by Hindy Pearson
Wait…don’t leave!! You saw the words “senior dog” and you think because you don’t have one this information doesn’t apply to you. Oh, but it does!
February is National Pet Dental Health Month, so I am taking this opportunity to remind everyone of the importance of taking their dog’s oral hygiene seriously. Yes this applies to every pet, but this series is about senior dogs so…
It is impossible to overstate its’ importance or the consequences of dental problems left untreated.
I never brush my dog’s teeth and he’s fine
Sorry but you don’t know that he’s fine, and left unchecked dental disease can cause serious heart, liver and kidney problems.
Symptoms of gum disease
Some of the symptoms you can expect include:
Pawing at the mouth
Gums are red or bleeding
Won’t let you near his mouth
Doesn’t chew his food, or has lost interest in eating
Your dog is in pain
We all know how painful a toothache or infection can be, imagine how your dog feels? He can’t run to the drugstore for a prescription like you can!
What should I do?
Even if you haven’t noticed any changes in your dog’s behavior, I highly recommend you make an appointment to see your vet as quickly as possible.
What will my vet do?
He will examine your dog’s mouth and check for tartar and other obvious signs of infection or dental disease. If he’s happy with the condition of your dog’s teeth and gums, marvelous. If he isn’t, he will almost certainly recommend dental surgery. The true extent of your dog’s dental health can only be determined once your dog is sedated and your vet starts operating.
Keeping your dog’s teeth and mouth clean
Establish a routine of brushing, put a breath freshening additive in your dog’s water, give your dog a good dental treat or bone to chew on, chew toys to play with, and make sure a dental is included in his regular exam.
You’ll want to brush your dog’s teeth daily if you can, or at least a few times a week. Only use toothpaste formulated for dogs and pick a toothbrush from the variety of options available. There are long handled brushes with a large head on one end, a small one on the other, three sided and electric toothbrushes as well. If your dog is not letting you near him, a rubber toothbrush that fits over your finger, or a piece of gauze wrapped around it are possibilities.
If he’s fighting you tooth and nail, literally, alternatives include dental wipes, powders sprinkled directly on food that work systemically, or gels applied directly to the teeth with no brushing required.
Putting an additive in the water bowl daily will keep his breath fresh, and help eliminate plaque and tartar build up.
Dental chews, bones and chew toys also help keep plaque at bay, and are great boredom busters. The benefit of a toy over an actual food product is the lack of calories, and no ingredients that might be forbidden in your dog’s diet.
One quick note, never leave your dog unattended while he’s chewing on a cookie or bone.
Will any or all of this prevent future dental surgery?
I wish I could tell you it will, but there’s no guarantee. Brushing is the best way to keep your dog’s teeth clean, but not all dogs are cooperative. Mine certainly are not!
Water additives, teeth gel and chews are thought to do some good, and are definitely better than doing nothing.
Which products to choose
Naming specific products is beyond the scope of this article. What I can recommend is, read labels and walk away from products that contain lengthy lists of ingredients you’ve never heard of, and don’t understand. Definitely avoid “xylitol” “animal digest” or “poultry digest.”
I also recommend running the ingredients of any products you do find by your vet, in case some should be avoided, for whatever reason.
Senior dog dental care – conclusion
No matter the age of your dog, it is never too late to start taking care of his teeth. The first step is a visit to the vet to determine the status of his oral health. A quick scale and polish may be all that’s needed, or the suggestion of adding a dental stick to his daily routine.
If greater intervention is needed your vet will discuss the options, and together you will make the right decision for your dog’s continued good health.
This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs the Saffy Pearson Resource Centre. A mobile centre offering free advice for people who share their lives with cats and dogs. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog and thinks the pet stroller is the greatest invention.