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Let's face it. Bad breath is bad breath, whether it is emanating from man or beast. While it can be hard to tell another human to reexamine their oral hygiene routine, you do have the power to improve the health, well-being, and reputation of your own doggo by doing just that. With expert advice, we have compiled answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about mitigating stinky dog breath, at-home canine oral hygiene routines, and visits to the doggie dentist. 1. Where does bad "dog breath" come from? "Persistent bad breath is always a sign of a health problem in dogs," says Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, a member of the Pet Life Today advisory board. "The most common reason is an accumulation of plaque and tartar that, without appropriate treatment, leads to gingivitis (gum inflammation) and eventually the breakdown of the bones and other tissues that support teeth. Other reasons why a dog might have persistent bad breath include oral injuries and infections, foreign material lodged in the mouth, and oral cancer. Brushing won’t remove existing tartar, so it’s best to make an appointment with your veterinarian for an evaluation and possibly a professional cleaning before starting to brush an adult dog’s teeth." 2. Can a dog's breath be an indicator of some bad health problems? Yes. A dog's breath is an indicator of both oral hygiene and overall health. If you aren't sure whether you need to be worried or not, here is a quiz that may help. It includes pictures to help you assess your pet's dental hygiene and symptoms visually. 3. How often do I brush my dog's teeth? "It’s recommended that you brush your dog’s teeth as often as your own — twice daily is ideal," says Rob Jackson, CEO and co-founder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. "However, if that seems unrealistic to you, aim for bi-weekly brushings." But you aren't alone in figuring this out. Nate Masterson is a pet health expert and natural pet product developer for Honeydew Products. He suggests discussing your pooch's tooth brushing routine with your vet because there are so many factors. However, he adds, "once there is a requirement to brush, an established routine of once or twice a week seems about right, but ask your doggy doctor. Many owners find the dog’s chops and teeth confusing, sometimes thinking something might be wrong when in fact things are completely normal." 4. What happens if I don’t look after my dog's dental hygiene? "We've all caught a whiff of kitty or doggy breath that knocks us over," says Ms. Darlene Hernandez-Geekie, RVT of Veterinary Angels Medical Center. "You hear vets say, 'brush their teeth' and some pet guardians do this, but many wait too long to get them a check-up. Pet breath is telling you more about their health than what they just ate. Periodontal disease in pets is common and left untreated can lead to many other expensive health issues." 5. How common is dental disease in dogs? Banfield Pet Hospitals estimates that 77 percent of dogs have dental disease. It is very common. 6. Are some dogs more at-risk than others? The AAHA advises that owners of puppies who will be smaller than 20–25 pounds at maturity "should be informed that the level of dental care and prevention for their pet is likely to be more involved than that of a larger dog. Brachycephalic breeds also tend to have more dental issues due to the rotation and crowding of teeth." Banfield Pet Hospitals found that the following breeds are at the highest risk for periodontal disease: Toy poodle Yorkshire terrier Maltese Pomeranian Shetland sheepdog Cavalier King Charles spaniel Papillion Standard poodle Dachshund Havanese 7. How long should I give brushing a chance before I make an appointment? "If your dog has a lot of dental tartar already on their teeth," warns Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinary consultant for doglab.com, "no amount of teeth brushing will get this off. They will need a dental cleaning just like what people get when they go to the dentist. This will be done by a veterinarian in the office. The dog will have to be lightly sedated for this procedure. No dog is going to lay down with their mouth open and allow their teeth to be cleaned." She suggests, "If your dog's breath does not improve after just a few brushings, make an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure that there is nothing else wrong." 8. How often should I take my dog for a dental checkup? The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends having your dog's teeth and gums checked at least once a year by your vet. 9. At what age should I start taking my dog to get dental cleanings? The AAHA recommends that dogs have a full dental cleaning, polishing and dental x-rays by age one for small to medium breed dogs and age two for larger breed dogs. 10. Is there an actual doggie dentist, or are the appointment and checkup just performed by a vet? "Most routine dental care is provided by veterinarians in general practice," says Dr. Coates, "but these doctors will refer complicated cases to specialists who are certified by the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC)." All vets have a different level of experience when it comes to veterinary dentistry skills. It depends on where they attended school. An article in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education explains that while some veterinary programs offer formal dental training and exposure to advanced dental procedures, this is not true across the board. More than half of veterinary colleges in North America, Canada, and the Caribbean, provide less than four hours of instruction in veterinary dentistry. That's why routine care, like a cleaning, can be handled by your regular vet, but special cases can be referred to a specialist. The following are common reasons why you might be referred to a specialist certified by the AVDC: Advanced imaging, intra-oral x-rays, or a CT scan, requiring anesthesia Advanced periodontal disease (gum disease) Difficult extractions Jaw fractures Multiple extractions Oral masses or tumors Orthodontic consultation Root canal therapy Severe trauma Stomatitis The AVDC provides a helpful locator tool to find certified specialists across North America, as well as in other countries. Even more advanced skillsets are available from AVDC certified vets with advanced training and experience in oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMSF). 11. What happens at a doggie dentist appointment? "The initial appointment may just be a consult to figure out what is needed to be done for your dog," advises Dr. Ochoa. "After that, your veterinarian should be able to explain what all will happen. Usually, for a full dental cleaning, your dog will be sedated, and their teeth will be cleaned just like people have every six months to one year. Most veterinarians also take dental x rays to make sure that there is no disease under the gum line. If there are any teeth that need to be extracted, your veterinarian will also do this." "The care provided during a doggie dentist appointment depends on the specifics of the case," shares Dr. Coates. "For example, some pets will need to have severely damaged teeth removed, but this won’t be necessary if their teeth and gums are in good condition." 12. Why is dental sedation so common for dogs? According to Dr. Coates, "Dogs must be under general anesthesia during a dental cleaning to protect against oral injury and inhalation of the fluid and debris that is generated during the procedure. After the pet is anesthetized, the veterinarian or technician will rinse the mouth with an antiseptic and then remove plaque and tartar from all tooth surfaces—including under the gums—using specialized equipment. They then polish the teeth, rinse the mouth clean, and oftentimes apply fluoride and/or dental sealants to protect the teeth and slow the redevelopment of plaque and tartar." Jme Thomas, executive director of the Motley Zoo animal rescue points out that anesthesia-free dental care is available. "This means the dog is not put under anesthesia to have their teeth cleaned," Thomas explains. "This is great for maintenance but cannot address loose or infected teeth, so it can extend the time between surgical [dental appointments], but is not a replacement for them." Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover, points out that "Periodic non-anesthetic dental cleanings can be an excellent part of a larger preventative dental health plan as well." 13. Are there any risks involved with doggie dental care? Thomas shares a very personal warning for pet parents and guardians about a risk her pup encountered during a routine dental extraction appointment: Zelda was a happy and healthy toy fox terrier "with no health issues to speak of," explains Thomas, but she "needed some teeth extracted. She went into her dental [appointment] and came out burned on 50 percent of her body. These injuries subsequently killed her." "This is because they used a heating pad for heat support rather than the appropriate/dedicated tools available to veterinarians," explains Thomas. "While heating pads should not be used, many vets still use them because they are much cheaper than the appropriate, modern tools." During dental anesthesia, "heat support is important," says Thomas, because "animals' body temperatures must be maintained during surgery — but there are proper ways to do this and a heating pad should not be involved." The problem with heating pads and other similar items being used during a dog's dental surgery, she explains is that they maintain constant heat. The proper veterinary tools cool over time and don't "have the capacity to malfunction or increase their temperature, like a heating pad does," she explains. She clarifies that "heating pads may be used in the recovery process when an animal is no longer anesthetized and able to move away from the heat source. This is the key factor in whether a heating pad should even be considered — and why they should never be an option for surgery." "When bringing your animal in for a dental, or ANY surgery," Thomas advises, "ask them if they use heating pads for the surgery. It is your choice how you manage the answer, but if they say they use them during surgery, in my humble opinion, run away. If they say they use them as recovery when the animal is waking up, this is better, but the animal still needs to be monitored often because if they are struggling to wake up, they are in the same category as an anesthetized animal who may not be able to make a choice to move away if they are feeling too hot. This is where the heating pad maintaining a constant temperature or possibly increasing in temperature (if malfunctioning) causes concern over the items that cool over time." Click here to watch a PSA about what happened to Zelda. 14. How much does a routine dental appointment for a dog cost? A young, healthy dog's dental cleaning can cost $200 to $300, but that is just for a standard cleaning. Many other factors can increase the cost. 15. What role does pet insurance play? "Most insurance company's wellness plans will cover dental cleaning every year," advises Dr. Ochoa. This preventative care can help you save money in the long run. Dr. Coates advises that "Many pet insurance policies cover veterinarian-recommended dental care, but you have to read a policy’s fine print to determine what is and what is not included." Make sure you check it out with your provider so that you can be prepared for any out of pocket expenses. 16. How else can I keep my dog’s teeth clean? "In addition to brushing your dog’s teeth, there are many other ways to maintain his dental health," says Jackson. "Foods, treats, toys, chews, water additives, and oral sprays are all available to promote a healthy mouth. Greenies dental treats are a favorite among pet parents and dogs, and are VOHC certified. For hardcore chewers, Purina’s HeartyHide and PPVD rawhide treats fight tartar on teeth. If your pup has recurring problems, ask your vet about a prescription dog food specifically for dental health." 17. What foods are good for my dog's teeth? Eating and chewing certain foods is a good way to help keep dog's teeth healthy and strong. Barking Royalty suggests that several foods are best for your dog's teeth: bones, cranberries, wild strawberries, parsley, fennel. "Dental diets that are labeled with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal have scientific evidence supporting their ability to help keep pet teeth clean and their breath fresh," adds Dr. Coates. "Contrary to popular belief, feeding your dog regular dry food won’t help with dental hygiene."
Do you ever wish that your best friend had better breath? What about man's best friend? Tired of the same old stinky dog breath? As a pet owner, you know how important it is to take care of your dog's health. When was the last time that you brushed your teeth? Probably (hopefully!) at least once within the last 24 hours. What about your dog's teeth? Just because dogs are animals that came from the wild, doesn't mean that we shouldn't care for their teeth. Humans came from "the wild" too. Gum disease is huge and dentists and toothbrushes were made by us, for us. Gum disease in humans has been linked to lots of health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. "Imagine the state of your mouth if you didn’t brush your teeth regularly," prompts Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, who serves on the advisory board for Pet Life Today. It would be bad. Really bad. Your teeth and gums would probably hurt. Your mouth would taste bad. People around you would likely smell you coming before they saw you coming. Neglecting your oral hygiene would be gross. But what about neglecting your dog's hygiene? "Unfortunately," Coates says, "many dogs develop tartar, gingivitis, oral infections, tooth loss, and even diseases of distant organs like the kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart as a result of poor oral hygiene." Believe it or not, oral hygiene has a great impact on your dog's well-being, with its impact spreading much further than just teeth and breath. By the end of this article, you will understand the impact of caring for your dog's oral hygiene, how to do it, and how to make it easier in the future. Why is doggie dental hygiene so important? "Maintaining good dental health can add years to your pet's life," says Dr. Gary Richter, Rover’s resident veterinarian on The Dog People Panel. "Good dental care is essential to extend your pet's life span and assure a good quality of life. Just like you, pets need to receive daily dental care at home." What are the risks? "Poor dental health can lead to pain and infection in the mouth as well as having the potential for putting stress on other organs in the body like the kidneys and the heart," says Dr. Richter. "Chronic infection in the mouth can lead to bacteria entering the bloodstream and damaging other organs." At home dental care for your dog can help avoid these risks. It can also help improve your pet's breath and, in the long run, it can help to save you money. Ben Team, senior content editor for K9 of Mine puts it this way, "It is very important to brush your pet’s teeth. Not only will it help keep your pooch’s breath a bit more bearable, but it’ll also help prevent tooth decay and expensive visits to the doggie dentist." "Besides, who wants 'death breath' that comes with dirty teeth?" adds Jme Thomas, executive director of the Motley Zoo animal rescue in Redmond, Washington. "It is critical you address really bad breath because chances are there could be a really bad tooth needing removal." You may think: Dogs are animals. Animals don't brush their teeth in the wild. Why should I have to brush my dog's teeth?" Think of it this way: Humans domesticated dogs. They hang out with us and we give them food and love in return. They don't eat the same things as their wild ancestors did. Their teeth are affected by the things they eat with refined sugars and acids. They also had a much shorter lifespan before we gave them food and shelter. They didn't need to worry about outliving their teeth. Our dogs do. When should I start brushing my dog's teeth? Oral hygiene is important, but knowing when to start can be confusing. "It is best to begin [brushing] when a puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks of age," says Dr. Richter, "however, it is never too late." Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, Veterinary Consultant for doglab.com agrees: "It is best to start your dog off brushing their teeth when they are puppies. You can teach an old dog to allow their teeth to be brushed, but it is much easier to train the young dog." No matter when you start, Dr. Coates advises that you should "Have your veterinarian examine your dog’s mouth before starting to brush teeth. If dental disease is already present, you’ll need to schedule a professional dental cleaning before toothbrushing will do much good." Takeaway: Whether you are caring for a new pup or an old dog, it's never too late to start. What supplies do I need to brush my dog's teeth? Once you have decided it's time to start taking care of Sparky's teeth, you need to think about a couple things: What are you going to do it with, and how you will actually do it? "Brushing your dog’s teeth is not much different than brushing your own," says Team. "You’ll simply need a canine toothbrush and a dog-safe toothpaste." He explains, "you don’t want to use a human toothpaste, as your dog will likely swallow a lot of it, which could upset his stomach." You can't just use any old toothbrush. "There are dog toothbrushes, which are different from human toothbrushes," explains Erin Scott, editor at Spark Paws. "They have longer handles, smaller brush heads, and softer bristles. There are also brushes that go over your finger to give you more control." Different toothbrushes will suit different dogs, depending on the pet's size, the shape of its jaw, and individual comfort preferences. Make sure you buy toothpaste for dogs. You heard me right. Toothpaste for dogs. "Human toothpaste is NOT for pets," warns Dr. Richter. "It can quickly cause an upset stomach." That is the last thing you want to happen when you are trying to acclimate your pup to this new hygienic routine. What makes dog toothpaste different? "Unlike human toothpaste, dog toothpastes are safe to swallow and come in a range of flavors from peanut butter to poultry," shares Rachel Bodine, the proud owner of a 14-year-old labrador. Thomas shares this perspective, "I personally prefer the pastes with parsley and mint over say, chicken or peanut butter, because I think the result is fresher smelling, but by all means go with what helps you accomplish the task. Your dog needs to like it first and foremost!" Best of all, using dog-specific toothpaste makes the job easier — for the brusher and the brush-ee. Dr. Richter points out: "You do not have to rinse the toothpaste from the teeth." It's safe for your dog to swallow and won't cause an upset tummy. How do I introduce teeth brushing to my dog? "At first, brushing a dog’s teeth can be mildly stressful and confusing for the animal," explains Rob Jackson, CEO and cofounder of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. "But like anything, the more you do it, the quicker your pet will become comfortable with you cleaning their teeth." As Jackson said, getting Sparky ready for his close-up isn't necessarily going to be easy. For this step, we turn to Stephanie Mantilla, a positive reinforcement-based animal trainer at Curiosity Trained. She has worked 12 years as a zookeeper and has a certificate in Behavioral Husbandry from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. She shares this proven method to help get your doggo ready for his cleaning: "Most likely if your dog has never had their teeth brushed before, they aren't going to initially like you sticking your hands on their mouth. For starting out, it's great to start touching your dog's muzzle area gently without a toothbrush around. Give treats or positively praise your dog if they let you touch them without a negative reaction. To introduce the toothbrush, you should show it to your dog for a few days while giving treats and praising without trying to stick it into your dog's mouth. Once they are relaxed around the toothbrush, put a small dab of pet-safe toothpaste on the end and let your dog lick it off the brush without you shoving it into their mouth. After your dog is comfortable licking the toothpaste off the toothbrush, you can start slowing working your way towards touching the toothbrush to their teeth and gently brushing. Very small approximations are best to keep everything positive. This should be done daily or twice a day to build up their comfort. It's alright if initially, a training session lasts 20 seconds, as long as your dog is comfortable. Eventually, as their comfort level builds, you'll be able to brush more teeth and different parts of their mouth. Your dog's teeth should be brushed at least once a day even after the initial behavior is trained." Baby steps are key. Here are a few more expert perspectives on helping to ease the introduction of the whole concept of brushing with a toothbrush and toothpaste: Gauge comfort level — "Before you stick a strange object into your dog’s mouth, it’s best to gauge his level of comfort," says Jackson. "Start off by petting the muzzle and lips, allowing your dog to get used to the sensation of you handling the area. Work up to rubbing a towel or piece of cloth on the teeth, mimicking the brushing motion. Finally, give your pup a taste of doggy toothpaste! If your dog seems to accept both the simulated brushing and the toothpaste, it’s time to move on to the next step." Baby steps — "Gradually increase the amount of time you spend actually trying to brush teeth," says Dr. Coates, "until eventually, your dog will calmly sit still while you brush all of their teeth. Constant praise for good behavior and a treat afterwards certainly helps too."' Make it positive — "It is very important to make the brushing a positive experience for the dog, or it will be a constant struggle and source of stress for both the dog and owner," says Rachel Szumel, DVM, co-author of an online course on toothbrushing for pets. "In our course, we teach the owner to very carefully build up the brushing according to the dog's comfort level, and always pair the brushing with tasty snacks to create that positive association." How do I brush my dog's teeth? Once your dog is comfortable with the tools and the concept of brushing his teeth, it's time to get the process down. Dr. Gary Richter shares his four-step process to properly brushing your canine's canines: STEP 1— Gently pet and scratch the muzzle, slowly lifting the lip for about 30 seconds. Reward with a treat at the end of the session. STEP 2 — Repeat as above except gently run your finger over your pet's teeth for 20–30 seconds. Reward and praise again. STEP 3 — Place a small amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush and let your pet lick it (not actually brushing yet!) Most will really enjoy the taste, but if not, try a different flavor. STEP 4 — If all is going well, try actually brushing the teeth. Remember, the upper outer surfaces are the most important, brushing for 20–30 seconds on each side. The first time isn't going to be perfect. It's going to take time. Here are the takeaways on improving and perfecting your at-home dental care process with your pooch: Brush in circular motions Focus on canines and the outside surface of the teeth and the gumline Don't be too pushy Inside surfaces and lower teeth aren't a priority Make it fun, with positive reinforcement of your choosing What should I include in our dental care routine? "Aim to brush your dog’s teeth every day," says Dr. Coates. "A missed day here or there isn’t a problem, but anything less than every other day gives plaque a chance to harden into tartar that can only be removed with a professional dental cleaning." Brushing is an important aspect of your dog's preventative dental care, but it's not the only line of defense against dental diseases. In addition to brushing, there are other things you can do to help care for your dog's oral health, with additional oral health products. The AAHA points out that preventative oral health products work in three ways: Mechanical (abrasion) Nonmechanical (chemical) Combo/dual action If brushing is a no-go, what other things can we do to help our pup keep his teeth and gums healthy? "Brushing your dog’s teeth every day, or at least every other day, is by far the best way to prevent dental disease," says Dr. Coates. However, she adds, "If you simply cannot brush your dog’s teeth, alternative dental hygiene products like water additives, sprays, or chews that are labeled with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal will help keep your dog’s teeth cleaner than they would be otherwise." While in a perfect world, these additional oral health products should be used in addition to your normal brushing routine, as Dr. Coates said, they can be better than nothing, if you haven't achieved brushing nirvana quite yet. "The VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council)," explains Darlene Hernandez-Geekie, RVT, of Veterinary Angels Medical Center, "is an organization that provides an objective means of recognizing commercially available products that meet pre-set standards of effectiveness in controlling the accumulation of plaque and calculus in dogs and cats." Check out accepted VOHC products for more information. Dental toys and chews There are many toys and chews meant to support clean dog teeth. "[A]n appropriate sized raw bone can be one of the most effective means of pets keeping their own teeth clean," says Dr. Richter. How so? This is due to mechanical abrasion: "Chews like pigs’ ears and antlers are tough, which means your dog has to gnaw at them," explains Ewan McCowen, CEO of Kip & Twiggy's Ltd. "This gnawing action is extremely effective at removing plaque and tartar. And because most natural chews have very few calories, they also won’t add to your doggy’s waistline!" Some chew toys are beneficial to your dog's dental hygiene, and some can be harmful. Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, FdSc NT, is the Head of Research for LeafScore.com, a consumer resource for eco-friendly products. Matthews explains: "Many of the conventional chew toys marketed as dental chews can be harmful to dogs. Some are simply too hard and can crack teeth, others are too soft and can constitute a choking hazard. The biggest issue, though, is that many chews such as pigs' ears, rawhide, and so on, are coated or treated with chemicals to sterilize these or to impart flavor or color. Such chemicals include formaldehyde and bleach. These can cause digestive upset, tooth staining (and carpet stains!), bacterial growth, and may also be carcinogenic or affect reproductive health. Even fabric chew toys may have been treated with carcinogenic azo dyes, while other dental products may contain lead and other heavy metals in the paint as well as phthalates (plastic softeners) that are known endocrine disruptors. And, as the science shows, the mechanical action of chewing, coupled with warm moisture in a dog's mouth, increases the leaching of these chemicals from chew toys. The best bet for dental chew toys, then, is something such as undyed, unbleached, natural loofah, a hemp rope, or jute. Hemp is naturally antibacterial, so manufacturers (hopefully) won't be tempted to coat these toys in antimicrobials that can, ironically, be toxic to dogs. Another good option is an olive wood 'bone' treated with natural linseed oil only. This will mulch rather than splinter and can be a great way to keep a dog's teeth clean, especially if they won't abide having them brushed." No matter which dental toys you decide on, Hernandez-Geekie reminds pet owners that supervision is always recommended when your pet is given a chew toy. Sprays and water additives "There are also sprays and water additives that can be used for helping reduce plaque and freshen your dog's breath," says Thomas. Products like BreathVet and Teef are added to your dog's normal water bowl to help fight bacteria and protect teeth Not every dog is going to like it. "Some dogs ... will refuse to drink the water or fight their owners over the spray." Dental sprays "are really good products for mild dental disease," shares Dr. Ochoa. But severe dental disease, Ochoa advises, "is going to need a toothbrush or professional dental cleaning." "Be sure to read the ingredients and do research/ask your vet (especially) about the ingested ones, as naturally these need to be considered when it comes to your dog's overall health," says Thomas. Remember that these aren't food. "These products have no nutritional values and should not be given instead of food or treats," says Ochoa. "Dental chews are available everywhere — and at a low price, but they are not very effective," says Dr. Emily Stein, Ph.D., Founder of Teef. "It's adding calories, and possibly sugar which could make your pet need dental care more!" "Read those labels on chews and treats," advises Dr. Stein. "Watch out for carbohydrates. Stay away from potato or other starches, processed grains, and fruits, which can be quickly turned into things that drive dental disease in your dog's mouth." TL;DR Brush your dog's teeth. Dental health is important. There are special toothbrushes and toothpaste for dogs. There are lots of other products approved to help with your dog's breath and teeth, but brushing is number one. It might not be easy at first, but there are lots of resources out there, including this low-cost, step-by-step, online course. Brush your dog's teeth, please. Read doggie dental FAQs.