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Struggling to Clean Your Dog's Pearly Whites

Our little dog hates having her teeth brushed

Sometimes I feel like an awful doggie parent.

When we first adopted Layla, our Cavalier King Charles, our vet told us that she needed a professional teeth cleaning. Many dog breeds, including cavaliers, are more susceptible than others to heart disease. Proper dental hygiene is an important to heart health, so a proper cleaning to get Layla off to a good start with us was deemed necessary. This meant putting her under anesthesia and it resulted in a $300 vet bill.

We got our dog home with ivory white teeth and promised we would brush her teeth daily. Daily quickly became three times a week. Eventually that was reduced to whenever we got around to it and next thing we knew our vet was telling us it’s time for another teeth cleaning.

How did we let this happen? Are we terrible dog owners?

Well, we certainly aren’t giving regular brushing our best effort. However, part of the problem is that Layla just hates teeth brushing so much.

It doesn’t matter that the toothpaste claims to have a liver flavor (with the smell to match). Layla sees the green toothbrush come out and she runs and hides. Once I finally have her in my grasp, Layla makes it clear that she is not happy. There is plenty of squirming and whining and if I let up my hold for even a second she will get loose and the process begins again.

She enjoys licking the liver-flavored paste off the brush afterward. Plus we always give plenty of treats when we are done, which feels like rewarding a child for a successful brushing with a chocolate bar. And even still, Layla runs and squirms when she knows some brushing is afoot.

I’m told consistency is important for things like this. If we stick to a regular brushing schedule and routine, eventually Layla will fall into line.

Still, , is there hope to train dogs to brush their own teeth?

Peter May 10, 2011 at 07:20 PM
We tried cleaning our dog's teeth too, but its tough to stick with it. Especially when she really only lets you get at a select few with any consistency. We were turned on to a product called Breath-Less Fizzy Plaque Zapper. Its a water additive we put in her bowl about 3 times a week and really cut down on her plaque buildup.
Adam Gerard May 10, 2011 at 07:53 PM
Wow, I've never seen that plaque zapper stuff before. I'll have to check it out and ask my vet about it.
Karen Swanson May 11, 2011 at 12:08 PM
I started using a gel called Petzlife Oral Care Gel. I brush my dog's teeth with regular dog paste then put some of the gel on the brush and get a final brush in... Gel is supposed to mix with the saliva and coat the teeth. If you squirt gel in the dog's mouth everyday per the product directions (I just do it when I brush his teeth since his teeth are still pretty white), then you can give the dog a dental bone/rawhide after a couple of weeks and the plaque is supposed to slide off. It is costly (~$25) and some of the reviews on the various supplier's websites complain about alcohol being an ingredient but I figure one tiny drop of alcohol is much better than a dental cleaning under general anesthesia. Petzlife comes in spray or gel and mint or salmon flavor (I went with mint which isn't loved so next time I will go with salmon). I am very lucky in that my dog enjoys getting my teeth cleaned -- ears and nails...not so much. For what it is worth, I have witnessed a sloth bear cub getting his teeth brushed -- he held his mouth open and the zoo keeper would give a few quick scrubs with a giant toothbrush (fencing was separating them of course) and then he'd get a "good job" click and the keeper would toss a treat (a tasty meal worm) in his mouth before she would move to the next couple of teeth. I keep that sight in mind and decided that if a bear can be trained to let his teeth get brushed, so can my dog -- I still have to teach him to open his mouth wide.
Adam Gerard May 11, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Karen, You're great at finding these unique products for Shadow. I know a few people that purchased the Musher's Secret after you recommended it. I'll have to look in to this for Layla. Thanks!

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