Monday, February 6, 2012

Dental Health for Dogs

Not only is February the month for lovers, it's also the month to show your love for your Basenji by paying special attention to his or her dental health. Pet Dental Health Month, sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, stresses that dental health for pets is as important as it is for humans. You wouldn't neglect yours or your child's teeth -- why would you ignore your dog's? 

Periodontal infections have been linked to many very serious conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and strokes. The best way to prevent infections of the gums and teeth is to brush them regularly and have them routinely inspected by your veterinarian.

I can hear you thinking, "Brush his teeth? Yeah, riiiiight!" But you can do it! As with any training, it helps to break into the routine gradually. Keep daily brushing sessions short and positive. Don't pin your dog down and expect him to enjoy having his teeth scrubbed with a foreign object. Instead, start by holding him in your lap and dipping a finger into beef or chicken broth.  When he opens his mouth to lick, gently rub his teeth and gums, and praise him happily. He will soon be looking forward to this tasty little ritual, and the length of time you spend with your finger in his mouth can be extended. 

Then you can move on to the next step, which is the introduction of a small piece of gauze wrapped around your rubbing finger. As before, dip in broth, but rub the teeth and gums gently in a circular motion. Don't be in a hurry, and don't forget the happy praise throughout!

When he has accepted this procedure, your dog should be ready for you to begin using a small toothbrush -- either a child's soft toothbrush, or one specially made for dogs. Use the toothbrush in conjunction with a flavored dog toothpaste. (My Basenji loved liver flavor. Eeeew!) You can also find recipes for homemade dog toothpaste online; but whatever you use, do not use human toothpaste, as it can cause stomach upset.

When your vet examines your Basenji's mouth, he may notice a buildup of plaque or inflammation of the gums; he will probably recommend a thorough cleaning and evaluation. This is not an inexpensive procedure, but professional attention can prevent needless pain and add years to your dog's life. The same anesthesia protocol should be used for your Basenji as would be used for a Greyhound. A veterinarian who has not treated a Basenji may not know or remember that it is a sighthound. You might say something like, "I don't mean to insult you, but I have to make sure you know..."  Unfortunately, I have heard of a few cases over the years that resulted in death due to use of the wrong anesthetic. 

More information on the subject can be found on the article Maintaining Those Pearly Whites on the BRAT website, a step-by-step look at routine dental prophylaxis being performed on a Basenji. Knowing what to expect reduces the fear factor.

Now that you know how to get started, give your dog a kiss and go fix some beef broth! Happy Dental Health Month!
- Chey Miller


  1. I *loved* the informative account you put together for the main BRAT page. It was really helpful when we decided to bite the bullet last year and get Bowpi's full dental done during Pet Dental Month (where many vets in my area were offering discounts of 15 ~ 20% on the full procedure). They even provided us with an interesting before-and-after set of photos here:

    The tartar doesn't actually look so bad (though you should've seen when she first came to us -- we managed to get a lot of mileage out of harder food, dental chews, raw bones, and PlaqueOff). But her breath truly REEKED. She's still a bit of a stinkmouth now, but much improved now that she's on a good diet and we've started brushing her teeth.

    Gotta admit that I'm still not great about brushing... Bowpi thinks it's great fun, but her game is to lick the toothpaste off the brush before I can even get it touch her teeth.

    1. Thank you - I'm so glad you found it helpful!

      I ended up ditching the toothbrush and opted for using a finger brush; same principle as gauze but easier to use and cheaper in the long run.

      Ruby only needed the one dental. I wasn't as conscientious as I should have been about feeding people food (she was an inveterate beggar), but I made up for it by regular brushing and meaty bones. Regular care pays big dividends. :)

  2. I bought what was supposed to be "chicken flavor" but, to me, it smells like mint. And both my dogs hate the taste.

    1. Try the liver. I mean, let your DOGS try the liver!

  3. Its good to see people care about their pet's dental health. In animals, it is even more important than in humans. Very good post. Thanks.