Dogs need regular dental care just like you do; gum disease and broken teeth are the major concerns. Fortunately, pets seldom suffer from tooth decay. Their cone-shaped teeth, non-acidic saliva, and low-sugar diets all help protect them from this nasty ailment. (Note: If you give your pets sweets for snacks, they can get cavities.)
Regular brushing and professional cleaning can keep your dog’s teeth healthy and gleaming. Giving your pet appropriate toys to chew prevents fractures.
Does It Really Matter?
Periodontal disease affects the gums, bones, and connective tissue around the teeth, and it can cause tooth loss. First, plaque—a soft, clear, or cream-colored deposit—forms on the teeth. If it isn't removed, minerals in the dog's saliva turn plaque into tartar. Tartar builds up below the gums, and bacteria grows, causing inflammation.
The same bacteria that causes the inflammation can enter your pet's bloodstream and cause or aggravate lung, kidney, liver, and heart problems. That's a lot of trouble, worry, and cost from something that could be stopped in its early stages.
Start Care Young
When your puppy first begins to get permanent teeth, check carefully to be sure the baby teeth come out as the new teeth come in. Retained teeth can cause the permanent teeth to be crooked. Toy dog breeds, with their tiny jaws, are at special risk for this problem.
While hard foods and chew toys can help keep teeth clean, you need to get your pet used to regular tooth-brushing. As soon as you bring your new pet home, get him accustomed to having his mouth handled. This is good practice for dogs that will be shown; judges check to make sure dogs have their full set of teeth. It is also good training—it teaches the dog to tolerate having things in his mouth without biting or snapping.
What your dog eats affects his "smile." Dry foods and treats help clean plaque from his teeth. Rawhide chews are also good cleaning tools, as are some of the knobby plastic toys on the market. None of these are hard enough to cause tooth damage, but be sure to watch your pet to make sure small pieces of the toys aren't torn off and swallowed. Real bones can also be dangerous for your pet and should not be used for tooth-cleaning purposes.
All dry adult IAMS™ Dog Foods, such as IAMS ProActive Health™ Adult MiniChunks, include Daily Dental Care, a special kibble coating that helps reduce tartar buildup for better oral health.
Teaching Your Dog to Accept Brushing
It just takes a little time and patience. Begin by running your finger gently over his gums. At first, just rub the outside, but as he adjusts to the routine, begin to open his mouth and rub the gums inside the teeth as well.
As your dog gets accustomed to this, wrap your finger with gauze and rub his gums. Eventually, add a pet toothpaste; do not use human toothpaste. After a few weeks, your dog should be willing to accept a toothbrush for pets, which should have soft, multi-tufted synthetic bristles.
Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and apply it to the area where teeth and gums meet. Rotate it in small circles, overlapping several teeth. Finish with vertical strokes to pull plaque from between the teeth. Repeat until all the teeth on the cheek side are clean. The inside teeth will be more difficult, as your dog may resist opening his mouth, but eventually you'll be able to brush the inside and outside surfaces of all the teeth. For effective cleaning, brush your dog's teeth a couple of times a week.
When Your Pet Needs Professional Help
If your dog won't cooperate with home brushing or if you already see brown tartar stains on his teeth or red and bleeding gums, it's time to turn to your veterinarian for help. He or she will give your dog general anesthesia and clean the teeth above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar. After the teeth are cleaned, they will be polished to remove microscopic plaque and to make the teeth smooth to discourage plaque from clinging.
Remember, dental care is as important to your pet's health as it is to your own—you owe it to your dog to provide regular tooth care and cleaning.
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Keeping Your Senior Dog Healthy and Active
It depends on the breed of dog, but your pet's senior years generally begin at age 7. Louise Murray, DVM, director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City and author of Vet Confidential (Ballantine, 2008), tells you what you need to know to keep your older dog spry and happy.
Senior Dog Health: Preventive Health
At this stage, Murray recommends taking your dog to the vet twice a year. "So much can happen to an elderly dog," she says. Your veterinarian can take blood annually to test liver and kidney functions. "Discovering problems early is extremely important," she says. Your vet can be on the lookout for conditions that often affect older dogs, such as anemia and arthritis.
Senior Dog Health: Urination, Bowel Movements, and Appetite
Pay attention to what might be subtle changes in your dog's habits: Is she drinking more water or urinating larger amounts? These behaviors might indicate a liver or kidney problem. Have your dog's bowel movements shifted? This could indicate a digestive issue. Diabetes or digestive problems might cause your dog to eat more but still lose weight. Knowing the dog's patterns can help the veterinarian determine a course of treatment.
Senior Dog Health: Flea, Tick, and Heartworm Medicines
Continue to use preventive medicines.
Senior Dog Health: Dental Health
Clean your dog's teeth daily. If she has tartar buildup, you might need to have her teeth professionally cleaned at your vet's office, which requires sedating your pet.
Senior Dog Health: Exercise
Your dog is probably less active, so steady, moderate exercise is best for her now. Don't turn her into a "weekend warrior" who, after lying around on weekdays, accompanies you on a 10-mile hike on Saturdays. This is especially hard on an older dog's joints.
Senior Dog Health: Diet
Your veterinarian might wish to put your dog on a senior diet, such as IAMS™ ProActive Health™ Senior Plus. These formulations contain nutrients specifically geared toward older-dog health.
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