Pet dental care is a relatively new field, and the concept of home care even newer. Lori Teller, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said veterinarians began incorporating dental care for pets into their work on a regular basis about 30 years ago.
“As we learned more about dental care in our dogs and cats, it became more evident that brushing our teeth makes a difference,” Teller said.
Research shows that regular brushing works with dogs and cats the same way it does with humans. It helps prevent gum disease, which can have terrible consequences. Bacteria that infect the gums can enter the bloodstream and from there reach other organs, damaging the heart, liver and kidneys, thus shortening a dog’s life.
Most humans won’t bite the hand cleaning their teeth, but periodontal disease is hard to explain, even to the notoriously intelligent border collies. Cleaning and other procedures at the vet not only cost, but also require an animal to be anesthetized. “The best way to avoid dental work from your vet is to brush your pet’s teeth daily,” Teller said.
And yet, most dog and cat owners are not on board. A 2016 Canadian marketing survey showed that 7% of dog owners brush their dogs’ teeth daily. Only 4% of Swedish dog owners brush their dogs’ teeth daily, according to a peer-reviewed study. Although Teller was unaware of a US study that provided solid data, she said most pet owners don’t brush their pet’s teeth. Some say they never will.
Karolina Enlund, a veterinarian at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala who specializes in canine dental health, thought it was worth finding out what’s going through the minds of dog owners like me, except the Swedish, so she and her colleagues asked them about their attitudes and beliefs about dental health in dogs.
The results included a comment from my Swedish alter ego saying, “Wolves don’t brush their teeth. And what about the millions of street dogs who get by without any dental care?
Granted, Enlund agreed that neither wolves nor street dogs have access to dental care, but that doesn’t mean their teeth are fine. “It’s very common in wild animals to have dental problems,” she said. And wild animals often don’t live long enough to have some of the problems our pets have.
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Enlund found that the biggest misconceptions dog owners have are that eating and chewing bones contributes to dental health. She said there just isn’t good information about the effect of the diet. People make various claims, but she said there are no rigorous studies. The bones, she says, can damage dogs’ teeth if they are too hard. Some dog chews and toys promote dental health, she said. Both Teller and Enlund recommend this guide to dog chews and dental products from the Veterinary Oral Health Council.
Enlund said that while brushing teeth improves dental health in dogs, there are differences between breeds, with small dogs having worse dental problems than larger breeds. And she said some dogs are just lucky they don’t have dental issues. “So I understand dog owners who don’t see the point,” she said. “Why should I brush? »
our last dog was one of them – Sophie, a cross between a Labrador Retriever and an English Setter, can hunt groundhogs as she pleases in a suburban afterlife. Every year, our veterinarian marveled at the perfect condition of his completely untreated teeth.
Having established that brushing dog teeth is a good thing, I called a few animals I’ve interviewed over the years curious about their habits. I asked them, “Do you brush your dog’s teeth?”
Alexandra Horowitz, a canine cognition scientist at Barnard College and author of several books on the nature of dogs, including the recent ‘The Year of the Puppy’, said she brushed her dog’s teeth. “But I don’t do it as regularly as I should,” she says. I was so happy to hear that, as it sounded like a level of dog dental care I might be able to achieve.
Lori Gruen is a philosopher at Wesleyan University, a chimpanzee champion, and a writer on animal ethics, most recently “Animal Crisis: A New Critical Theory.” She said she had a daily routine with her three rescue dogs involving brushless wipes and gels as well as brushing. Taz, a greyhound rescue, has bad teeth and needs brushing. Eli, a mini Australian Shepherd, has bad teeth but only occasionally allows brushing. And Zinnie, a German Shepherd and Great Pyrenees mix, “has great teeth but wants me to brush hers too, so she’s no slouch.” This type of variation in the dog’s response is something to be aware of. Your dog may enjoy brushing. Or not.
Clive Wynne, a psychologist who studies dog behavior at Arizona State University and author of “Dog is Love,” said he doesn’t brush his dog Zephos’s teeth because his breath is good, so he finds no problem. I’ve met and been licked by Zephos, and I can also say she doesn’t have bad breath.
If you want to brush your dog’s teeth, the next question is how? First, only get toothpaste and brush designed for pets. Fluoride is not good for dogs and they don’t spit up.
Some brushes fit on your finger. Experts suggest letting the dog smell and taste the toothpaste first. After a while, introduce the brush. And reward dogs with treats if they allow you to brush their teeth.
I have now started brushing Annie’s teeth. I let her taste the toothpaste and shoved one of the finger brushes into her mouth. I guessed you could say I brushed a tooth or two. So far, she thinks it’s fun.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about cats, yes, you should brush your cat’s teeth, although Dr. Teller agrees that cats aren’t dogs. “In the ideal world, people would also brush their cat’s teeth,” she said, but added, “We certainly recognize that it can be a challenge.”
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