A common question that I am often asked is: “How do I clean my dog’s (or cat’s) teeth?” Well there are a number of ways, and these can range from special toothpaste to tooth brushes, to bones. Let’s start with the obvious one.
A “Professional” Cleaning at a Veterinary Clinic
Typically this is the one most vets will recommend. You drop your pet off at the vet in the morning, and pick him/her up after a few hours. This usually requires that your dog/cat is put under anesthesia, which allows the vet or vet staff to clean your pet’s teeth thoroughly. Because this often involves removal of many years of build-up of plaque and other bacteria, antibiotics are often prescribed after the cleaning.
Risk level: 8 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest risk)
Price point: 10 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most expensive)
Effectiveness: 10 (on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most effective)
My thoughts? Too risky! Imagine if people had to be anesthetized every time they went in for a routine cleaning (remember that the recommended cleaning frequency for people is twice a year)! Even for animals who only have this procedure done a handful of times throughout their lives – that’s still a lot of exposure to unnecessary chemicals, and there is always a risk of a severe reaction to the anesthesia. If your dog or cat is elderly, or has a compromised immune system or ongoing tough illness (skin problems, allergies, cancer, nutritional deficits), don’t risk it!
This is also a very expensive option, and can start at $350 or more. Once in a while, you’ll find a veterinarian who will do the dental cleanings without anesthesia, and this is certainly the better option. Keep in mind that in order for them to do anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, they often must use several vet techs to physically restrain your pet while the vet cleans his/her teeth. This can be a traumatic experience for your dog or cat – so use this method sparingly.
This is often sold at veterinary clinics or pet stores. It claims to contain enzymes that break down plaque and help fight bacteria. The proposed application is once or twice daily, and some even include little brush applicators.
Risk level: 3
Price point: 3
I do not believe in using dog or cat toothpaste. Why? It does not work, and brushing with the standard tooth brushes usually irritate the gums, causing pain. These products usually contain chlorhexidine, a chemical that can be absorbed into the blood stream and over time cause neurological problems. Stay away! There are better alternatives.
“Greenies” & Other Commercially-Made Dental Bones
These products are also sold in pet stores and some clinics. They make great claims to clean your dogs’ teeth with little to no effort on your part. Chewing on these products supposedly break down food matter and then, dogs are able to actually ingest it!
Risk level: 8
Price point: 3
I don’t recommend using these products. There is a risk of choking, and having these products get lodged in the gut. And of course, the other risk is that these products are not nutritionally healthy and contain lots of low-quality ingredients that can trigger allergies and other nutritional ailments. Commercially-made dental bones are not very effective either. These products are a waste of your hard-earned money.
Ok Dr. B – Enough. I get it! So what can the savvy dog or cat owner use then? What methods ARE safe and good for teeth cleaning?
Glad you asked! Here are the methods I recommend for use in my own pets and my clients’ pets. All of my pets have lived long healthy lives (up to age 24 for my border collie!) and I never once used anesthesia to clean their teeth. My methods not only clean teeth, but also keep the gums healthy and the breath nice and fresh!
I. Fresh Food: Avoid feeding commercial cat or dog food, including treats. Dry food is very high in carbohydrates, and if you feed fresh meat and vegetables, your pets are less likely to develop tartar on their teeth. Consult my book: Fresh Food & Ancient Wisdom for recipes and specifics on dietary requirements for your pet.
Risk level: 0
Price point: 6
II. Bones: For dogs, chewing on a large/size-appropriate REAL bone after meals for about 10 to 20 minutes reduces plaque buildup, especially in the upper and lower molars. I recommend this method a few times a week. After 10-20 minutes, remove the bone, wash, then place in ziplock bag or tupperware and store in the fridge. Boiling the bone first will help soften it. Always use supervision when allowing your dog to chew on bones.
Risk level: 2 (With supervision)
Price point: 2
Bone feeding specifics:
- Do not feed the 3 B’s : barbecued / broiled / baked = brittle
- Avoid poultry leg bones
- Feed raw or boiled beef and pork leg bones
- NO Bones for small or brachycephalic dogs (They lack the jaw morphology needed to chew bones safely)
III. Dr. B’s Teeth and Gum Cleaning Solution
Mix the following together and keep in a small glass jar, and use to apply to teeth and gums. This mixture works well for gum disease, and softens the plaque over time, while also controlling the risk of bacteria and gum disease. (Do not add this mixture to water bowls for ingestion).
- 2 oz Hydrogen peroxide (3%)
- 2 oz Aloe Vera juice
If your pet suffers from bad breath, add one of the following to the above mixture:
- Baking soda (one tablespoon)
- Liquid chlorophyll (1 teaspoon)
Risk level: 0
Price point: 1
Application: Apply to teeth and gums, especially the upper molars to control plaque. Use a gauze sponge and soak in the mixed solution, then briskly rub onto stained teeth or plaque. Do this several times a week, and more often if your pet has a lot of plaque build-up. On small dogs and cats, use a Q-tip dipped in the solution, then apply to the gums, teeth, and plaque.
After applying the solution every few days to the gums, teeth, and plaque for 2 -3 weeks, you’ll be able to then scrape the plaque right off the affected teeth, using your fingernails, a soft towel, or even a Q-tip.
Finally, in some cases, low dose antibiotics like clindamycin may be appropriate for extreme cases of gum disease. Consult your holistic veterinarian for his or her advice on the use of antibiotics for your pet.