Dear Katie…. how do I prevent plaque build-up in my dog?
My dog has some plaque build-up on his teeth. He is only 4, so I want to prevent it from getting worse. What can I do?
This is an issue for many pet parents. Ultimately, plaque build-up in dogs can result in the need for a general anaesthetic – stress and money we would prefer to avoid for your dog and you. Canines with plaque also are more likely to suffer from periodontal disease, which can have a knock-on effect on their kidneys and heart health, and can also cause bad breath. A recent statistic showed up to 80% of dogs have signs of some form of dental disease by the age of 3.
Signs of periodontal disease:
Some symptoms may include:
• Bad breath • Red, inflamed gums • Excessive drooling • Wobbly, missing or broken teeth • Plaque or tartar build-up • Pain or difficulty chewing or eating • Swelling in or around the mouth • Rubbing or pawing at the mouth • Blood in saliva
It is important to discuss any dental problems with your vet as they can be very painful, especially if left untreated.
What causes plaque build-up in dogs?
General causes of plaque build-up in dogs include…
- Anatomy or shape of your dogs mouth (with short nosed dogs having cramped teeth)
- Your pet’s oral microbiome (i.e. the unique bacteria in your dog’s mouth)
- Access to chews
In veterinary consulting rooms, it’s often noted that raw fed dogs have noticeably better dental scores than kibble fed dogs.
Much research has gone into the effectiveness of different shapes of dry food. Still, very little hard evidence exists comparing the dental effect of dry carbohydrate based food to species appropriate diets. However, it’s been suggested that the starch from carbs used to bind dry foods sits along the gum line undigested, as dogs cannot produce amylase (the enzyme required to breakdown carbohydrates). This, in turn, can contribute to plaque build-up in dogs.
So, even if you feed your dog a crunchy food, this doesn’t mean they will be chewing the food for long enough to help break down any build-up that may have developed.
How to improve dental care
Naturally, canines would chew for extended periods on carcasses that acted as natural toothbrushes. There has been much research into the effectiveness of chewing to reduce existing plaque and prevent build-ups. Offering raw bones or chews such as our vegetable chews will mimic this action and reduce plaque. Chewing also releases endorphins and keeps your dogs entertained, offering additional benefits other than dental hygiene. Studies have shown that chewing on raw bones significantly reduced canine plaque and tartar build-up by over 80% over 20 days. (Always supervise your dog whilst they have a bone or chew as they can be potential choking hazards, especially if your dog gets a bit overenthusiastic with them!)
Many chews may also be higher in calories, so it is key to factor these into your dog’s daily food allowance to prevent any unnecessary weight gain. It is also important to note that some chews are not safe for dogs, such as rawhides: these are heavily treated with chemicals that do not break down, becoming soft and gum-like, and potentially causing choking hazards or intestinal blockages.
Not all dogs are big chewers so, if your dog will allow you to, it’s a good idea to brush their teeth – this will have a similar effect to chewing. Do not use human toothpaste to clean your dog’s teeth as this can contain ingredients that are toxic to pooches.
More recently, a seaweed species called A.nodosum was shown to have positive oral health benefits; most significantly, it was linked to the reduction of plaque and tartar build-up. Adding the seaweed powder to your dog’s food daily will help reduce the rate of build-up in the future.
I hope this advice helps and your dog can show off his pearly whites again soon.