Monday, February 10, 2014

Dry dog food ≠ Clean teeth

As a follow-up to the previous post on things that can help get your dog's teeth clean, I wanted to mention something that does not work to clean a dog's teeth....

Dry dog food does NOT keep teeth clean.  
I wanted to talk about this real quick because I've had so many people tell me that their veterinarian recommended that they give their dog a larger sized kibble as a way to help keep their dog's teeth clean.  I'm sad to say that veterinarians do not always know what they're talking about, especially when it comes to food.  (My vet once told me that Purina Pro Plan was a high quality food.  HA! but we'll talk about that another time)

Their logic: if the kibble is bigger, the dog has to chew more, and the kibble scrapes stuff off the teeth in the process.  This would be like your dentist telling you to chew on Captain Crunch to clean your teeth.  I don't know about you, but if anything, my teeth feel kind of "fuzzy" after chewing on Captain Crunch; the fuzziness, of course, is due to food particles that are now stuck to my teeth.
The large kibble idea is a scraping technique that doesn't work, but can actually makes things worse.

In reality:  the more a dog has to chew their food , the more likely that food particles are going to get lodged in and around the teeth and gums.  Have you seen dry dog food when it gets wet?  It's very soft and falls apart.  Saliva in a dog's mouth makes kibble more soft the longer it's there.  This makes it more likely to stick to their teeth.  More food bits means breeding grounds for bad bacteria.  It makes periodontal disease more likely.

If you're trying to keep your dog's teeth clean, or if you're trying to clean their already-dirty teeth, it's better to stick to the techniques I mentioned in the previous post.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cleaning your dog's dirty teeth.

I've had dental health on the mind lately.  Partially because I just went to see the dentist for the first time in two years, but also because I've noticed recently that some of Leopold's back teeth are starting to build up a thick coat of tartar.  There's also some redness along the gumline around the teeth.  These are signs of dental disease!  Oh no!
Another sign of dental disease, also called periodontal disease, can be really bad-smelling breath; and yup, Leopold's breath is kind of funky right now (I just took a sniff. Eww).

Just like humans, dogs can get dental disease.  From my experiences, its pretty common that they do.  The majority of older dogs that I see at the clinic have some degree of dental disease, and some of the oldest dogs I work with have breath that could wilt a redwood because of the severity of their dental disease.  Aside from malodorous breath, dental disease can cause serious, negative health effects not only in your dogs mouth, but in its entire body.  I'm not going to go into details, but many of the same dental issues that can affect humans can also affect dogs.

So the question is... how do you clean your dog's dirty teeth?
Here's my answer:

One of Leopold's favorite games is "brushing teeth".  Here he is waiting
patiently for me to put toothpaste on the brush and start the game.
1.  Brush your dog's teeth.
It seems to me that brushing a dog's teeth still hasn't quite caught on in the dog owner community.  It's starting to, but it still seems that the majority of dog owners (at least the ones I know) do not brush their dogs teeth.  Help get this trend going!  Brushing your dog's teeth will prevent or delay the need for a professional dental cleaning, prevents the need for tooth extraction, helps with bad breath issues, and can be a fun activity for your dog!  My dogs actually really like to have their teeth brushed.  They like the attention and they like the flavor of their dog tooth paste (so the toothpaste is like a treat for them!).  For some tips on brushing your dog's teeth, check out a post I wrote a while back.
Brushing your dog's teeth will help clean them because dog toothpastes are specially formulated to help break down plaque buildup via enzymatic activity.  I should note that you should never use human toothpaste on a dog because its harmful if swallowed, and a dog is guaranteed to swallow it.

I try to brush my dog's teeth as often as I can remember, but sometimes it only gets done twice a month.  Sad face.  I've been trying harder, lately, to remember to brush their teeth every day--especially since I've noticed Leopold's dental disease.  I leave their toothbrush and toothpaste sitting near my computer on my desk; that way I see it and it reminds me to brush their teeth.  Some people like to brush their dogs' teeth right after they brush their own as a way to remember.

2.  Give your dog bones to chew on.
Leopold chewing on an antler.
I provide my dogs with real bones, synthetic bones (Nylabones), and antlers to chew on.  (Though I only leave the Nylabones on the floor for them to access at all times.  I keep real bones and antlers up away until I can be in the same room with them to supervise.  Here's a post explaining why I do this.)
Leopold doesn't seem to like to chew on bones without some encouragement.  I've tried dipping a bone in chicken broth to entice him, which worked well enough.  He really enjoys antlers, however, so I usually go that route with him.
Halo, on the other hand, chews on her Nylabone daily, and loves to chew any bone she can get her paws on.  As a result, her teeth look pretty good!
The reason is that chewing on bones scrapes plaque and food residue off the teeth.  If there's no plaque and food bits, there's nothing for bad bacteria to live on; bad bacteria are the cause of dental disease, so if the bacteria have nothing to live on, dental disease won't happen!

To help fight off Leopold's current dental disease, I plan on making sure he spends a little time chewing on an antler every day.  I've done this for two days so far and already some of the tartar has chipped off and some of the redness has gone away.  woo-hoo!

3.  Take your dog in for a dental cleaning.
I've not had to do this yet for my dogs, so I can't relate any personal experience.  My goal is to never have to bring my dogs in for a dental cleaning.  From my understanding, dog dental cleanings can be done by most veterinarians, though specialized veterinarians, dog dentists if you will, do exists.  Usually the procedure involves some sort of sedative or anesthesia.  I've heard of some professionals who are skilled at cleaning dog teeth without sedatives or anesthesia, but I imagine it depends a great deal on the dog.

4.  Feed your dog a healthy diet.  
Just like humans, a crappy doggy diet is bad news for doggy teeth and dental care.  I haven't done a post on doggy diet yet, but I'm planning on it because there's more to say than I want to say right now in this post about teeth.  So stay tuned.

5.  Pay attention to the state of your dog's teeth!
If possible, don't leave it up to your veterinarian to examine your dog's mouth.  The first step to keeping your dog's teeth clean is knowing when they're not!  I look at my dogs' teeth at least once a week, sometimes more often.  I've noticed Leopold's molars building up more and more plaque, but recently I noticed redness.  I noticed because I've been looking.
At this point, my dogs are very used to me lifting up their lips to look at their teeth.  I usually do it as part of normal doggy attention time.  I give them some pets, then look at their teeth real quick, then give them more pets.  In other words, its a positive experience, so they safely let me do it.

I'm optimistic that with diligent bone chewing time and teeth brushing, I'll be able to reverse the dental disease that has started to occur in Leopold's mouth.  Of course, if it doesn't work after all, I'll be looking to visit a dog dentist in the near future, as I want to help my dogs live as healthy and happy a life as I know they deserve.

I hope this post helps you if you're in the same situation.
If nothing else, I hope this post helps put "dog dental health" on your radar! :-)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Leopold plays Sniff and Find!

Here's another game I like to play with Leopold. The premise is easy enough. I hide treats under and in things. Leopold uses his sniffer to find them! I like to hide them in different ways to try and challenge Leopold mentally.

***WARNING*** this game is NOT for dogs that will eat pieces of fabric or paper or toys.  Also, as always, its important to supervise your dog when playing with things they could potentially swallow (whether on accident or on purpose).

Here how I hid some of the treats:
in the nook of a toy monster ball

inside a paper tube

under a piece of fleece
between the layers of a folded over stuffingless polar bear

under an down-turned Kong toy

under a well-loved fabric dog frisbee
(made by Kate Butler, click here for a post on her awesome toys)

Leopold sits staring at the landscape of hidden treats:

here's Leopold searching for treats.  Not every toy or piece of fleece has a hidden treat!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Halo gets her breakfast from a Big Orange Ball

Winter is making my household lazy;  the dogs have been napping more than usual.  So this morning I decided it was time for some mind-stimulating games.  Halo got to play with what I call the Big Orange Ball!  (It's actually called a Tricky Treat Ball, by Omega Paw--convenient product link at end of post).

The ball design is quite clever.  Not only does it have a hole on one side so that treats can fall out, but there is a tube that is recessed into the ball from the hole, making a sort of barrier that the treats have to first get around before they fall out.  The result is that a dog has to work harder for treats to fall out because they don't fall out every time the ball is turned upside down.

Halo is very excited about her kibble, so I like to use that instead of treats.  This morning I put her entire breakfast in the ball.  At first, when its so full, many pieces of kibble fall out at a time, but once there are less pieces in the ball, they come out less and less often, and Halo has to work harder for her kibble!  Leopold likes this game, as well, but gives up after it becomes too hard to get kibble or treats out.  Halo, on the other hand, will continue rolling around the ball until the very last piece of kibble comes out--which sometimes takes her over an hour!

Here's Halo working on getting breakfast:

If you're looking for a great way to stimulate your dog's mind and/or want a way to slow down their eating, this big orange ball is a great option.

Want to get started?  
Here's where you can get it on Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball, Large

A quick tip on filling the ball:  after dumping some kibble down the hole, cover the hole with your hand and shake the ball to get it to fill up around the tube on the inside.  You can also put your thumb down the hole and shake to push the kibble in.

Halo is content after a delicious breakfast game!

Convenient Product Link: