Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth, along with a healthy diet and plenty of chew toys, can go a long way toward keeping her mouth healthy. Bacteria and plaque-forming foods can cause build-up on a dog’s teeth. This can harden into tartar, potentially causing gingivitis, receding gums and tooth loss. Many pooches show signs of gum disease by the time they’re four years old because they aren’t provided with proper mouth care.
Give your dog regular home checks and you’ll have a very contented pooch with a dazzling smile. We recommend brushing two to three times a week.
- First, you’ll want to get your pet used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. To do this, start by gently massaging her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks before moving on to her teeth and gums.
- After a few sessions or when your pooch seems comfortable, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste on her lips to get her used to the taste.
- Next, introduce a toothbrush designed especially for cats or dogs—it will be smaller than human toothbrushes and have softer bristles. Toothbrushes that you can wear over your finger are also available and allow you to give a nice massage to your pet’s gums.
- Place the brush or your gauze-wrapped finger at a 45-degree angle to the teeth and clean in small, circular motions. Work on one area of your dog’s mouth at a time, lifting her lip as necessary. The side of the tooth that touches the cheek usually has the most tartar, and giving a final downward stroke can help to remove it.
- If your dog resists having the inner surfaces of her teeth cleaned, don’t fight it—only a small amount of tartar accumulates there. Once you get the technique down, go for a brushing two or three times a week.
Do not use human toothpaste, which can irritate a dog’s stomach. Instead, ask your vet for toothpaste made especially for canines or make a paste out of baking soda and water.
If your dog’s breath is not a field of lilies, that’s okay. Normal doggie-breath isn’t particularly fresh-smelling. Halitosis, or bad breath, can be the first sign of a mouth problem and is caused by bacteria growing from food particles caught between the teeth or by gum infection. Certain dogs—particularly small ones—are especially prone to plaque and tartar. If plaque is the culprit, your pet may require a professional cleaning and regular at home brushings are a great solution.
Persistent bad breath can indicate that your pet has digestive problems or a gum condition such as gingivitis, and should be examined by a vet. If your pet’s breath is especially offensive and is accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting or excessive drinking or urinating, it’s a good idea to take your pooch to the vet.
Signs of Oral Disease
Once a week, lift your pet’s lips and examine his gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar. A veterinary exam beforehand may be helpful to find out if your dog’s gums are inflamed.
Bad breath, excessive drooling, loose teeth, inflamed gums, tumors in the gums or cysts under the tongue are signs that your dog may have a problem in his mouth or gastrointestinal system and should be checked by a veterinarian.
Getting familiar with these common mouth problems will help you determine if it’s time for your pet to see a vet:
- Periodontal disease is a painful gum infection that can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Signs are loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.
- Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused mainly by accumulation of plaque, tartar and disease-producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs include bleeding, red, swollen gums and bad breath. It is reversible with regular teeth cleanings.
- Swollen gums develop when tartar builds up and food gets stuck between the teeth. Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth at home and getting annual cleanings at the vet can prevent tartar and gingivitis.
- Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection. An inherited condition common to boxers and bull terriers, it can be treated with antibiotics.
- Mouth tumors appear as lumps in the gums. Some are malignant and must be surgically removed.
- Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue, but can also develop near the corners of the jaw. They require drainage, and the damaged saliva gland must be removed.
- Canine distemper teeth can occur if a dog had distemper as a puppy. Adult teeth can appear looking eroded and can often decay. As damage is permanent, decayed teeth should be removed by a vet.
Other Ways to Prevent Dental Problems
Give your pooch treats that are specially formulated to keep canine teeth healthy, and ask your vet about a specially formulated dry food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar.
Chew toys are also a great way to satisfy your dog’s natural desire to chomp while making his or her teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can help massage the gums and keep teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar, plus it also reduces your dog’s overall stress level and prevents boredom. Ask your vet to recommend toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.
Giving your pup regular home eye exams will help keep you alert to any tearing, cloudiness or inflammation that may indicate a health problem. First, face your dog in a brightly lit area and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. The pupils should be equal in size and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.
A gentle wipe with a damp cotton ball will help to keep your pet’s eyes gunk-free. Wipe outward from the inner corner of the eye and be careful not to touch his or her eyeball—you don’t want to scratch the cornea! If your pet constantly suffers from runny eyes and discharge, please see your veterinarian. Your pet may have an infection or plugged tear ducts.
Symptoms of Eye Infection
The following are signs that something may be wrong with one or both of your dog’s eyes. Be sure to watch your pooch’s body language, too—pawing or rubbing his eye area may indicate possible problems. Call your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms.
- Discharge and crusty gunk
- Red or white eyelid linings
- Tear-stained fur
- Closed eye(s)
- Cloudiness or change in eye color
- Visible third eyelid
- Unequal pupil size
Common Eye Problems in Dogs
The following eye-related disorders are commonly seen in dogs:
- Conjunctivitis: One or both of your dog’s eyes will look red and swollen, and there may be discharge
- Dry Eye: Diminished tear production can cause corneal inflammation, squinting and discharge.
- Epiphora: An overflow of tears creates stains on the dog’s facial fur.
- Cherry Eye: An enlarged tear gland forms a cherry-like mass in the corner of the dog’s eye.
- Glaucoma: The cornea may become cloudy and the eye enlarges due to an increased pressure in the eyeball.
- Ectropion: A turning outward of the eyelid away from the eye (lower lids may look droopy).
- Entropion: A rolling in of the eyelid causes discharge and tearing.
- Cataract: An opacity on the lens of the eye can cause impaired vision and possible blindness.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Caused by degeneration of retinal tissue—night blindness is often its first sign.
Preventing Eye Problems
Long-haired breeds can get eye damage if their locks aren’t tamed. Carefully trim the hair around your dog’s eyes to keep his vision clear and prevent hairs from poking and scratching. Soaps and topical medications can be major irritants, so sure to protect your dog’s eyes before bathing him or applying ointments or flea-control formulas.
It’s much safer to drive with the windows only partially down and your dog’s head inside the vehicle to prevent pain or long-last injury from road debris or an insect getting in her eyes. The wind can also dry out your dog’s eyes, possibly causing irritation and infection.
Consider doing a little research to find out if your dog’s breed is predisposed toward eye conditions, such as glaucoma or progressive retinal atrophy. Your pet should have his eyes checked on annual vet visits, but knowing about possible inherited problems will help you take important precautions.
Your dog’s regular grooming routine should include regular ear checks. This is especially important for dogs who produce excessive earwax or have a lot of inner-ear hair. Don’t clean your dog’s ears so frequently or deeply as to cause irritation, and take care to never insert anything into your dog’s ear canal—probing inside can cause trauma or infection!
- If your dog’s inner ears appear dirty, clean them with a cotton ball or piece of gauze dampened with mineral oil, hydrogen peroxide or a liquid ear cleaner specially formulated for this purpose.
- Fold your pet’s ear back gently and wipe away any debris or earwax that you can see on the underside of his or her ear.
- Be sure to lift away the dirt and wax rather than rubbing it into the ear.
- Inner-ear skin is delicate, so allow your vet to demonstrate the proper method for cleaning your dog’s ears check out this video.
Recognizing an Ear Infection
Because a dog’s ear canals plunge downward and then horizontally from the ear opening, it is difficult for caught debris or water to be released, making canines especially susceptible to ear infections. Check your dog’s ears regularly for discharge, odor, swelling and other signs of infection. If your dog is showing any of the symptoms described below, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Ear scratching
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
- Odor in the ear
- Crusted or scabby skin on the near ear flap
- Hair loss around the ear
- Wiping the ear area on the floor or furniture
- Head shaking or head tilt
- Loss of balance
- Unusual eye movements
- Walking in circles
- Hearing loss
Ear Care for Dogs Who Swim
Frequent bathing or swimming can lead to ear irritation and infection. To prevent this from happening, place cotton in your dog’s ears before baths and be sure to dry his or her ears thoroughly after water sports and activities.
If your dog is prone to ear infections, as your veterinarian to recommend an ear drying solution made for dogs to help evaporate any water trapped inside the ear canal. These ear washes, usually witch hazel-based, are available at better pet supply stores.
Signs of Ear Problems
Because of the twisty, curvy design a dog’s inner ears, it’s easy for parasites, bacteria and yeast to hide in them and infections can often arise as a result of this trapped debris. Dogs with allergies are particularly vulnerable to complications, as are those with floppy ears, like Cocker spaniels, Basset Hounds and Poodles. Brown or black ear wax—and dry, dark wax resembling coffee grounds—are classic indicators of microscopic ear mites. Only your vet can tell for sure, so please don’t delay bringing your pooch in for a checkup.
Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following symptoms affecting your dog’s ears.
- Ear discharge
- Bad smells
- Crusty skin
- Hair loss