Vet Diary - Dental Dilemma
Did you know that dental care for dogs should always start when they are puppies? If you get your pet used to you rubbing your finger across its teeth and gums first, followed by a tasty treat, then they soon learn that there is nothing to fear. Then get some special dog toothpaste (human toothpaste is NOT safe to use, as it usually contains Xylitol, a sweetener that is highly toxic to dogs), which is usually either beef or chicken flavoured. You will hopefully find that they quite enjoy the treat and find the whole process quite enjoyable. Gradually introduce a soft toothbrush with dog toothpaste, so that the young animal knows there is nothing to be frightened of. Make sure you talk calmly to your dog, reassuring him that all is well, and do NOT tell him off if he gets restless or upset, just leave him for a while, and then try again later with toothpaste on your finger. This will make cleaning teeth in adult dogs much easier.
An added bonus to daily cleaning is that dogs used to having their teeth cleaned are less frightened of the vet looking in their mouths! Daily brushing means that you will detect any problems, such as a smell on the breath, bleeding gums, or even growths, very quickly and can seek prompt veterinary advice.
More than 85% of dogs over the age of 4 will have some degree of periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a painful inflammatory condition where bacteria building up underneath the tartar actually attack the gums, ligaments and bone surrounding the teeth. This results not only in the teeth becoming loose over time, but there is also a risk that bacteria will enter the bloodstream, potentially damaging internal organs, in particular the kidneys, liver and heart. The dog pictured above is only 10 months old. You can clearly see that plaque and tartar are already starting to form around his molars. We scaled (cleaned with a dental scaler) and polished his teeth and gave his new owner advice on dental hygiene. Some dental chews can be very effective. In addition, some dry food is specially formulated to assist with teeth cleaning, and dry food is generally better at cleaning teeth than wet food, which tends to stick to the teeth allowing bacteria to multiply.
Finally, pictured below, is the result of 14 years of neglect. As you can see if you can bear to look at the photograph, the teeth are leaning forwards as all the supporting structures have been eaten away by bacteria. Stray Aid’s vet had to remove every single tooth from this poor dog, although it was a very straightforward procedure as all the teeth were loose to start with! A week of antibiotics before the dental work began, plus another week following the operation, and the toy poodle in the photograph went on to be successfully rehomed. This 8-year old Yorkie is a classic example of what can happen if teeth are left unattended! His teeth were scaled and polished here at Stray Aid’s Animal Welfare Centre, 4 teeth had to be removed but the rest were healthy underneath the tartar. As is quite common with smaller breeds, he refused to eat dry food and would not let anyone near his mouth to clean his teeth so training had to start from scratch, getting him used to having his teeth brushed. We had to start with him licking cheese spread from our fingers, then progressing to chicken flavoured toothpaste. It takes time and great patience and some dogs who were not taught early enough will resist all attempts to have their teeth brushed.
Operations like these would cost the dog's new owner many hundreds of pounds at a High street vets. Apart from the obvious discomfort the dog was suffering, the unsightly appearance and disgusting smell would have made him very difficult to rehome in the first instance. Here at Stray Aid, we took great pleasure in providing the veterinary care he needed, ensuring that he was comfortable, and much nicer for both our volunteers and his new owners to cuddle! If you would like to contribute towards the cost of materials and support our Animal Welfare Centre, please visit the Support Us page on our website for ways you can help.