Tag: dental health

Brush like a Dog Dentist!

Guest Post by Dr. Jennifer Weeks-Llera

Before dental cleaning

Dental disease is one of the most common things I see during annual physical examinations of dogs.  Many people are surprised at the amount of tartar and gingivitis that has developed in their dogs mouth since their last visit and they are not familiar with the importance of home care that can be done to prevent this dental disease.  Daily control of plaque before it becomes mineralized to form tartar is the most important factor for a healthy mouth.  As plaque builds up, periodontal disease will develop which can lead to pain and loss of teeth.  Bad teeth will cause chronic infection and inflammation that can have negative effects on a pet’s overall health.  So what steps can you take to keep your dog’s mouth healthy?  The key to prevention of plaque and tartar is home care.

Just as for our own teeth, daily brushing is one of the best things that can be done to prevent plaque development on your dog’s teeth.  Frequently, I hear clients comment that their dog gets his/her teeth brushed every 6 weeks or so by the groomer and they can’t believe how the teeth could be so dirty.  If we think about this in comparison to our own dental health, this would be the equivalent of you only getting your teeth brushed when you go for a haircut.  So how frequently should you brush your dogs teeth?  Brushing three times a week can be adequate to maintain teeth and gums that are healthy, however daily brushing is needed if gingivitis is already present.

When should you start brushing your dogs teeth?

Start early!  As young as 8-12 weeks of age is a great time to start brushing your puppy’s teeth.  Even though the puppy will eventually loose the deciduous, or baby, teeth as their permanent teeth erupt, getting them used to having their teeth brushed is an important first step in dental home care.  When you notice that your puppy is beginning to loose their baby teeth (usually around 14 weeks of age), it is a good idea to stop brushing the teeth brushing for a little while until their permanent teeth have erupted as their mouth may be a bit sore as they are teething.

A soft bristled tooth brush is best used when brushing your dog’s teeth.  It is important never to use human toothpastes as these are not intended to be swallowed.  Pet toothpastes are safe if swallowed and are available in a number of flavours, such as poultry and beef, to increase your pet’s acceptance of them.

pet dental health tooth brushingIt is good to make a daily routine of brushing your dog’s teeth.  Remember to make it fun and rewarding!  As you first introduce your dog to teeth brushing, coat the toothbrush with pet safe toothpaste and allow your pet to simply lick the brush a 4-5 times per day for the first couple of days.  As your pet becomes comfortable with the toothbrush near their mouth, you can gently begin to handle the muzzle and lips and then begin to lift the dog’s lip and rub your finger along the outer surfaces of the teeth and gums.  Once your pet is comfortable with you doing this, you can gradually introduce them to using the toothbrush to brush along these surfaces of the top and bottom teeth.  Brushing the inner, tongue side, of the teeth is less important than the outer surfaces.  Brush the teeth in small, circular motions.  A slight amount of bleeding from the gum line may sometimes occur, but if you notice ongoing or heavy bleeding this may indicate the presence of gum disease.  If this is noticed, it is best to speak with your veterinarian for further recommendations.

Dental Foods & Chews

Although not a substitute for daily teeth brushing, dental diets (such as Hill’s T/D, Royal Canin Dental, Science Diet Dental Care, and Purina DH) have been shown to effectively decrease the plaque and tartar build up on dog’s teeth.  These diets are designed to be fed as an entire meal on a daily basis and, when you are ready to switch your dog from a puppy food onto an adult food, are an excellent adult maintenance diet option.

pet dental health

Another common misconception is that chewing on bones, cow hooves, or antlers can help keep a dog’s teeth clean.  These chew toys are not considered appropriate for dogs as they are very hard and can easily break teeth.  Broken teeth can, in turn, cause the dog pain and lead to the development of tooth root abscesses.  The “knee-cap test” is a good way to help decide if a toy is safe for your dogs teeth.  If a toy is so hard that you wouldn’t want to hit your knee with it, then your dog shouldn’t be chewing on it.  Additionally, softer chew toys are better for puppies as their baby teeth are more fragile than adult dog teeth and they can very easily be fractured.

from VOHC.org

There are many products on the market with claims to improve pet’s dental health that have no research to support these claims.  The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), which consists of veterinary dentists and dental scientists, was formed to recognize cat and dog products that meet standards to decrease the formation of plaque and tartar.  Products that meet these standards are awarded the VOHC Seal of Acceptance.  A list of these products can be found on the VOHC website.  Some examples of the products that are listed include several dental diets, Greenies, and Healthy Mouth Water Additive.

It is very important to remember that the home care tips discussed in this article are recommended for the PREVENTION of plaque and tartar and are not a treatment for established dental disease.  An essential component of your dog’s dental care includes yearly or semiannual examination by a veterinarian who can identify dental disease early on and provide recommendations on treatment options that are available.  By providing dental home care for your dog, along with guidance from your veterinarian, you can help keep your dog’s breath fresh and their teeth healthy.


Dr. Jennifer Weeks-Llera is an associate small animal veterinarian at Richmond Veterinary Clinic in Napanee, Ontario.  She is married to fellow veterinarian, Dr. Ryan Llera.  Together, they own and love 2 dogs, 3 cats, 2 horses, and a rabbit.

Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Something to Chew On – Raw Diets

Pet nutrition is unarguably one of the largest areas that people spend on their pets.  While the majority of people feed a commercial pet diet, there is a portion of the population that chooses to feed a raw food diet.  This is not necessarily a good or bad thing as there are pros & cons to this argument that both have validity.  Raw diets come in both home prepared forms as well as commercial forms.

People advocate that raw diets have many benefits.  Among these are the arguments that pets will have a better coat, less dental problems, “it’s more natural”, and that in general they will have better health.  The unfortunate truth is that there isn’t a whole lot of research behind raw diets to substantiate these claims.  They are subjective opinions rather than research based science.  Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t some benefits to raw diets and I think that over time as more information becomes available, there may be more proven benefits to raw food.

Raw organs (img from premiumblend.net)

Raw organs (img from premiumblend.net)

Raw diets were found to have a higher digestibility overall and reduced fecal output.  Improved digestibility can lead to better use of the diet and may help with some individual patients, particularly ones with food allergies/sensitivities.  This better digestibility is also the likely cause of the reduced fecal matter as more of the nutrients available are utilized.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

Dilated cardiomyopathy (Wikipedia)

So if these are the benefits, what are the drawbacks?  Nutrient deficiencies is one of the first things that comes to mind. In previous studies of cats eating raw diets, a significant lack of taurine was found to be the cause of the development of heart problems.  Taurine is needed by cats specifically to prevent dilation of the heart chambers and can be found in lesser quantities in muscle meat.  The additional problem with home formulated raw diets is that if research by the pet owner is not done before just feeding a raw piece of meat, other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals may be lacking.  Commercial raw food diets have been formulated to have appropriate levels for specific life stages.

Another argument for raw diets has been better dental health for pets fed a raw diet.  As raw diets contain some boney material or there is an actual bone to chew on, the amount of calculus (tartar) has actually been found to be reduced in multiple studies.  What is essentially unchanged though is the development of periodontal disease which is likely secondary to trauma from these bones to the gum tissue.

Salmonella bacteria

Salmonella bacteria

Lastly, let’s touch on contamination issues and microorganisms.  Would you eat raw chicken or beef?  Surely the human food supply has been inspected and kept healthy but it’s not advisable to eat raw meat primarily due to concerns over Salmonella.  The same concern exists for pets.  Bowls must certainly be cleaned and disinfected more regularly and people who are immunocompromised should not handle the feeding of the pets.  Even if your pets don’t get sick, they can still shed bacteria in their stool or saliva so proper hygiene on your part is paramount.

a commercial raw diet

a commercial raw diet

In short, raw diets can help but also not help…and this is one of the conundrums of raw diets.  I don’t doubt that there is some validity behind their use.  Use of a commercial raw diet (often times pre-frozen) is what I would recommend if you chose to go this route as it will meet AAFCO standards (discussed last time). It would also be beneficial to consult the Food & Drug Administration’s website on safe handling as well as potentially contacting a qualified nutrition service such as Pet Nutrition Consulting or through a veterinary college.  If you’re opposed to commercial diets, I would suggest cooking the food, rather than straight up raw, after consulting with a veterinary nutritionist.  Ultimately, it’s best to have a discussion with your veterinarian and do some research before any diet changes for your pets.

For further perspective on raw diets from a veterinary nutritionist, visit Dr. Weeth’s nutrition blog on the topic as well as many other great nutrition related posts.

Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect that of my current or previous employers.  Info for this post was accumulated from multiple sources including North American Veterinary Conference notes from a talk by Dr. Andrea Fascetti.  This post is intended to help people become informed.  I do not receive compensation from any food company.

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The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

The Very Basics of Ears & Teeth

When it comes to taking good care of your pet, several things that YOU can do at home can go a long way towards keeping your cat or dog in good health.  Doing some of these simple things can also help cut down on veterinary visits which will keep your pet’s stress levels lower (unless they love visiting the clinic – we have awesome treats!) and your wallet happier.  Regardless, even good at home care does not eliminate the need for an annual visit to your family veterinarian.

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

An ear infected with Pseudomonas

The ears are one of the best parts of a dog or cat….they can be pointed or floppy but always soft and your pet will most likely enjoy a good scratch or rub behind them.  But what about the inside?  Most pets will not need their ears cleaned, especially cats if they are kept indoors.  My cat is 13 years old and I’ve never had to clean her ears but outdoor cats are more prone to catching ear mites.  Pointy ears dogs are less likely to need cleanings than dogs with pendulous ears (labs, hounds, etc.).

Typically for cleaning ears, I only recommend doing it for dogs who go swimming, pets who have had previous or chronic ear problems, or for current treatment of a ear condition.  Usually 1-2 times a month is sufficient unless they have a current problem.  Mineral oil, vinegar, and water = BAD!  It is best to use a labeled ear cleaner that also acts as a drying agent because no matter how thorough the cleaning is, not all of it will get out so the drying aspect helps evaporate moisture. canine ear The ear canals have a vertical & horizontal section.  Pour the cleaner in (warning: they may shake it all over you!), massage the ear at the base, then wipe out the gunk with cotton balls, gauze, tissue, etc. just don’t use Q-tips and you won’t have to worry about hurting them.

Got teeth? Something I like to know of all my patients as the teeth are more important than many people realize.  Healthy teeth are great, but unhealthy teeth can make pets not want to eat, can make them irritable, or infections from the mouth can spread to other organs in the body.  We want your pets to keep their teeth, honestly we do…removing them is not enjoyable and at least they don’t have to hear the dentist drill.  Aside from that, dental procedures can be costly if postponed repeatedly.

Before dental cleaning

Before dental cleaning

Teeth after cleaning

Clean teeth after cleaning


Photo: WebMD

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help it just takes some commitment.  It’s best to start brushing when they are young to get them used to it.  Using a child’s toothbrush is best and you do have to use a pet enzymatic toothpaste (Colgate, Crest, Aquafresh, etc. can all damage their teeth).  It’s best to do it daily but let’s be real; life gets in the way between work, kids, relaxing time, etc.  Set a realistic goal and aim for 3-4 times a week.  Another option is using a veterinary recommended dental diet.  This kind of food has a larger kibble size and does not break as easily so it provides more mechanical scrubbing action on the teeth, much like brushing.  This won’t eliminate all the tartar but it certainly will slow down how fast dental disease can progress.


This is just part 1 of 2 of a reader requested post as part of my collaboration with Miss Edie the Pug who is really popular on Facebook & Twitter.  Be sure to check back next time for a chat on noses, eyes, and nails!  If there’s anything more you would like to know about, leave a comment below!  Thanks for reading & sharing!

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, TwitterPinterest, and Instagram @drryanllera to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of my blog you can now subscribe so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!