National Pet Dental Hygiene Month: Information for Pet Parents Who Brush Their Dog’s Teeth at Home

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Did
you know that February is National Pet Dental Hygiene Month? Periodontal
disease, also known as dental disease, is one of the most common diseases that
vets see, but fortunately, it can be easily prevented and managed through
regular dental care at home. We’ve asked Freshpet vet, Dr. Aziza, to answer our
top questions about canine dental health and how pet parents can get started
with at-home dental care.

How often should I brush my dog’s
teeth?

Like
humans, it’s recommended to brush your dog’s teeth twice a day. Understandably
this is a hard ask for most pet parents, so at a minimum, try to clean your
dog’s teeth regularly. Even if it’s only twice a week, consistent toothbrushing
is better than no brushing at all!

Should I worry about my dog’s teeth
if I see no problems?

Just
because your dog’s teeth appear normal doesn’t necessarily mean that they are
healthy. Dogs’ teeth are like icebergs. Remember, 90% of an iceberg is actually
below the waterline so at an initial glance you don’t know the scope or size of
the iceberg. The crown of the tooth is what is visible above the gums, like the
top of icebergs seen above water. However, the root of the teeth is hidden away
below the gums. It is possible for a tooth to appear healthy, but is actually
diseased below the gum line. This is why it is recommended for dogs to receive
full mouth dental radiographs once a year. Radiographs allow veterinarians to
assess the teeth below the gums as well as the integrity of the surrounding
bone that holds the teeth in place.

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Do all dogs need to have their
teeth brushed?

The
short answer is, yes. All dogs are susceptible to periodontal disease and
therefore all dogs need to have their teeth brushed. What’s interesting is that
due to several factors, there are dogs that tend to develop periodontal disease
much faster than others. So, if you have multiple dogs and you brush their
teeth the same amount of times per week, you may still see different stages of
periodontal disease between them!

When should you start brushing your
dog’s teeth?

It’s never too early to start brushing your dog’s teeth. Like toddlers, it’s best to get puppies used to toothbrushing as soon as possible. Dogs who were consistently exposed to toothbrushing as puppies are much more accepting of the process as adults, and they also tend to be less stressed during oral exams by a veterinarian. If your dog is an adult, don’t worry, it’s never too late to learn. Try incorporating positive reinforcement when training your dog to accept toothbrushing and use healthy treats like Freshpet’s Dog Joy Turkey Bacon as a great reward.

What should I use to brush my dog’s
teeth?

If
you want to brush your dog’s teeth, the first thing you should do is find
toothbrushes that are labeled for use with dogs. The ideal toothbrush for your
pet will be influenced by your dog’s size, your dexterity, and ease of use.
Thankfully there are many different types of toothbrushes, including those with
multiple bristle heads, angled brushes, and even those that fit on your
fingertips. For toothpaste, use products that are labeled for dogs – just like
with the toothbrush. Not only do they tend to have good flavors like beef or
poultry, but they will not have ingredients like xylitol, which is safe for
humans but toxic in dogs.

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How can I brush my dog’s teeth
naturally?

If
you want to skip the doggie toothpaste, try using a small amount of coconut oil
when brushing your dog’s teeth. An added benefit of using this natural
toothpaste over store-bought is that coconut oil can also help with bad breath.

What happens when you don’t brush
your dog’s teeth?

After
meals, kibble particles are left behind on the teeth, interacting with bacteria
in the mouth and collecting along the gums. If these particles are not bruised
away, they begin to transform from plaque to tough tartar and build up. This
progression is the formation of periodontal disease. As more tartar forms,
inflammation of the gums increases, which causes bleeding and bad breath. Eventually,
the teeth become severely diseased and the attachment between the teeth and
surrounding tissue, including bone, are disrupted. This whole process causes
significant oral pain and can cause lethargy, inappetence, and weight loss –
all of which will require veterinary care to address.

What dog breeds do you find needing
the most dental care?

In
practice, it is very common to see progressive periodontal disease in toy
breeds like Yorkies, Maltese, and Daschunds. This reinforces the importance of
pet parents of toy breeds to start at-home dental care from day one.

How can I maintain my dog’s gum
health if he has lost teeth or has no teeth?

Even
dogs with no teeth can still benefit from good oral hygiene! Try gently
brushing your dog’s gums with a soft-bristle toothbrush or using water
additives and oral rinses to enhance their dental care.

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What is the best way to maintain
dental hygiene besides brushing my dog’s teeth?

The best way to maintain good dental hygiene is to constantly brush your dog’s teeth, but that’s not the only thing you should do. It’s also important that your dog is healthy and has a strong immune system, so a good diet is critical. Try recipes like Freshpet’s Nature’s Fresh® Grain-Free Chicken Recipe with, Carrot, Pea, and Spinach or Freshpet® Select Small Dog Bite-Size Chicken recipe which are both full of high-quality ingredients.

Have
further questions about your pet’s oral health? Schedule an appointment with
your vet! They’ll be happy to discuss ways you can continue to improve your
pet’s overall dental care from the comfort of your own home.

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