TOYS & TOOLS TO HELP PREVENT DENTAL DISEASE IN DOGS
We’ve all been told to brush our dog’s teeth by our vets. And chances are, most of you – like me – have failed at that task. What many of us haven’t been told, however, is that dog teeth-cleaning toys, water additives, and food additives are all lesser-known tools that can also help reduce and prevent plaque buildup and dental disease in dogs.
What is Dental Disease in Dogs?
Dental disease, or periodontal disease, occurs when the tissues surrounding the tooth become inflamed or infected. It begins as plaque and mild gum inflammation and when untreated can spread into the tooth socket and affect the bone.
Did you know that dental disease is one of the most common diseases in adult dogs. R.B. Wiggs, in his book Periodontology in Veterinary Dentistry, Principles and Practice, states that 80% of all dogs are believed to have some degree of periodontal disease by age 2.
That’s pretty crazy – age 2?? Obviously something we need to address to help keep our dogs healthy.
Signs of Dental Disease
Different stages of dental disease have varied symptoms, which include:
- Gums that are red at the gum line
- Gums that bleed – look for blood on chew toys & bones
- Bad breath – see more in next section
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty eating – dog may appear hungry but will stop eating once they start chewing their food and experience pain
- Excessive drooling
- Loose teeth
Side Story: Does Dog Bad Breath Always Mean Dental Disease?
If the teeth and gums look healthy on your dog, bad breath is still worth mentioning to your vet. Although periodontal disease is the #1 cause of dog bad breath, smelly breath can also be a sign of health issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, oral or throat growths, and digestive disorders.
My daughter’s dog developed absolutely HORRIBLE breath that persisted for many months. Our annual vet visit and bloodwork ruled out kidney function or diabetes. Her gums looked healthy. Because the dog lived with my daughter at college, a homemade diet wasn’t an option, so the dog was on dried food.
I researched bad breath and learned that it can be a sign that the gut is out of balance, so decided to see if adding a digestive support supplement would help. We started the dog on a digestive support supplement called ProPower Plus, which contains enzymes, probiotics, and other digestive supports. When my daughter came home from college 6 weeks later, the dog’s bad breath had disappeared. Wow. There is so much new information being discovered about the connection between gut health and various issues. In this case, that connection solved our dog’s bad breath, which tells me she is healthier now.
How Can I Clean My Dog’s Teeth Naturally?
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! 🙂 My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my own personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice. If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
Brushing your dog’s teeth every day is the best way. But I’m going to be honest here. No matter how dedicated I am and how much I tell myself I need to do it, I have never been good at doing this regularly. I pretty much suck at it.
I read an interesting story about a vet conference in which over 100 vets were in the room and the presenter asked how many of them brush their dogs’ and cats’ teeth. 6 of them raised their hands. I think that speaks to the reality of the situation – if only that many vets brush their animals’ teeth, I’d say a lot of pet owners out there don’t do it either.
So, if you are sitting there wondering “how do I clean my dog’s teeth without having to wrestle my dog every day?”, don’t despair. There are other things that you can do that will help your dog have healthy gums and help minimize plaque. By using one of these natural plaque-reducers, getting a dog teeth cleaning toy or two, and adding a few tooth-brushings here and there, you could prevent dental disease in your dog!
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth – What Toothpaste is Best?
**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them! By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**
Try to find a toothpaste with ingredients that 1) you can pronounce and 2) you know what they are. Almost every toothpaste I found contained glycerin, and many also had other ingredients which I personally would rather avoid.
Glycerin can be made from vegetable oil, petroleum products, and other sources, so unless it’s specified you don’t know. I read multiple articles discussing glycerin in toothpaste. A number of them mentioned that glycerin leaves a film on the teeth which can cause secondary dental issues by preventing the teeth from “remineralizing” (this weakens teeth).
When I do get motivated to brush my dogs’ teeth, I prefer to take a small amount of coconut oil on a piece of gauze and rub it on my dog’s teeth. The dogs like the taste. It’s good for them nutritionally. And a preliminary study on coconut oil showed it reduced plaque.
I did find one lone toothpaste that did not contain glycerin:
Pawtitas is the only dog toothpaste I found that did not contain glycerin. I did not find any testing data from this brand, but it’s ingredients have been studied for their efficacy in preventing dental disease. It does contain Stevia, which according to everything I could find online is safe for dogs (and apparently has antibacterial properties that reduce bacteria in the mouth).
Types of Dog Toothbrushes
Dog toothbrushes are pretty much a matter of personal taste. You may find that your dog likes one more than the others. You can always just use a human toothbrush too!
Natural Plaque Reducing Products
There are products out there that use natural things like enzymes, plant extracts, and seaweed to reduce plaque by softening it and making it harder for plaque to adhere to the tooth’s surface. Be sure you read labels – not all products are completely natural.
This product is a powder made from a brown algae called Ascophyllum nodosum. I found several studies of the Plaque Off product that showed a statistically significant reduction in plaque, calculus, & gingivitis, as well as lower VSCs (a primary cause of bad breath). The link above is to one of the studies but there are others if you Google it. . I use this product for my cats & dogs (I add it to their breakfast each day) and have had good results.
You will get even better results if you scrape your dog’s teeth off every so often. With my animals I notice the plaque is softened but doesn’t always come 100% off; if I scrape it (I bought a dental scraper), it helps get the last little bit.
Jax’s plaque improvement
Starting at age 14, my cat would get flagged for bad teeth each year at his annual appointment. The vet would tell me that he really, really needed a teeth cleaning. We would then discuss his other health issues and decide it was too risky.
That cat is now 18 years old. Nine months ago I started using PlaqueOff. This fall he had a vet appointment to check his kidney function. When the vet brought him back into the room after the blood draw, she said she had done his physical exam while he was restrained for the blood draw and that he looked great.
I was puzzled that she didn’t mention his teeth, so I asked how they looked. She responded “Great, why?” I explained that normally he gets flagged for dental issues, so she took another look and said “no, his teeth look really good. What have you done differently?” I told her, and she shook her head, impressed, and said “Well keep doing it because his mouth looks fine!”
I have used PlaqueOff on my senior dog as well and have noticed less plaque on her teeth now. When I look at her teeth, if I see brown stuff on them and scrape it with my fingernail some of it comes right off. (and no, I do not attempt to do that with my cat!)
PetzLife Oral Care Products
These products both use natural oils and plant extracts to break down plaque and tartar, heal gum tissue, and kill bad breath causing bacteria. I did not find any studies about these products, only anecdotal evidence, but if you do an internet search on the separate ingredients you will find studies looking at their plaque-reducing capabilities.
Both the spray and the gel have to be applied to the pet’s teeth and you have to withhold food & water for 30 minutes after applying for best results – so a little more inconvenient than using PlaqueOff.
Teef is a product you add to your dog’s water dish every day. It is a combination of 4 naturally safe, bioactive ingredients (soluble fiber, amino acid, vitamins, and sodium barcarbonate) which neutralize bad bacteria, multiply good bacteria, and prevent plaque buildup.
The company mentions internal studies they conducted that were successful; you can read more about them at teefhealth.com. My girlfriend is trying this product for her four dogs. One of them had a dental cleaning in November of 2019 and she began using Teef to see if it would prevent new tarter on his teeth. They are still perfectly clean 9 months later!
This product uses herbal ingredients to stimulate enzymes found in saliva which remove tartar and plaque. There were no independent studies out there, but the company website showed the results of its own double-blind trial which showed slight to moderate plaque improvement.
Dog Teeth Cleaning Toys
If your dog is an extreme chewer use any toy with caution. Watch them closely after you give it to them to make sure the toy doesn’t break apart.
I wouldn’t use toys as your sole method of dental care, but they are certainly a good adjunct. Many of the natural products above soften plaque, and if your dog chews these toys they will help to rub it off.
When compiling this list I looked for toys that are made by ethically responsible companies and that use safe ingredients. Here are a few that I found:
This is a leather toy with wool stuffing that is durable yet gives your dog something to chew on or fetch with a softer texture than a rubber toy.
- Leather is all natural, vegetable tanned
- Stiched with 100% cotton jute rope
- Filling is layers of wool
Tall Tails Braided Toys
These are good quality chew toys that will rub the sides of your dog’s teeth as they chew.
- Tall Tails is a family owned business and adheres to strict quality and safety standards in product creation
- The open nature of the braided weave also allows the dog’s teeth to penetrate the voids which creates a massaging and flossing action for their teeth and gums
Gnawsome Squeaker Balls
- Produced from food-grade, BPA-free TPR (thermo-plasticized rubber)
- Company manufactures its products in the USA
- Gum-massaging, spiky texture
- Spread a little peanut butter on it to encourage chewing and licking
- Company gives back by sending thousands of dollars ($75,000/year) of its products to local dog rescues
Bones for Dog Teeth Cleaning
There are split opinions in the dog owning world about giving bones to dogs. Some warn against it because of the risk that an aggressive chewer can crack a tooth. Others discuss the teeth cleaning benefits that bone chewing provides.
I give my dogs bones occasionally, but since mine are more aggressive chewers I use these options which are slightly softer than traditional marrow bones.
My dogs enjoy antlers; they last a long time but the dog never gets tired of it.
- Softer than a whole antler so easier on their teeth (if you have dogs who chew so hard tooth cracking/chipping is a concern)
- Family owned business
- Naturally Sourced From “Shed” Antlers in the Rocky Mountains
- 6-8” long
I love these bones for my dogs because they last forever but as the dog chews the bone slowly crumbles away which I think is easier on their teeth.
These bones are my dogs’ favorite, they LOVE them.
- Highly digestible (unlike rawhide chews which can get lodged in dogs’ intestines)
- All of this company’s products are sourced from high-quality American or South American cattle, all of which are hormone-free, free range and mature.
- Nothing added, chemical or otherwise
Dog Teeth Cleaning Doesn’t Have to be Difficult
Helping your dog avoid the anesthesia and stress of a dental cleaning procedure can benefit your dog’s health – and your pocketbook. Empower yourself. Read about the different choices, then talk to your holistic veterinarian about which ones they have tried and what results they have seen.
As a natural dog owner, you can make a difference in your dog’s health. So choose a supplement, some dog teeth cleaning toys, and brush your dog’s pearly whites here and there and see what a difference you can make!
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