Tartar is that heavy build-up your dentist has to scrape away. Well, guess what – dogs get tartar too, and it’s no better for them than it is for us. The basic cause is the same – plaque forms on the teeth after your dog eats and then combines with saliva to harden into tartar. And, of course, Fido doesn’t brush twice a day – which can make tartar build-up worse for your dog than for you.
So, how can you prevent it?
1. Brush your dog’s teeth.
Most dogs can be trained to accept a toothbrush – you should brush at least weekly, but once a day is ideal. When you do so check for tartar at the gumline, swollen gums, or signs of pain – all of these can indicate your dog has a problem that might need the attention of a vet. Use proper dog toothpaste not human toothpaste and a proper pet toothbrush. Human toothpaste can upset a dog’s stomach. For very small dogs, a piece of clean gauze can work better than a brush, but finger brushes are also appropriate. Make sure to properly desensitize your dog to the brush – start by rubbing with your finger, and then with gauze, and then the brush. If you have a puppy, you can start teaching them to accept a brush at eight weeks – and this will make it much easier to do throughout their life.
2. Give your dog chew toys or, even better, real bones.
When a dog chews, they are doing their equivalent of brushing their teeth. Encourage your dog to spend some time chewing after you feed them to scrape off plaque before it turns into tartar. Never give a dog a cooked bone – they can splinter and cause injury, and give bones or antlers only under supervision.
3. Feed raw if possible.
If this does not suit your lifestyle, feed high quality canned dog food and keep kibble to a minimum. (It’s a myth that chewing on kibble will help keep teeth clean). Dogs are meant to eat raw meat. If your dog is particularly prone to tartar build-up, your vet may recommend a special diet (especially for small dogs).
4. Minimize treats and “people food.”
High sugar treats are no better for dogs than they are for you. Peanut butter, which most dogs love, often has a fair amount of sugar in it (and never feed a dog sugar-free peanut butter, most of it contains a sweetener called xylitol, which can be fatal to dogs). An occasional treat is not a bad thing, but too many will increase plaque and tartar, and possibly turn your dog into a food thief. You can also buy dental treats.
5. Add an oral health additive to your dog’s water.
This is quick and easy, if a little more expensive, and is a good option for dogs who will not tolerate brushing.
6. Have your dog’s teeth examined by a vet once a year.
Most dogs should not need professional cleaning, but with some dogs it may be unavoidable. Very small dogs and brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds are prone to misalignment of the teeth which makes chewing less effective. Bear in mind that dogs generally have to be anesthetized or heavily sedated for professional dental treatment, so it’s best to avoid it if possible. Some “dentists” offer cleaning without sedation, but this is generally not effective and some of these people are poorly trained and may injure your dog. Also, tartar buildup can be a symptom of overall poor health.
Tartar buildup can result in gum disease, tooth loss and bad doggy breath, as well as potentially cause other health problems if bacteria gets into other parts of the body. Ideally, brush your dog’s teeth every day and keep them on a healthy, natural diet. Your dog’s dental health is as important as your own.