Why our Penny was down in the mouth…
We all know how important it is to look after our teeth and that we need to brush them at least once a day and preferably more. Animals can’t brush their teeth so have to rely on us in two ways; providing the right type of food, and brushing their teeth for them as required. This week we saw what a gum infection can lead to as our Penny had to go in for a tooth descale and ended up having teeth out.
We brushed her teeth at least twice a week with doggie toothpaste, and would give her stick chews and dental chews to help the process. We did this with all our greyhounds and to some extent this worked. Sally did have to have a few teeth out, some of which we put down to her never chewing her food. Crunching hard food is supposed to help shift plaque and debris. However, this is not really logical; imagine you relied on eating a packet of biscuits instead of brushing your teeth – it just would not work. Eating carrots or hard fruit or vegetables can help but not all dogs like these. Sally would sit by the kitchen sink on a Sunday waiting for her carrot when we prepped dinner but if we gave Sammy a carrot she just looked at you as if you were nuts – “What – you want me to cook this myself?”.
In the end you have to use a toothbrush and doggy toothpaste. This is usually meat flavoured (apparently but they hide it well) and you can apply it with a toothbrush or a finger brush (which looks like the finger of a glove with nobbly bits on). You rub the paste onto the teeth and it is supposed to break down the tartar and debris. Sally hated the toothbrush, but would allow me to use a battery powered brush (she was a strange dog!). Sam would sit and almost enjoyed having her teeth cleaned. Just take it gently, and get the dog used to the brush for short periods and build it up to a rub around the teeth over time.
Some dog owners swear by feeding their dogs raw food as this is was what nature intended. It consists of raw meat (hearts, mince, chicken) and the accompanying bones too. Chewing bones helps keep the teeth clean, and raw bones do not shatter like cooked ones which is why they can be given raw chicken bones. The argument is that this is what they would eat in the wild and what they evolved to eat. We were seriously considering this but events overtook us.
Penny did not have an auspicious start as far teeth were concerned – greyhounds are renowned for having rubbish teeth and gums. Many dogs have a sloppy diet when they race and due to being fed in batches they are also used to bolting their food as the slow eater will end up hungry. Less scrupulous trainers or owners will also feed their dog poorly which just compounds the problem. When we picked Penny up from the rescue centre she had been spayed and her teeth scaled. In spite of this, she had bad breath which we put down to her digestive system.
So Penny began each day with cereal and a large couple of dollops of plain yoghurt, which she absolutely loves. Whereas Sally’s digestive system had been awful (I won’t go into the details but you can imagine the outcome or should I say output!) Penny’s has always been really good. The outside of her teeth was always pretty good, though they would occasionally go manky so we would start more intensive cleaning. We even tried changing her food to find one that gave her better breath which was occasionally successful. Weirdly, she was better with human food.
Her breath was still not very fragrant but looking inside her mouth it was not so obvious why. Last week she went in to have the musk glands in her bottom cleaned (never a nice thing) and in passing we mentioned the bad breath. The vet took a look and I mean a really good look. The outsides looked dirty but the insides which we could not see were worse. She warned us that they needed a clean and that some might have to come out. You could see where her gums had receded due to the gingivitis and plaque and in one spot the was a hole under her roots. We were shocked and I was mortified that I had let her get into this state. We consider ourselves to be good and knowledgeable dog owners but even we were caught out. The toothpaste does not get to all corners of the mouth, dried kibble is not a miracle cleaner and dental chews can’t replace a proper clean. Maybe I had also been in denial.
Penny went in on Tuesday. When I rang after lunch, she was on the operating table, and I was told she was worse than we thought – she would need many teeth taken out. In fact, most teeth. In fact nearly all her teeth. When I rang an hour later, she was still on the table – for nearly three hours it eventually turned out. Penny had all but her four canines and one molar removed.
She was really groggy and sore when we collected her, and she dribbled and bled all night. She is on two different painkillers, antibiotics and a mouth rinse, but is making a good recovery. Like all greyhounds, she can be a bit of a wuss, and she also knows how to play people and milk the sympathy. It has to be said though that having so many teeth out must be really painful so she is also in real discomfort. She has been very brave I guess.
The moral of this tale (tail?) is that you need to keep an eye on your dog’s teeth, brush them at least once a week and watch their diet. Avoid sugary food and treats (as we would do ourselves). Apparently there is a powder which can be added to food that helps keep plaque down as well – ask your vet about it. Learn from our mistakes and Penny’s example. Good luck, and to paraphrase Frasier Crane – Good Dental Health!