Monday, February 10, 2014

Dry dog food ≠ Clean teeth

As a follow-up to the previous post on things that can help get your dog's teeth clean, I wanted to mention something that does not work to clean a dog's teeth....

Dry dog food does NOT keep teeth clean.  
I wanted to talk about this real quick because I've had so many people tell me that their veterinarian recommended that they give their dog a larger sized kibble as a way to help keep their dog's teeth clean.  I'm sad to say that veterinarians do not always know what they're talking about, especially when it comes to food.  (My vet once told me that Purina Pro Plan was a high quality food.  HA! but we'll talk about that another time)

Their logic: if the kibble is bigger, the dog has to chew more, and the kibble scrapes stuff off the teeth in the process.  This would be like your dentist telling you to chew on Captain Crunch to clean your teeth.  I don't know about you, but if anything my teeth feel kind of "fuzzy" after chewing on Captain Crunch; the fuzziness, of course, is due to food particles that are now stuck to my teeth.
The large kibble idea is a scraping technique that doesn't work, but can actually makes things worse.

In reality:  the more a dog has to chew their food , the more likely that food particles are going to get lodged in and around the teeth and gums.  Have you seen dry dog food when it gets wet?  It's very soft and falls apart.  Saliva in a dog's mouth makes kibble more soft the longer its there.  This makes it more likely to stick to their teeth.  More food bits means breeding grounds for bad bacteria.  It makes periodontal disease more likely.

If you're trying to keep your dog's teeth clean or if you're trying to clean their already-dirty teeth, it's better to stick to the techniques I mentioned in the previous post.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cleaning your dog's dirty teeth.

I've had dental health on the mind lately.  Partially because I just went to see the dentist for the first time in two years, but also because I've noticed recently that some of Leopold's back teeth are starting to build up a thick coat of tartar.  There's also some redness along the gumline around the teeth.  These are signs of dental disease!  Oh no!
Another sign of dental disease, also called periodontal disease, can be really bad-smelling breath; and yup, Leopold's breath is kind of funky right now (I just took a sniff. Eww).

Just like humans, dogs can get dental disease.  From my experiences, its pretty common that they do.  The majority of older dogs that I see at the clinic have some degree of dental disease, and some of the oldest dogs I work with have breath that could wilt a redwood because of the severity of their dental disease.  Aside from malodorous breath, dental disease can cause serious, negative health effects not only in your dogs mouth, but in its entire body.  I'm not going to go into details, but many of the same dental issues that can affect humans can also affect dogs.

So the question is... how do you clean your dog's dirty teeth?
Here's my answer:

One of Leopold's favorite games is "brushing teeth".  Here he is waiting
patiently for me to put toothpaste on the brush and start the game.
1.  Brush your dog's teeth.
It seems to me that brushing a dog's teeth still hasn't quite caught on in the dog owner community.  It's starting to, but it still seems that the majority of dog owners (at least the ones I know) do not brush their dogs teeth.  Help get this trend going!  Brushing your dog's teeth  ill prevent or delay the need for a professional dental cleaning, prevents the need for tooth extraction, helps with bad breath issues, and can be a fun activity for your dog!  My dogs actually really like to have their teeth brushed.  They like the attention and they like the flavor of their dog tooth paste (so the toothpaste is like a treat for them!).  For some tips on brushing your dog's teeth, check out a post I wrote a while back.
Brushing your dog's teeth will help clean them because dog toothpastes are specially formulated to help break down plaque buildup via enzymatic activity.  I should note that you should never use human toothpaste on a dog because its harmful if swallowed, and a dog is guaranteed to swallow it.

I try to brush my dog's teeth as often as I can remember, but sometimes it only gets done twice a month.  Sad face.  I've been trying harder, lately, to remember to brush their teeth every day--especially since I've noticed Leopold's dental disease.  I leave their toothbrush and toothpaste sitting near my computer on my desk; that way I see it and it reminds me to brush their teeth.  Some people like to brush their dogs' teeth right after they brush their own as a way to remember.

2.  Give your dog bones to chew on.
Leopold chewing on an antler.
I provide my dogs with real bones, synthetic bones (Nylabones), and antlers to chew on.  (Though I only leave the Nylabones on the floor for them to access at all times.  I keep real bones and antlers up away until I can be in the same room with them to supervise.  Here's a post explaining why I do this.)
Leopold doesn't seem to like to chew on bones without some encouragement.  I've tried dipping a bone in chicken broth to entice him, which worked well enough.  He really enjoys antlers, however, so I usually go that route with him.
Halo, on the other hand, chews on her Nylabone daily, and loves to chew any bone she can get her paws on.  As a result, her teeth look pretty good!
The reason is that chewing on bones scrapes plaque and food residue off the teeth.  If there's no plaque and food bits, there's nothing for bad bacteria to live on; bad bacteria are the cause of dental disease, so if the bacteria have nothing to live on, dental disease won't happen!

To help fight off Leopold's current dental disease, I plan on making sure he spends a little time chewing on an antler every day.  I've done this for two days so far and already some of the tartar has chipped off and some of the redness has gone away.  woo-hoo!

3.  Take your dog in for a dental cleaning.
I've not had to do this yet for my dogs, so I can't relate any personal experience.  My goal is to never have to bring my dogs in for a dental cleaning.  From my understanding, dog dental cleanings can be done by most veterinarians, though specialized veterinarians, dog dentists if you will, do exists.  Usually the procedure involves some sort of sedative or anesthesia.  I've heard of some professionals who are skilled at cleaning dog teeth without sedatives or anesthesia, but I imagine it depends a great deal on the dog.

4.  Feed your dog a healthy diet.  
Just like humans, a crappy doggy diet is bad news for doggy teeth and dental care.  I haven't done a post on doggy diet yet, but I'm planning on it because there's more to say than I want to say right now in this post about teeth.  So stay tuned.

5.  Pay attention to the state of your dog's teeth!
If possible, don't leave it up to your veterinarian to examine your dog's mouth.  The first step to keeping your dog's teeth clean is knowing when they're not!  I look at my dogs' teeth at least once a week, sometimes more often.  I've noticed Leopold's molars building up more and more plaque, but recently I noticed redness.  I noticed because I've been looking. 
At this point, my dogs are very used to me lifting up their lips to look at their teeth.  I usually do it as part of normal doggy attention time.  I give them some pets, then look at their teeth real quick, then give them more pets.  In other words, its a positive experience, so they safely let me do it.

I'm optimistic that with diligent bone chewing time and teeth brushing, I'll be able to reverse the dental disease that has started to occur in Leopold's mouth.  Of course, if it doesn't work after all, I'll be looking to visit a dog dentist in the near future, as I want to help my dogs live as healthy and happy a life as I know they deserve.

I hope this post helps you if you're in the same situation. 
If nothing else, I hope this post helps put "dog dental health" on your radar! :-)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Leopold plays Sniff and Find!

Here's another game I like to play with Leopold. The premise is easy enough. I hide treats under and in things. Leopold uses his sniffer to find them! I like to hide them in different ways to try and challenge Leopold mentally.

***WARNING*** this game is NOT for dogs that will eat pieces of fabric or paper or toys.  Also, as always, its important to supervise your dog when playing with things they could potentially swallow (whether on accident or on purpose).

Here how I hid some of the treats:
in the nook of a toy monster ball

inside a paper tube

under a piece of fleece
between the layers of a folded over stuffingless polar bear

under an down-turned Kong toy

under a well-loved fabric dog frisbee
(made by Kate Butler, click here for a post on her awesome toys)

Leopold sits staring at the landscape of hidden treats:

here's Leopold searching for treats.  Not every toy or piece of fleece has a hidden treat!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Halo gets her breakfast from a Big Orange Ball

Winter is making my household lazy;  the dogs have been napping more than usual.  So this morning I decided it was time for some mind-stimulating games.  Halo got to play with what I call the Big Orange Ball!  (It's actually called a Tricky Treat Ball, by Omega Paw).

The ball design is quite clever.  Not only does it have a hole on one side so that treats can fall out, but there is a tube that is recessed into the ball from the hole, making a sort of barrier that the treats have to first get around before they fall out.  The result is that a dog has to work harder for treats to fall out because they don't fall out every time the ball is turned upside down.

Halo is very excited about her kibble, so I like to use that instead of treats.  This morning I put her entire breakfast in the ball.  At first, when its so full, many pieces of kibble fall out at a time, but once there are less pieces in the ball, they come out less and less often, and Halo has to work harder for her kibble!  Leopold likes this game, as well, but gives up after it becomes too hard to get kibble or treats out.  Halo, on the other hand, will continue rolling around the ball until the very last piece of kibble comes out--which sometimes takes her over an hour!

Here's Halo working on getting breakfast:

If you're looking for a great way to stimulate your dog's mind and/or want a way to slow down their eating, this big orange ball is a great option.

A quick tip on filling the ball:  after dumping some kibble down the hole, cover the hole with your hand and shake the ball to get it to fill up around the tube on the inside.  You can also put your thumb down the hole and shake to push the kibble in.

Halo is content after a delicious breakfast game!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Nylabone rings are better than any other Nylabone shape!

Halo fell asleep chewing on her Nyabone
My dogs love to chew on Nylabones.  Especially Halo!

The Nylabone company offers their synthetic bone product in a range of shapes (and flavors).
The original looks like a long, thin bone.  Other shapes include a big "beef bone", a hallow stick, a wishbone, and dinosaurs (ha!).

I've bought almost all these different-shaped Nylabones for my dogs over the years, but the story always ended the same.  At some point, my dogs would chew the Nylabones down small enough that it could possibly be swallowed--once my dogs could get the whole thing in their mouth all at once, I'd throw the bone away and get a replacement.  And even though the bones lasted a relatively long time, I still wished they would last longer.

Halo with her favorite Nylabone!

I was very pleased when I discovered that Nylabone also offers ring-shaped bones.  The textured ring, in particular, seems to last for a very long time.  I bought a textured Nylabone back in May.  And even though Halo chews on it daily (and Leopold every now and again), the bone is nowhere near needing replacement, and I imagine it will not need replacing for a long time to come.  The ring shape makes it near impossible for Halo to ever get the whole thing in her mouth, even when she's chewed it enough that its gotten thin.

Don't know what a Nylabone is?  Check out one of my previous posts!

nom nom nom

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reiterating the importance of supervising your dog and financially preparing for when they get sick or injured

I recently received a comment on my post “Fun activity fordogs who like to ‘disembowel’ their stuffed animal toys”.  The commenter relayed their scary experience:  their dog ate 10 pieces of rolled up fleece.  Luckily, she was able to get the vet in time to induce vomiting to bring up the pieces of fabric.  This person ended her comment by stating that she had “no resources left financially” if there ends up being a blockage. 

This comment has spurred me to reiterate and repost on some topics I think are important for every dog owner to be aware of.

One.  It is ALWAYS a good idea to supervise your dog when they are playing with toys that they could potentially swallow—whether on purpose or on accident.  I supervise Leopold every time I give him the activity in the aforementioned post, even though I have never seen him eat anything but food (and grass…..).  The commenter’s conclusion was that no one should roll up treats in the fleece for this toy.  My conclusion is that a dog owner should always keep an eye on their dog when giving their dog activities that involve anything that the dog could potentially swallow.  If you keep an eye on your dog, you can correct the behavior and/or take away the toy right away and prevent your dog from having, what we call at the clinic, a foreign body in its system.   It’s even important to supervise your dog while they’re chewing on bones. As I've mentioned in a previous post, bones can crack and become potentially dangerous.

Two.  Owning a dog is not a cheap endeavor.  Taking care of your dog properly costs money.  It seems like owning a dog can be a cheap when you think only of the food you have to buy it.  But making sure your dog is healthy can add up quick.  Dogs get sick, need regular checkups and vaccines, heartworm preventatives, flea/tick preventatives.  All these things cost money.  And a trip to the ER can diminish your savings and/or force you to put your furry friend to sleep if there is no financial alternative (I’ve seen this happen. It is incredibly sad.)
I highly recommend to all dog owners who do not have independent financial security to get veterinary pet insurance.  It is an investment into your dog’s health and life.  Pet insurance is affordable for most, and there are more carriers available as it become more popular.  I wrote a post on pet insurance a while back.  I know that since then, more well-known insurance companies like Nationwide now offer pet insurance.

Three.  Dogs can do stupid things.  They eat rank-smelling items like dirty socks and dirty underwear.  They chew at carpeting and unravel it right into their gullet.  I once caught Halo eating dirt because some crab juice had spilled on the spot—she was eating rotten crab dirt.  I also discovered one day that she has somehow pushed past the fence around our compost and eaten some of the compost (which ended in a trip to the ER).  Dogs lick antifreeze because it’s sweet.  They eat turds and dead animals.  I have learned that having a dog means expecting that they will sometimes do stupid things.  And the most you can do is try your best to prevent situations in which your dog will harm itself, and have money in reserve or pet insurance to take them to the vet when they do get hurt or sick.  I have also learned that sharing a life with dogs is a learning experience.  That is, after all, what this whole blog is about.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Leopold, the Gum, and the Peanut Butter

I guess you could call this "Adventures on the Road, part III", as the beginning of this story takes place during the end of our road trip mentioned in the two previous posts.

As people are wont to do on a road trip, we stopped at many a service station on our day of driving home from Cape Cod.  At each stop, we would assess the car's gas level, our hunger level, and how strongly we needed to visit a rest room.  We would, also, put the dogs in their harnesses and let them hop out of the car to walk around for a bit in order to stretch their legs and take care of business.

Leopold, you have gum on your paw!
As you may know, service stations are not the cleanest places--inside and out.  At one of these not-so-clean service stations, Leopold stepped in gum.

At the time of the gum adhesion, I actually thought the substance I saw on his foot was mud, and didn't worry too much about wiping it off.  A little mud never hurt anyone.

The following day, however, we were out on our walk when I noticed that the "mud" was still on Leopold's foot.  I stopped to investigate ("Why isn't this mud falling off?") only to discover it was actually a hard wad of gum.  It had mushed right into his paw pad, up around his nail, and into his fur.

Once we got home, I looked up home remedies for curing "gum paw".  Just like getting gum out of human hair, many people recommended peanut butter.
So that's what I tried.
I am pleased to report that peanut butter worked like a charm!  I massaged the peanut butter onto the gum wad, and it almost immediately started to release from Leopold's fur, nail, and paw pad.  Leopold's paw was gum-free in no time.

I was happy that the solution to this problem ended up being so easy.
And Leopold was happy that his paw tasted like peanut butter afterwards. 



massaging peanut butter onto the gum on Leopold's paw

the gum is starting to come off!
On a side note, the experience of massaging gum with peanut butter was just down right gross.  (someone had chewed that piece of gum!  as in... it was in some stranger's mouth!  uck!).  But for Leopold, I would touch a thousand pieces of service station gum if it meant he was healthy and happy and gum-foot-free