Dental disease is one of the most common ailments in dogs, coming second only to ear infections. In fact, it's estimated that up to 80% of dogs will show signs of oral disease by the time they are 2 years old, and left unchecked, a prolonged build-up of plaque and tartar on a dog’s teeth can lead to pain and expensive treatments.
But of course, regular tooth brushing isn't always easy or possible for some dogs. Dedicated training can go a long way in desensitising your dog to the brushing process, but in the meantime, there are a number of ways to clean your dog's teeth naturally without brushing. This post will look at some of the simplest ways you can support healthy teeth and gums and reduce the risks of plaque build-up, gingivitis, toothache and bad breath.
At BGH we are huge fans of deer antlers as a natural chew. Our own hounds have had them since they were puppies and still keep them occupied for hours. Completely natural and sustainable (deer are not harmed as antlers are naturally shed). these tough chews provide the ideal surface to clean teeth through a gnawing action. They are also low in fat and a great source of minerals, including calcium, making them a healthier option than many processed chews.
It is important to choose the right antler for your dog, be that their size or age. For smaller and older dogs, it is best to look at split antlers, which as the name suggests have been split in half to expose the softer interior. These are also suitable for lazy chewers who lose interest quickly, as much of the hard work has already been done for them! Most dogs will also find these fallow and regular antlers appealing. They are available in small, medium and large sizes so please pick the appropriate size for your dog.
Air-Dried Natural Chews
Known as the flossers of the dog world, air-dried natural chews are a great, low-cost way to fight dental disease in dogs. They are suitable for both kibble and raw-fed dogs, and there truly is something for any size or age of dog. As the main (and often only) ingredient is meat, air-dried treats can often supply other benefits too, such as being a source of vitamins or Omega 3 fatty acids and are gentle on stomachs.
Again, it is the chewing action here which works against plaque and tartar build up. While meat fibres act in a similar way to dental floss, cleaning between the teeth and on the gum line. Chews such as these fish skin fingers have a crunchy texture and naturally scale the teeth, while tougher treats such as bull pizzles last longer and stimulates the production of saliva, which can work as a natural mouth wash to remove stray food particles.
Although many dogs will balk at the sight of the toothbrush, I've rarely seen one turn its nose up to a tasty bone! A popular choice, especially among the raw-feeding community, bones help to clean your dog’s teeth by scraping tartar and left-over food away as they chew. As bones tend to last longer than processed chews, this gives the teeth a good clean and an effective oral workout.
All bones are not created equal however, and some care should be given over what you offer your dog. Cooked bones should never be given as they are more likely to splinter and cause injury. At the other end of the spectrum, weight bearing bones (e.g., cow leg bones) are much tougher and can cause tooth fractures in aggressive chewers. Safer choices include ribs, poultry necks/carcasses and chicken wings. We recommend dogs are supervised with any kinds of chews.
Another simple, straightforward way to give your dog’s teeth some TLC, it is likely they already have a favourite toy they like to chew on. As with bones, the chewing action works to prevent plaque and tartar build up. Specialist toys are also on the market which have textured surfaces or nobbled designs that actively 'scrub' teeth in a comparable way to brushing.
The choice of material can also play a part in how effective a toy can be in preventing dental disease in dogs. A rope tug is a simple choice, and toys made from tough and rough material can also play their part by massaging gums and remove food debris, reducing the number of bacteria in the mouth. We like this toy from Natural Pet which covers both material types.
One thing to point out when giving your dog a rope toy to chew on, always be aware that loose strands can be pulled out and ingested. If this is the case the toy should be taken away and discarded. Chances are it will be a bit 'ropey' by then anyway!
While carrots may not be as effective as some of the other suggestions here, they are still a great, healthy choice for your dog! As with other chews, it is the gnawing action which positively affects the condition of your dog’s teeth. Packed with beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B8, pantothenic acid, folate, iron, copper, and manganese, carrots supply a host of nutritional benefits. They are often recommended for teething puppies and simply frozen and served raw can soothe sore gums.
Other fruit and veg which are also useful in maintaining oral health in dogs include apples, broccoli, and green beans.
What to look out for
It's important to inspect the condition of your dog's teeth and gums regularly. Some of the signs of dental disease include:
- Bad breath
- Red, swollen or bleeding gums
- Visible build-up of tartar (hardened plaque) or discolouration of teeth (brown or yellow)
- Problems eating or visible pain reaction
The importance of brushing
Regular teeth brushing is by far the most effective way of supporting your dog's teeth and gums. It's also important to keep up with health checks at the vet and make sure any signs of dental disease are followed up by an animal health professional. However, it's not always so simple and the suggestions above will help clean your dog’s teeth naturally when brushing is not an option.
Do you have any tried and tested ways of keeping your dog’s teeth clean that we haven't mentioned? We'd love to hear them! Just drop a comment below with your top tips.