Cleaning your dog’s teeth was not something I’d thought about until recently. Freya is three this week and every time I’d checked her teeth over the years they’d sparkled. Why would I ever need to clean them?
So it was a shock to discover recently that there was a small amount of tartar (Calculus) on her canine teeth. How could this be? She ate kibble; this was good for scraping plaque of teeth right? She was only given healthy treats – with the exception of the daily biscuit from our lovely postie – and her bedtime biscuit was a fifth of a piece of Purina Dentalife stick, perfect to finish off the day surely.
We’d also just met up with friend Nicky and her cocker spaniels, Bracken and Haggis. When I mentioned this to her, she said that Bracken (also just three) had the same issue, again having only been given kibble and natural treats. How could they both have tartar?
So off I went to carry out some research…
First off what’s the difference between tartar and plaque?
Tartar is yellow to brown, plaque is colourless to pale. In the mouth, plaque is the sticky layer of bacteria which makes your teeth feel as if they have a coating. If you don’t clean off the plaque, it mineralises and after several days tartar can form. Plaque and tartar, if left untreated, can lead to infection and ultimately oral surgery.
Is Kibble good for cleaning dogs’ teeth?
Apparently not so much. Some companies selling the product do claim that it helps remove plaque, but there are experts who think it’s fairly superficial.
“Crunchy kibble can remove some of the plaque near the tops of a dog’s teeth. But it can also be ineffective within the critical zone near the gumline where plaque and tartar cause the most harm — decay (cavities) and gum disease.” Dog Food Advisor
In fact, we’re told to avoid foods made with by-products, meals, and cereal grains, as they are more likely to stick to your dog’s teeth. Instead, we should look for a food made from meats, vegetables, and fruits, although care is needed with fruit as the intrinsic sugar can accelerate the plaque to tartar process.
How to clean your dog’s teeth – personal recommendations from fellow dog owners
It turns out that cleaning your dog’s teeth, no matter what you feed them, is essential. So I called out to a few friends with dogs whose teeth were sparkly clean to see what they recommended.
Paul’s a super photographer and I always commissioned him when any of my clients needed his skills. While we were attempting to position two black dogs with their owners for the perfect image – always a nightmare for any photographer – I remember him saying how all you needed to keep your dog’s teeth clean was a bone. So I asked him to tell all!
“Bones are natural happiness to a dog!” Paul exclaims. “Every time we take Talli for a check up the people in the waiting room and the vet remark on how white and clean her teeth are.”
“We use a local butchers who gives us bones; our preference is beef as they usually have a bit of meat on and some have marrow in them. The ones with marrow you can cut with a hatchet and hammer, but you have to be careful as the splinters fly everywhere. Talli, will gnaw on a bone for a few hours and return to it the following day, however it’s useful to take them in at night, as slugs, ants, etc, will invade. We throw them out after a week or so, as mould will begin to form. Giving your dog bones will do two things…keep their teeth clean and tartar free and reduce bad breath dramatically. We give them Talli as a treat, although not every day as they tend to bung them up a little.“
“Always avoid cooked bones though as they can splinter and also bear in mind that the size of bone should be appropriate for the dog. Talli is a large breed so beef is perfect for her, however, rib bones are good for small and medium dogs. If you buy or are given more than, one just freeze them; they can be dropped into warm water and defrosted in a few minutes.“
Lucy feeds her dogs a raw diet and also swears by raw meaty bones for helping to clean her dogs’ teeth.
“I do clean their “fangs” gum line with grainy Dorwest meaty toothpaste and a child’s toothbrush. Woody’s teeth were terrible as he’s a rescue but the raw chicken wings and necks he’s been crunching up have definitely helped clean his teeth. Everyone comments how white both Ruby and Woody’s teeth are.“
Like Paul, Lucy also gave caution around giving your dog beef bones. Her dogs are a cocker spaniel and cockapoo so both medium-sized.
“The trouble with beef bones is they’re really hard, so OK for tearing meat and tendons off for recreational benefit, but I’m not sure I can trust my two; a beef bone can beak teeth as it’s so hard. I give mine ones they can crunch up and eat like duck necks, chicken wings and lamb ribs, with lots of meat on them. They crunch up the actual bones and eat them easily, which cleans those big back teeth a treat.”
“We use a toothbrush and toothpaste, along with Plaque Off Powder and Plaque Off Bones. We recommend Arm and Hammer beef toothpaste, all available from leading pet suppliers.”
Sandra recommends the electric toothbrush solution, however these are very expensive and so she takes her cockapoo Mindy to a groomer who offers it as one of their services.
“The Emmi pen really works, says Sandra. “More groomers are offering the service; it’s like a sonic toothbrush, but there’s no noise and it breaks up the plaque. Each dog has its own brush at my groomers, Looboo Pet Grooming. I was charged £25 for a 30 minute session where my groomer, Rhian, removed most of the plaque.“
“I then took Mindy back two weeks later to finish off the clean for 10 minutes, which cost £15. This was in February and they still look good. I don’t brush in-between sessions, but we give carrots and a Lily ‘s kitchen dental chew every other day. We are really pleased; the vet wanted £200 to clean Mindy’s teeth as they sedate and charge £50 for every tooth extracted.”
“We had Lucy’s teeth cleaned in January along with another vet procedure. Since then we have cleaned them each day with a soft toothbrush using Virbac Enzymatic toothpaste – poultry flavoured. We’re very pleased with the results; Lucy loves it and her teeth have remained nice and pearly white. We brushed her teeth before with coconut oil which she loved, but it wasn’t bringing the tartar off. It was the vet who recommended an enzymatic toothpaste to break down the bacteria.”
“I use Logic Orozyme Chews. They have an enzyme which helps loosen the plaque. The vet was impressed with how much better Brie’s teeth were.”
“I like to stay eco friendly and so use gauze and baking powder. I wrap the gauze around my finger, wet it and then dab it in baking soda. I gently rub it on my dog’s teeth, doing a different part of their mouth each time over a few days. It works a treat. I also use coconut oil, which contains lauric acid and kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay and bad breath.”
Rachel Leather is a practising Dog Behaviourist with two dogs of her own. She gave caution that Plaque Off may not suit all dogs:
“Plaque Off is really effective but both mine suddenly got very bad diarrhoea after using it for a couple of weeks as instructed so I’ve avoided it since then.”
As a result I have bought Freya — and Frankie when her adult teeth come through — a toothbrush along with an enzymatic toothpaste; I’ve also bought a finger brush as a backup.
So how has Freya managed to keep her teeth clean for this long?
As controversial as it is, Freya loves to chew on a stick; she gets so much pleasure from it all I do is check that it’s not likely to splinter. I really think this has helped to keep the plaque down.
During research and testing for the blog I wrote in January 2019, Rawhide – Good or Bad?, Freya was treated to several high quality rawhide products, along with their alternatives. As a result she also occasionally enjoys chomping on high grade rawhide, specifically an Anco Coconut Rawhide Twisted Stick, along with Good Boy Chicken Twists as a special treat after grooming, etc, (she takes your hand off for this one). Frankie is too young for these treats so she and Freya share the pleasure of crunching on carrots, sweet potatoes, and apple slices together.
Reach and clean chews such as Nylabone, along with specially designed spike toys, can also help removing every day plaque. These were only popular with Freya when she was teething; she much prefers her stick, something Frankie has also adopted.
And the bedtime treat? Although the product is said to help remove tartar, it contains the cereals mentioned by the Dog Food Advisor that can get trapped around the gums. Both Freya and Frankie now go mad for their night time replacement of a crunchy fish skin chew; these are low in calories and have a rough texture that helps remove tartar from teeth. I chose Billy & Margot Fish Cubes as they are made from 100% whitefish skins by the Real Pet Company in Wales, who manufacture for private label companies.
Quick demo on how to brush your dog’s teeth
As part of their series Trust Me, I’m a Vet, the BBC included The Trust Me Big Experiment – What’s the best way to keep your pet’s teeth clean? This also illustrates how important it is to keep your dog’s teeth clean.