The following tips can direct your companion animal toward good oral hygiene.
1. Take your dog to the vet.
I like that suggestion. Your veterinarian will do a health check-up that includes a physical and dental exam. If plaque and tartar build-up is a problem, he or she will recommend a cleaning* (see below). If more work is required, you should be referred to a veterinarian who specializes in dental care.
*A basic cleaning could involve anaesthetizing your dog. Preliminary blood work should be done to indicate whether there may be any pre-existing conditions, such as liver or kidney disease that could complicate the procedure. Once the vet gets your OK, he or she will sedate and, if necessary, anaesthetize the dog and do a scaling and cleaning.
Like your dentist, your vet will scrape all of the plaque build-up from above and below the gum line, then polish the teeth. (Fluoride treatments are optional). Consult your vet regarding how often follow-up cleanings are necessary for your individual dog.
2. Try supplements after dental work
You can do a lot with follow-up care, both to promote rapid healing and to prevent the recurrence of a plaque build-up. You could use the following supplements (available to health food stores) for three weeks: tablets of calcium and phosphorous, vitamin C and B-complex tablets or a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral tablet/capsule with the major vitamins (A, D, E, B-12, biotin and folic acid) and minerals and trace elements. Consult with your veterinarian to determine whether your pet needs supplementary nutrition (via vitamin/mineral/trace element tablets) and if so, what the recommended daily dosage is.
3. Clean (brush) your dog’s teeth
I can imagine the amount of flak and teasing I’ll harvest by making this recommendation. The point, however, is quite straightforward. If you want to care for your pet correctly, if you want to have pride in the animal’s appearance, then you’ve got to find the time to do things which will impact positively on the health of your pet.
Dogs, especially those living in areas where the water has a high mineral content (‘hard’ water), tend to quickly develop plaque (tartar) deposits on their teeth. Very often the teeth become visibly stained. Tartar is a combination of calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate with organic material.
Dogs’ saliva (not lastly because of the diet) is alkaline, and this causes the calcium salts to precipitate deposits on the teeth. Armed with this knowledge, we can use acids to dissolve the alkaline calcium salt deposit which cause the stain. One possibility is to use a mild concentration of hydrochloric acid (HCl) to swab the teeth.
Take a rough cloth (or gauze), dip it into the solution of one per cent HCl, squeeze it out, wrap it around your index finger and rub the teeth vigorously with the HCl moistened cloth. Concentrate on both the inside and outside surfaces of the teeth (where you see the stain), especially in the area next to the gums.
Many authors advise that a three per cent hydrogen peroxide solution could work, and it does. I just prefer the one per cent hydrochloric acid.
Of course, prevention is better than cure. So, here’s where the prophylactic brushing of the teeth comes in. I am advising that if you want to increase the life of your dog’s teeth and therefore its general health, brushing is essential two or three times per week.
Do not use toothpastes made for humans. There are all sorts of canine dental toothpastes and tooth-cleaning products like ‘Plaque Wacker’ and ‘Petrodex’ up North. I have not seen such products here. In their absence, let’s just use a paste of baking soda and water and alternate this with the HCL rubbing, as described above.
It is easier to introduce this tooth-brushing regimen when the animal is young (as soon as the permanent teeth appear). Also, I would suggest that you begin the baking soda/HCL/peroxide cleaning with a cloth/gauze. Wipe the teeth, moving the cloth from the gum line to the tip of the tooth. This cleansing method should continue until your dog is familiar with the procedure. You may then progress to a soft child’s toothbrush.
The American Animal Hospital Association recommends the following: Begin by brushing the front teeth and then move to the back. The bristles should be held at a 45-degree angle to the tooth surface and moved in an oval motion. Scrub the crevice where the gums meet the teeth, because this is where odour and infection begin.
Make sure to pet/praise your dog during brushings to help it associate the sessions with a happy and positive time spent with you.
We will continue with the theme next week.
Please implement disease preventative measures (vaccinations, routine dewormings, monthly anti-heartworm medication, etc) and adopt-a-pet from the GSPCA’s Animal Clinic and Shelter at Robb Street and Orange Walk, if you have the wherewithal to care well for the animals. Do not stray your unwanted pets, take them to the GSPCA’s Clinic and Shelter instead. If you do not wish your pet to have puppies or kittens, you may exploit the GSPCA’s free spay and neutering programme. If you see anyone being cruel to an animal, or if you need any technical information, please get in touch with the Clinic and Shelter by calling 226-4237.