Dental health is just as important for dogs as it is for humans! Most dog owners know they should take care of their dog's teeth but are clueless HOW to do this. Here are some quick ways to ensure your dog's teeth stay clean, white, and strong:
1) Brush Their Teeth: Well that seems obvious and easy enough ...until you try to brush the average dog's teeth! If you feel like you're trying to brush the teeth of a savage Tasmanian Devil, you may need to start small and work up to a full brushing session.
- Practice touching your dog's mouth, lips, and teeth with your fingers. You'll need to get your dog to trust you touching his mouth.
- Then you can then start touching their mouth and teeth using a finger toothbrush. Start lightly brushing their teeth in circular motions.
- You can then start using a dog toothbrush or gauze pad (my personal favorite). You really want to get your dog so comfortable with these behaviors they simply lay down on the floor quietly while you brush their teeth.
There are many dog toothpastes available for you to use. Some have enzymes, some taste like peanut butter or beef, and others have more natural ingredients. My favorite toothpaste is actually DIY and works like a champ! You can use it with a toothbrush or gauze pad and you'll see the tartar come right off.
In a small, airtight container, simply combine:
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil (raw & organic)
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- 2 drops peppermint oil
Dip your toothbrush or gauze pad in and brush away!
2) Use Dental Treats or Toys: There are an abundance of dental treats and toys on the market today. The idea behind these items usually are that the treat or toy is made of a flexible material that "brushes" or "rubs" your dog's teeth as they chew on them; some are even covered in enzymes to help remove plaque.
My honest opinion on these items are that they are better than doing NOTHING for your dog's dental health...but they are a far cry from actually brushing their teeth. The treats are usually pricey and most dogs eat them in a few bites rather than chewing on them daintily enough to receive the "brushing" effects they offer. They toys are a bit better in that they LAST longer, and you can even put dog toothpaste on some of them to increase the benefits...but again, this will be nowhere near as effective as taking the time to work with your dog and manually brush their teeth.
3) Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs): This is a somewhat controversial topic but I believe wholeheartedly that when done properly, the dental benefits of regularly giving a dog RMBs are astounding and can completely eliminate the need to manually brush their teeth or visit the vet. RMBs are RAW, non-weight bearing bones, that still have meat attached. Think of cuts like poultry necks and thighs, chicken feet, pork tail, beef knuckles, ribs, etc. When a dog chews on a RMB, the bone, bone marrow, and any cartilage, are all soft and pliable and rub against a dog's teeth as they chew, effectively "brushing" the plaque right off.
There are many "dos" and "don'ts" when giving RMBs, so make sure to do your research (I LOVE The Raw Feeding Community group on Facebook!), consult with your veterinarian, and above all, KNOW YOUR DOG. Here are some basic tips:
- Choose a cut that is size-appropriate for your dog. I like using chicken necks, wings, and chicken feet for dogs 40lbs and under. For bigger dogs I like turkey necks, pork tails, thighs, and ribs. The cut should be big enough your dog feels the need to chew on it, but large enough it takes about a minute or two to eat (this time frame really depends on the dog's chewing style).
- Introduce RMBs slowly. The first time you give your dog a RMB, hold it in your hand tightly as they chew on it to ensure they don't gulp it down. You should hear lots of crushing and cracking noises--that's NORMAL and what you WANT! ALWAYS supervise your dog when giving them a RMB.
- NEVER give weight-bearing bones--these are the big bones of larger animals. You can usually find them in supermarkets labeled as "dog bones" or "soup bones" and you can see the spongy marrow in the middle of the bone. These are extremely thick bones that are NOT meant for dogs to actually chew with the intent to EAT. Dogs can crack teeth trying to eat these bones and they are not able to crush the pieces small enough to safely swallow.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER feed bones that are cooked, boiled, smoked, dehydrated, or put under heat in any way, shape, or form. COOKED BONES WILL SPLINTER AND CAUSE SERIOUS HARM TO YOUR DOG. You should also stay away from raw meat that has been seasoned in any way.
- Just like with any handling of raw meat, make sure to sanitize anything the meat/bones touched. I recommend feeding any raw bones outside or in an area that can easily be sanitized (kennel trey, bathtub, or kitchen tiles).
- The final point I want to quickly make is about concerns regarding bacteria from feeding raw meat to dogs. Bottom line: there IS a potential dogs can get sick from salmonela, e. coli, listeria, or other bacteria from eating RMBs...but their short digestive tract is DESIGNED to handle these bacteria. If you only feed fresh bones that have remained refrigerated (or frozen) and you handle the meat properly, there is just as much risk they will get sick from the RMBs as from eating their normal kibble.
4) Dental Treatment From Your Vet: And when all else fails, take your dog to the vet for a professional cleaning. This is usually pricey and requires your dog to be anesthetized, but sometimes very necessary. Little dogs are especially prone to periodontal disease, many dogs crack a tooth and need it extracted, or sometimes an older, shelter dog just needs a clean slate! February is pet dental awareness month and many veterinarians offer discounts for dental treatments this month. If this sounds like an option you want to explore, make sure to bring this up at your next vet appointment.
Regardless of what method(s) you choose, dental health is very important to maintaining an overall healthy dog so you can spend many more years in their company. Take care of your dog and they will repay you a thousand times over in ways you will never have imagined.