-up and sensitive gums, and that we need to be brushing their teeth regularly. Yeah, right! And this is the picky eater who won't touch any treats (like the ones the vet said would help clean the teeth). I've got enough scars on my arms already without trying to brush and floss razor-sharp kitty fangs. Any helpful hints?

Off-topic but have to share: my word verification for this comment is "shedding." They have no idea!

KatDoc said...

LMAO at Kyle's comments (and his vet!) Obviously, your vet has never tried to brush his own cat's teeth, Kyle. I have tried with mine, usually easy-going and well-mannered kids, and my answer for home dental care in cats is this:


No, seriously, there are dental diets and Greenies for cats, IF they will eat them. And, there are cat-sized tooth brushes, IF your cat will tolerate brushing. Most cats don't, and for reasons of safety, I usually tell my clients not to try.

Years ago, I read a suggestion that you provide your cat with a small piece of raw oxtail for it to chew on for dental health. Did the writer have any idea how gross it would be to have your cat drag this around your house, only to leave it somewhere to rot? GAG!

No, Kyle, there was a reason why this post was geared towards dog owners only. Because cats are NOT small dogs and won't be treated as if they were.


Mary said...

Kathi, this is the post I need to read. Bella (age 5) has never had a teeth cleaning but will go for her first in February. Chloe has had a cleaning - almost two years ago and will go in a few weeks.

I don't think my dogs will allow me to clean their teeth very well, but I might get Bella to cooperate.

Chew, chew, chew. What to chew?

Thanks for the review!

We are sick of rawhides.