In light of last week's successful vet visit-and a good question from Jen who writes Paws for Thought-an examination of my dogs' grooming routine seems, to me, to be a good topic. By no means is the routine I do with Glacier and Roscoe the only way to care for your dogs and I think different things work for different dogs; I've just taken what I've learned through trial and error over the last nine years and used it. The grooming routine actually does not take that long to perform, but my reasons behind each step are numerous, so I thought today we could talk teeth.
When I first went to Leader Dogs for the Blind in 2002 and was matched with my first guide dog, Jetta, teeth brushing was encouraged, but not emphasized the way it is now. We were told to just wrap a piece of gauze around our finger and gently rub the dog's gums/teeth with it. The rough material was supposed to remove plaque and all other things you didn't want on your dog's teeth. We were also told to let them chew on Nyla bones and the chewing action would also help with the cleaning process.
I found this all fascinating as we had a Yellow Labrador at home named Sasha who was almost 13 and aside from my silly, little self thinking that dogs needed their teeth brushed, he had never had his teeth brushed. I remember being very small and finding an extra tooth brush in the bathroom drawer. Knowing how important it was for me to brush my teeth, I went off to brush Sasha's. My parents told me that wasn't necessary and that I should stop brushing his teeth. That dog was so patient that he just sat there letting me scrub away even though he had never had it done before. I learned a few things from both of these experiences.
First of all, dogs do need their teeth brushed. I kept up with the gauze for a year and then thought that it was ridiculous. I had seen doggie toothbrushes and toothpaste in pet stores and so on my own steam, I went and purchased a small, soft, finger toothbrush for Jetta. I also continued to let her chew on Nyla bones and a few other edible, natural chews such as Bully Sticks. Leader Dogs for the Blind, and a few vets, had told us that around age five the dog would need to be put under for a teeth cleaning. When Jetta turned five, we checked her teeth and the vet said that the cleaning was not necessary at that time. That saved me five hundred bucks. He told me to carry on. It was just by chance, but I had selected the correct toothpaste for her and that in combination with her hard kibble and bone chewing had kept her teeth shiny.
Upon my second visit to LDB to get Glacier, the tooth brushing routine had changed a bit. A soft toothbrush similar to the one I had for Jetta, was given to each student with a tube of doggie toothpaste. We were shown how to properly brush their teeth and were told that when selecting a doggie toothpaste to make sure there was "an active enzyme" listed on the label. It is this active enzyme that keeps cleaning the dog's teeth even when you are done brushing. Do not rinse the toothpaste off as you will be removing this active enzyme. Try not to brush their teeth right before food eating time or water drinking time as both processes could remove the active enzyme. Also, never use a human's toothbrush on the dog's teeth. The bristles are much too rough and could tear up the dog's gums. Some people choose to use a soft bristled child's toothbrush, but that is your choice and I personally don't do that.
So what does Glacier's and Roscoe's teeth cleaning routine look like?
I try to brush their teeth at least three times a week. Am I always successful? No, but I really try because it could save a very expensive vet visit to have their teeth cleaned by the vet later on.
The brushing lasts for at least thirty seconds on each side of the mouth. If you just sort of stick the brush in there and wiggle it around, you are not doing anything for the dog. Think about how long you are supposed to brush your teeth and try to apply that to your dog. Sometimes it's hard because you may have a wiggler, but be persistent and make the experience positive.
Make sure you get both sides, top teeth and bottom and front teeth as well. To ensure this happens, you could always start on the left side of the mouth at the top and move around to the other side. When you've reached the right side, switch back to the left, but start on the bottom teeth. These bottom teeth are a bit more difficult to get because of the way they are placed. I usually have to replace the toothpaste when I reach the bottom teeth as it has either been used all up or Glacier or Roscoe has licked it all off. Dogs like the toothpaste and they will probably spend more time trying to ingest it than letting you brush.
Roscoe lets me brush his teeth with him just standing up and I stand beside him. While Glacier sits with his back to me, my knees on either side of him. From there I can reach around to both sides of his mouth. I always come from the side of his face and not over his head. Dogs are not big fans of people/animals coming at them from above their heads or head on.
I use a small, soft finger toothbrush, a different one for each dog. If Glacier has a mouth disease that we are unaware of, I do not want it spreading to Roscoe and vise versa. I have purchased toothbrushes here in the UK and have not been happy with them. Perhaps it the type I bought, but despite being a finger toothbrush the outside is hard and clacks around against the dog's mouth. They are also much too big. Glacier and Roscoe will be adding toothbrushes to their Christmas list as these ones are not satisfactory. The banging on their gums could potentially damage them and also probably does not feel good. Also, with the toothbrush being so big, it stretches the boys' cheeks out too far; again, not comfortable. So, when selecting your dog's toothbrush, keep the size of their mouth in mind and the material of which the brush is made.
Bones, Nyla and natural, are all an important part of the boys' teeth cleaning routine. They are allowed and encouraged to chew on bones in order to get the spots I may have missed. Plus, chewing is a stress reliever for your dog and both of these dogs need that from time to time, since they are always guiding Mr. K and I around. They also eat a combination of wet and dry food, but not served together, to ensure they are chomping kibble. The chewing of the kibble is supposed to clean the inside of the dog's teeth as well as the bone chewing. That means, as long as you feed your dog a hard food and let them chew on bones or edible chews, the teeth brushing only needs to focus on the outside of the teeth.
With all of this in mind, it is important to note that bad breath does not only come from a dog's, or human's for that matter, mouth. Eating poor quality food can lead to stinky breath as your dog is not metabolising it well. So, if you are a consistent brusher and your dog's breath is still horrific, perhaps an examination of the label on their food is in order.
All complicated reasons aside, brushing your dog's teeth is a very good practice to get into. It also gives you a reason to spend some time with your dog, and if done properly, can strengthen the bond that you share. Dogs always have stinky breath and there is no way to completely eradicate it, but a few simple steps can reduce it and also improve your dog's health. So what are you waiting for? Go and grab a doggie toothbrush and toothpaste complete with an active enzyme and get brushing! :)