If you’ve noticed that your dog has bad breath, excessive drool, or receding gums, he may be one of the estimated 85 percent of adult canines that suffer from periodontal disease. Not only are these symptoms painful for your pup, but the bacteria that causes them can also get into the bloodstream through inflamed gums and damage your pet’s organs, says Joanne Baldwin, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in Richmond, VA. Luckily, there are many natural ways to prevent these problems. Here, she and other experts offer advice for keeping your dog’s teeth in great shape:
Serve a healthy diet
Diet plays a big role in your pet’s dental health. “If dogs eat food made with grains, starches, by-products, and dyes, the same things happen as when a child eats junk food all day—more bacteria builds up on the teeth,” says Cathy Alinovi, DVM, a holistic veterinarian in Pine Village, IN. Look for dehydrated foods, canned foods without fillers, or grain-free kibble with no fillers, dyes, or by-products.
Just as with exercise, feeding, and bathroom training, teeth-brushing habits should be established at a young age in pets. “At six to eight weeks old you can start touching your puppy’s teeth and gums so he normalizes the experience,” says Karen Rosenfeld, a canine/feline behaviorist and holistic health adviser in Ontario, Canada. “Apply a little coconut oil to your finger, and gently rub gums.”
Daily brushing can help keep plaque and tartar from building up in your dog’s mouth. But if your dog doesn’t have any dental problems yet, every other day is probably okay. Here’s how to do it: Hold your pet’s muzzle and gently brush the teeth and gums with a pet toothbrush and pet toothpaste, says Dr. Baldwin. You can also use a cotton ball with coconut oil for a gentler option, says Rosenfeld.
Have a positive attitude
Animals can sense your feelings. If you’re hesitant about looking into your pet’s mouth or cleaning his teeth, he’ll know. “I always tell my clients to imagine if your dentist seemed anxious as he approached your mouth with a drill. Would you want him touching your teeth?” asks Rosenfeld. Clean your dog’s teeth calmly, and reward him with a treat and praise afterward.
Know when to visit a vet
Once you see the warning signs of a problem—like receding gums—it’s important to take your dog for a professional cleaning to ward off more serious problems. Your vet may offer this service; if not, you can ask for a recommendation. After the cleaning, the teeth can usually be maintained at home, says Dr. Alinovi.