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THE BARKING LOT: Dogs need dental check-ups, too

THE BARKING LOT: Dogs need dental check-ups, too

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Unfortunately, dental hygiene for dogs is often overlooked.

Not many people brush their dogs' teeth frequently. Dental hygiene is just as important to your dog's overall health as nutrition, exercise and grooming.

Although all dogs are at risk, small and toy breeds are especially prone to dental issues. Catching teeth problems early will help avoid severe dental disease. The simplest way to keep track of your dog's teeth is to look at them on a regular basis and be aware of signs that may indicate a problem.

Your veterinarian will also take a look at your dog's teeth at routine check-ups. Contact your vet if any problems arise.

Watch for the following signs:

• halitosis (bad breath)

• reluctance to chew or crying when chewing

• increased saliva

• red, puffy or bleeding gums

• plaque/tartar (coating on teeth that is brown or yellow)

• missing and/or loose teeth

• anything that appears unusual in the mouth

Plaque builds up on the teeth and turns into tartar. These areas grow bacteria and eat away at the teeth and gums. Halitosis, periodontal disease, pain and tooth loss can occur. However, bacteria not only causes disease in the mouth, it can also affect the heart and kidneys. Address dental disease as soon as it is detected, no matter how minor it may be.

There are several things you can do to help keep your dog's teeth in good shape. Start a dental care routine as early as possible in your dog's life so he gets used to the feeling of having his teeth brushed and inspected. Puppy teeth fall out by about 6 months old. By this time, your dog should be getting his teeth brushed regularly.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

• Never brush your dog's teeth with human toothpaste; it can make your dog sick! Use toothpaste made especially for dogs.

• Plaque begins to turn into tartar within 24-48 hours, so daily brushing is recommended. You may want to brush his teeth around the same time you do yours so it will be easier to remember.

• Use a "finger brush" or special long toothbrush designed for dogs. When starting out, the finger brush can help ease your dog into it, as these do not feel as awkward as hard brushes.

• Oral rinses for dogs can help eliminate plaque/tartar.

• Dental treats — avoid real bones as they can cause gastrointestinal upset and possible tooth fractures.

Your vet may recommend a professional dental cleaning. This requires general anesthesia. During the procedure, your dog's teeth and gums will be examined. If dental problems are noted, tooth extractions could be necessary. You may be referred to a veterinary dentist for specialty procedures. Be certain to follow your vet's recommendations.

Your responsibility as a dog owner is to help keep your dog healthy. So pay attention to those pearly whites.

Leslie Gallagher of St. Charles is owner of K9Z Etc., a pet care and dog training business. She writes a monthly column sharing training tips and other information about dogs.

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