Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
Dear Dr. Deanna—We travel with our two dogs, Princess, a miniature poodle, and Ruby, a Boxer. Princess has really horrible breath. Ruby, not so much. My husband thinks that Princess just has “doggy breath” but I think it’s much worse than that. Could she have an infected tooth?—Ramona B.
Dogs should not have really noxious-smelling breath, and its presence indicates a problem.
Most breath odor is caused by infected teeth and/or gums. About 85 percent of dogs and cats are affected by the age of three. It’s possible the odor is from the GI tract, such as undigested food or perhaps a lovely rotten dead thing your dog delightfully swallowed whole. Bad breath from burping is infrequent, however, and not likely to be present all the time.
Because Princess is a small dog, it’s much more likely that she has dental disease. This can be due to:
• Genetics. Small dogs have the same number of teeth as large dogs; they’re just crammed into a smaller space. If teeth are misaligned, food can get stuck between them, causing tooth decay. We can’t alter genetics so unless you opt for braces for your dog (yes, you can!), problem teeth must be extracted if infected.
• Diet. Which contributes more to dental disease: dry or canned food? The answer seems to be: both.
Studies show that feeding your dog or cat canned food does not make their teeth worse. For those of you who feed only dry kibble because you think it will help their teeth, that’s not a good excuse anymore.
Because dry food is, well, dry, it’s more likely to stick to your pet’s teeth and gums, especially if your pet doesn’t drink lots of water to dissolve it. (More on this topic in the future).
• What she chews on. Pig ears, antlers, cow hooves, and bones do NOT keep your dog’s teeth cleaner. In fact, they are all loaded with bacteria. Worse, they are a leading cause of broken teeth. Steer clear.
• Level of preventive dental care And, of course, this is the biggie. As gross as it sounds, if you didn’t brush your teeth your whole life, you can only imagine the horrible condition they would be in. Preventive care means brushing your pet’s teeth daily
I’m here to tell ya that brushing a dog or cat’s teeth is not always easy. Owners who started when their pets were little puppies or kittens have a huge advantage. But because dogs and cats use their teeth as a defense, they can be protective of their mouths and not want them touched.
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If you are like most of us, and didn’t start brushing during the puppy/kitten phase, here are some tips to getting started. This regime may take several weeks.
• Start by getting your pet used to you lifting up her lip. Briefly at first, then lift further to look at the molars at the back of the mouth.
• Reward with a treat if successful.
• Then try rubbing the teeth with a cotton gauze pad, wrapped loosely around your finger.
• If this works, try rubbing the teeth using a finger brush, perhaps wrapped in gauze at first, then using just the bristles on the brush.
At this point, you are not yet using toothpaste. Introduce it slowly, using ONLY toothpaste meant for pets. Many of them are flavored (poultry, beef, tuna, etc.). Here’s one I recommend.
Don’t use human toothpaste; it foams and our pets don’t like that.
Don’t use a human toothbrush. They are usually too large. Brushes that fit over your finger are easier to manipulate.
Don’t worry about cleaning the inside surfaces of the teeth; the outside will suffice.
Try to brush once daily.
If your pet just won’t tolerate a brush, try using dental wipes made especially for pets. They can help keep plaque off a tooth surface, and are probably the next best thing to brushing. You should try to do this daily, as well.
Another option is to apply a plaque prevention gel, like OraVet, once weekly. It’s best to start this product just after a good dental cleaning, when the teeth are free of plaque and tartar. If you’re unsure how to use it, ask the vet tech or veterinarian to show you.
Some veterinary dentists recommend dental treats to help remove plaque, such as Dentahex chews or Greenies. I personally don’t care for these because 1) some dogs with sensitive stomachs will react badly to them; 2) you MUST be sure to get the proper size for your pet. Choking deaths have been reported.
How important is it to keep your pet’s teeth clean? Doing so can literally extend the life of your pet. Infection from bad teeth enters the bloodstream, and can cause heart problems, as well as a variety of inflammatory problems. Your pet’s quality of life can suffer, because she may have chronic pain from her bad teeth.
Our pets do not have to suffer from the pain and discomfort of infected teeth and gums. See your veterinarian if your dog is reluctant to chew on a favorite toy, or is hesitant to chew dry kibble. Bad teeth may be the reason why.
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner.