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Dental Care For Older Dogs: Are You Doing Your Best to Help Keep Their Teeth Healthy?

Dental Care For Older Dogs: Are You Doing Your Best to Help Keep Their Teeth Healthy?

Maybe you’ve just finished playing a round of tug-of-war or you look down at your dog during their favorite evening walk, and there it is—a happy-looking, toothy grin.

Keeping your dog’s teeth healthy throughout their lifetime is an important part of caring for their physical health. This becomes particularly true as your dog enters their senior years and their teeth and gums are at higher risk for dental problems.

Why dental care is important for older dogs

Your dog’s teeth have been hard at work through the years, breaking down kibble, chewing on chews, chomping down on treats and playing with their favorite toys. And while your dog’s teeth were meant for these roles, as they age, their dental health risks increase.

Signs of dental problems in older dogs

You’d recognize your dog’s happy smile anywhere. And the way their tail wags whenever that grin spreads across their face melts your heart. But, do you know what the signs of dental disease look like in an aging dog?

The signs of dental disease can look different depending on the specific issue but may include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Blood in water bowls or on chew toys
  • Bloody, ropey saliva
  • Making noises or “talking” when they yawn or eat
  • Not wanting to be touched on the head (also known as head shyness)
  • Lumps in their mouth
  • Chewing one side of the mouth
  • Weight loss due to eating being difficult

Keep in mind that this list isn’t exhaustive. Dental issues can take many forms.

A risk of periodontal disease

Dental disease is a common issue for older dogs, affecting approximately 80% of dogs over the age of 3.* Risks increase as your dog passes the 7-year mark, an age at which many dog breeds are considered to be seniors.

As your dog ages, an increasing amount of bacteria forms into plaque and eventually turns into tartar on their teeth. When it builds up along the gumline it can cause gingivitis and ultimately periodontal disease. 

When inflammation of the gums develops into infected tissue, ligaments and bone structures surrounding a tooth, a pet may suffer from pain, tooth loss and loss of appetite. Beyond just affecting your dog’s teeth and gums, dental disease can also contribute to heart, lung, liver, kidney and brain issues.

There is no doubt that as a dog parent, you want to prevent these issues from affecting your senior pooch. Catching the signs of problems early on can help you avoid these ailments and protect your pet from unnecessary pain.

Dental care for older dogs

As a dog parent, you’d rather prevent dental health issues than have to see your pet deal with teeth-related problems and potential pain that could have been avoided. Fortunately there are many proactive things you can start doing today, whether your senior dog just turned 7 or is even older.

Schedule your dog’s routine vet exams 

These are recommended once per year before they’re a senior and twice a year after they turn 7. Your pet’s routine examples will include a thorough dental examination and your vet will let you know when it’s time for a professional cleaning and if X-rays are needed.

Practice daily at-home dental care

“Pets, just like people, should have some form of a daily dental routine,” says Petco's Chief Veterinarian Dr. Whitney Miller. “While brushing daily is ideal, you can simplify it by giving a dental treat, water additive or using a dental wipe on days you can’t get to brushing.”

  • Brush your dog’s teeth regularly. Not sure how to get started? Check out our guide to brushing your dog’s teeth.
  • Use a water additive, which may help to keep your dog’s breath fresh, reduce plaque and tartar buildup and, as a bonus, contribute to improved digestion.
  • Try out dental wipes. These wipes make it easy to help clean your dog’s teeth and can be a simpler solution than brushing.
  • Add dental treats to your dog’s daily routine. Dental treats help reduce the buildup of plaque and tartar while still being an enjoyable treat. Just remember that treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories.

While preventive care is always the best option, if your dog has already experienced severe dental problems, consider switching to wet or fresh food to help make mealtime more comfortable.

As your dog ages, changing their dental health care routine is just one of the adjustments you may need to make to help them enjoy their golden years in good health. Learn more about other common health issues for older dogs here.

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*Source: Packaged Facts “Pet Oral Care Services and Products in the U.S.” 3rd Edition, 2018.