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Well-Made Goods for Dogs & Cats
Well-Made Goods for Dogs & Cats

5 Ways to Keep Your Dog's Teeth Healthy

Beautiful white teeth are the sign of a healthy mouth.

My last dog, Dallas, lived to the ripe old of age of 17.  We were lucky, given the state of his teeth.  Good dental hygiene can add 2-4 years to your dog's life, but clearly, we did not do enough to keep his teeth healthy. Periodontal disease puts a dog at higher risk for heart, kidney, and liver disease, but he was fine thank goodness.  My guy would have regular cleanings until he got too old for the anesthesia.  Even so, it was never enough to stay ahead of the plaque and periodontal disease to keep his teeth healthy.

Dallas at 16 years old - notice the slight puffiness below his eyes due to oral problems.

Here are some of the problems Dallas had:

* Bad Breath - it could clear a room!

* Hard time chewing his kibble and other hard food

* Increasing sensitivity about having his snout and face touched

* Occasional bleeding in his mouth

* Difficulty keeping weight on

Now that I am starting out again with two puppies, I am taking a different approach to keeping their teeth healthy and breath fresh - no more dog breath in our house!  I regularly do the following:

1. They enjoy natural animal chews several times a week

Chewing is a great way to scrape your pup's teeth clean and healthy.  Plus, chewing is a great boredom buster, so a double win!  You can often find meaty raw bones at your local grocery store, usually sold as soup bones.  Connective tissue and cartilage cover raw bones.  They provide good brushing and flossing action while massaging your pup's gums as he chews.  Some come with a lot of marrow, which dogs love.  However, the marrow is high in fat, so introduce it to your dog slowly to avoid loose stool. My pups eat the bone marrow over several days to avoid these problems (refrigerated between sessions, of course).

Raw bones, with their connective tissue and cartilage, provide good brushing and flossing action.

When Zane was a small puppy, we would scrape the marrow out and make a broth.  We would use the broth on kibble that we froze in a West Paw Toppl.  This gave him a yummy, relaxing part of his meal while cleaning his teeth as he chewed the rubber Toppl.  Note: Avoid giving your dog cooked bones as they can splinter and your dog could choke on the piece.  Please ask your veterinarian if you need more information about feeding your pet raw bones.

If raw bones are not your thing, there are plenty of other raw chews available.

Bully sticksesophagiscapulae, cow hooves, jerky, and tracheas are all great, healthy chew treats for your dog.  They tend to have a strong flavor and taste that dogs love.  They also provide the scraping to remove plaque and buildup.  Zane would eat a bully stick a day if I let him.  However, they tend to be high in calories, so be sure to factor them in when planning your feeding.

Bully sticks scrape plaque and tartar from your dog's teeth as she chews.

Check carefully when selecting a chew

Where was the animal sourced?  Most people prefer The United States, Canada, New Zealand, and South America for their methods of raising the animals.

Where was the animal processed?  You want strict quality control standards and inspection rigor.

Were they raised or processed with chemicals or other additives?  You want them free of any preservatives or chemicals that may harm your dog.

Were they free range and grass-fed?   You want animals that are raised with a healthy grass diet, as nature intended.

Another animal treat to consider are dehydrated fish skins.

They have a great flavor and satisfying crunch that will please your dog.  And the rough texture can help remove tartar from your dog's teeth.

2. We play with toys that clean their teeth

You can easily provide dental protection every day while strengthening your bond through play.  Just make sure the right toys are in your dog's play rotation. As these toys satisfy your dog's natural chewing urges, they are also scraping away plaque, flossing your dog's teeth, and/or massaging your dog's gums.  The types we recommend are:

Rope Toys

Rope toys, like these below from Harry Barker and Jax and Bones, naturally fray over time and act as floss keeping your dog's teeth healthy by removing plaque build-up. For a teething puppy, dip the toy in meat broth or water, freeze it, and give it to soothe and massage her gums.

Rope toys can provide great flossing action for your dog. This was one of Zane's first toys!

Felted Wool Toys

Like rope toys, felted wool toys naturally floss your dog's teeth as they chew and play.  And you can control the density of the toy over time - as your dog plays, the fibers can get extended and loose.  Simply dampen it and throw in the dryer to tighten the toy up again. The ones we carry are made from 100% wool with azo-free dyes.  This way, even if your dog pulls some off and swallows it, they will not eat any toxic chemicals.

Ware of the Dog Pig and Walrus felted wool toys will also naturally floss your dog's teeth during play.

Rubber Toys

Rubber toys, which often can be stuffed with treats, softly scrape your dog's teeth and massage their gums while your dog happily digs away to get the reward.  This helps keep your dog's teeth healthy.  Some of these toys, like the PlanetDog line, use scented oils which can additionally help with your dog's breath. Other benefits: they stand up REALLY well to champion chewers like my two and they provide mental stimulation as your dog figures out how to get the treat out.

Rubber toys, like these form PlanetDog, provide great "brushing" scrub while playing.

3. I reward them daily with dental treats

There are a number of dental chews and treats available. They reduce plaque and tartar and freshen breath as your dog eats them.  Try one of these to see if your dog enjoys them, making it easier to keep their teeth healthy:

Ark Naturals Breathless Brushless Toothpaste dental treats have a textured outer core filled with pet toothpaste.  They fight pet plaque, tooth staining, tartar, and bacterial growth, plus breath-freshening ingredients, such as cinnamon, cloves, and chlorophyll.  These are my puppies' favorites - they are their morning treat!

Herbsmith Dogbreath Dental Treats coat the teeth with active ingredients to break down tartar. like sea algae.  Then add spearmint and parsley to promote healthy teeth and fresh breath.

Proden Plaque-Off Dental Treats are made from specially selected seaweed called Ascophyllum nodosum, which reduces the bacteria in the mouth that causes tartar and plaque on tooth surfaces.

Several dental treats are offered in forms specifically designed for the special needs of puppies or seniors, too.  It's also important to give your dog chews or treats that are appropriate for their size.

4. I feed dental additives for easy teeth cleaning

Add to food and/or water for natural plaque removal and healthy teeth.

This has to be one of the easiest things you can do to keep your dog's teeth clean: add something tasty and effective to your dog's food and/or water.  They are specifically formulated to reduce plaque and tartar while freshening your dog's breath.  A couple you can use to keep your dog's teeth healthy are:

ProDen Plaque Off. Sprinkle this powder on your pet's food. The natural compound comes out through the saliva and works to break down the bacterial biofilm that forms on the teeth and gums. This makes existing tartar become porous, so it loosens by itself or can be easily removed by brushing or cleaning.

Mad About Organics Oral Care Water Treatment. A dog-friendly dental water additive that contains a blend of natural, organic berries, herbs, and other plants that help soften and remove plaque and tartar quickly while freshening breath.  Simply add to your dog daily water.

Sprinkle some naturally antibacterial Ceylon cinnamon on food to slow bacteria growth that can cause tooth decay and bad breath.  And your dog will also benefit from the extra burst of antioxidants from the cinnamon.  The Honest Kitchen has a great article about selecting and dosing cinnamon to maximize results.

Always select dental additives specifically designed for dogs.  Human oral dental products often contain xylitol which is toxic to dogs.

5. We are getting into a regular brushing routine

Brushing is essential to keeping your dog's teeth healthy and breath clean.  So while the options above help reduce the frequency, there is no substitute for brushing your dog's teeth.  You should aim for daily brushing, but every few days is OK if your dog's teeth are in good shape - a great reason to use the above suggestions!  We are currently at once a week, aiming for three times.

Brushing your dog's teeth is essential to healthy teeth and gums.

Just select a toothbrush:

Microfiber finger brush - great for puppies and small dogs.

A microfiber finger toothbrush is a great tool for small dogs and puppies.

A double-sided dog toothbrush designed to maximize surface contact, making brushing faster and easier.

Petosan double-headed toothbrush covers twice the surface of the teeth for faster brushing.

A quiet double-sided electric toothbrush can give your dog a fast, deep clean.

In a pinch, a soft child's toothbrush should have a head small enough to work for your dog but know that it will take longer to cover all tooth surfaces.

Then select a toothpaste (DO NOT use human toothpaste as it can be harmful to your dog if swallowed):

Commercial dog toothpaste is designed to taste great and can contain enzymes to fight plaque and bacteria.  We like Petosan, which has a tasty poultry flavor dogs love; mine certainly do! And no rinsing required.

Coconut oil is a great tasting "toothpaste" with antibacterial, antiviral,  antifungal, and antimicrobial properties, making it a great alternative for your dog's brushing routine.

Check out Pinterest for homemade toothpaste if neither of the above works for your dog.

Before you begin, test out the toothpaste on your fingertip to see if your dog will lick it and enjoy the flavor.  If not, try another.  Ideally, your dog will view the toothpaste as a treat, making your regular brushing a positive experience.

A few tips

Make sure your dog is calm and relaxed before beginning.

Get down on her level to avoid coming across as threatening.

Aim for two minutes total per session, even if it means you don't get all the teeth at one time.

Praise as you work and end with a treat reward.

Good luck - I am sure you and your dog will have a great time testing out all of these options to find what works for you!

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