Gum disease in dogs: why prevention is better than cure

As pawrents, the last thing we want to see is our pup in pain. We’d move mountains to keep them as safe as possible. And if anyone tries to hurt them, we’re throwing fists. But some problems are harder to notice than others. If you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that gum disease is one such culprit.

Without really knowing it, our dogs can suffer from poor oral hygiene and gum disease. There are ways you can handle it if it ever flares up, but we believe prevention is far better than cure. Here are our four favourite tips for keeping your pup’s pearly whites as perfect as possible.

Tip #1 – Daily brushing

The first and quickest step you can take is to introduce daily brushing into your dog’s routine. Once a week won’t cut it as you’re already well into the plaque and tartar stage at this point. 

Brushing should start when they reach the adult stage as it’s painful for growing teeth and can create a fear of brushing as your pup grows up. So aim to start around 6 months or when their adult teeth start to grow. 

This doesn’t mean they should join you at the sink every morning with the Aquafresh. While they are our babies, it’s important to remember our dogs are built differently, so you need to get their own products. Human toothpaste has fluoride in it, which is extremely poisonous to pups and should be avoided at all costs. 

Doggo toothbrushes come in all shapes and sizes. You can get self-cleaning ones where your dog chews on it themselves, though there’s no guarantee they’ll get in all the hard to reach areas. You can get little finger brushes, or some two-headed Greek mythology contraption, to get all the hard to reach areas. Water can be enough to clean your dog’s teeth, but if you do use toothpaste, be sure to get a dog friendly, fluoride-free version. 

If your dog refuses to let you near their teeth, there are some dental wipes or oral rinses you can try as you build them up towards allowing you to clean them.

Brushing tips
If your dog is a bit older, they’ll like to wonder what the eff you think you’re doing going near their mouth for the first time. It’s not a good idea to shove your finger in their mouth and force them to enjoy the process. Best case scenario is you lose their trust and they’ll never let you near them with that two-headed weird thing ever again. 

Instead, take the process step by step, with lots of love, praise, and encouragement along the way. There are meat-flavoured pastes you can use, so why not start by letting your pup try a pea-sized amount over time? Start by letting them lick it off your finger, and rewarding them with a treat. After a few days, you can put the toothpaste on the brush, and let them lick it off, and build up to letting you hold the brush while they lick it clean. 

In the meantime, massage their lips for a minute a few times a day. Then, start to build up to gently doing the same with their teeth and gums. As they get more comfortable with your fingers in their mouth and the toothpaste on the brush, you can start to introduce the two together. 

Dogs only need 30-60 seconds of brushing for a clean mouth, and it’s very unlikely you’ll ever get through this all in one go, and that’s okay. Be prepared to have quick brushes often, giving them positive reinforcement as you go. As you clean, you’re going for small circular motions as you would your own mouth, being sure to clean the teeth and the gum line, making sure to get to all those hard-to-reach spaces. 

Tip #2 – Book regular cleans 

A dental hygiene clean is already a part of your oral care, why not start to book them for your pooch too? While they don’t need them as frequently as we do, it’s a good idea to make them a part of their ongoing routine.

If your dog is showing signs of gingivitis, it’s a good idea to book a clean and a vet appointment ASAP. If you feel your dog is happy and healthy, toy dogs, because of their smaller mouths, should have a yearly clean from the age of one. Bigger breeds are worth booking in from two-years-old. As gum disease can cause microscopic changes in the heart, liver and kidneys, creating further health problems down the line, such a small change can greatly extend your pup’s life.

Gum disease in dogs 2

Tip #3 – Tooth-friendly natural chews

To be clear here, I do not mean nasty off-the-shelf dental stick treats. They are full of crap and are ineffective. In fact, they do more damage to your dog’s teeth than help them. Let’s look at one particular yellow-branded version and what’s inside:

  1. Cereals
  2. Derivatives of vegetable origin
  3. Minerals (sodium tripolyphosphate min 2.6%, zinc sulphate min 0.11%)
  4. Meat and animal derivatives 
  5. EC-permitted preservatives and colourants
  6. Free-from artificial colours and artificial flavours

We’ve spent plenty of time talking about why some of these can be dangerous for your pup. The problem is these terms are too vague. Who knows what could be in them. And if you don’t know what’s in them, how can you be sure it won’t affect your dog?

Ingredients
Just look at ‘cereals’. They include wheat, rice, oats, barley, and maize. Are grains bad for dogs? Not necessarily. But some dogs can be intolerant, such as the bully breed, while others might not be built to digest them as effectively. Quality grains can be beneficial to a balanced diet for your dog. However, if the rest of the ingredients aren’t clear about what they are, you can never be sure about the cereals either.

Then there’s the derivatives, both vegetable and animal. These are the offcuts and scraps that aren’t good enough for humans. But apparently they’re ideal for our pets. Mmmm, eyeballs for supper! Again, you have no idea what this will be. If your dog is allergic to carrots or chicken, then anything with derivatives could easily set them off. It’s a massive risk.

Minerals are great. Sodium tripolyphosphate and zinc sulphate ​​bond with the calcium in saliva and slow down the build-up of tartar. This helps plaque stay softer for longer. Awesome. Except it only makes up 2.71% of the product.

Even “free-from artificial colours” has an asterisk next to it. Just 100% natural versions of the laziest products that could be mustered together. And EC-permitted preservatives? Cool, which one of the 4,000 is it?

This is just a quick look at the issue; you can find out more in our other blogs. We urge you to read the back of the labels for the prescription diet the vet puts you on. That tin full of foods “specifically formulated to promote dental and overall health” is more damaging than you might realise. 

I don’t know about you, but my dog certainly deserves better than all of that. 

Alternatives
What I can agree with the raw community on is bones. George, who stubbornly makes teeth cleaning a chore, LOVEs bones to gnaw on. Be sure that you never feed cooked or smoked bones because they’re hard, prone to splintering, and can cause your pup’s insides to tear (we’ve been there and it’s not pretty). 

Feed the bones of medium-sized animals for an optimal and safe cleaning effect. Larger animals can be too hard and cause dental fractures, so be careful to avoid these. If your dog isn’t allergic to chicken, their bones are safe to eat, but they’re too soft to clean teeth.

Tip #4 – Consider adding some kibble to their diet

In our raw vs kibble article, we look at the battle between raw and kibble and what you should feed your dog. Spoiler alert, there’s no right or wrong answer. 

But one advantage kibble does have over raw food is the texture. Our crinkly kibble has a rough texture that’s helpful for a cleaner mouth. That’s not to say you can throw the toothbrush away, as kibble only helps remove general food debris and helps chip away at plaque at the top of the tooth. You need a toothbrush to get to the gum line where a lot of the real damage can happen. 

It can help to have a rougher surface as part of your dog’s diet. If you do opt for kibble as part of their diet, make sure to opt for a brand that’s not full of nasties.

Those are our four top tips for looking after your pooch’s dental hygiene. With enough time and practice, it doesn’t have to be a chore, with you wrestling their mouth open like you’re in an MMA fight. In time, you can keep their little teeth sparkling clean. Picture perfect for the ‘Gram!

Dog oral hygiene is absolutely critical to a happy and healthy dog. For more hints and tips, stay tuned to our blog. In the meantime, take a look at our range of sublime dog food – you just might find your baby’s new favourite meal.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!