Every month or so I break out the dog toothpaste and a little rubber toothbrush that fits on the end of my finger and attempt to brush Pacey’s teeth. He doesn’t like it much, but I’m usually able to get a few good swipes in. Even so, in the past year I started to notice that his doggie breath was a little stinkier than usual. Bad breath is often caused by tartar build-up inside a dog’s mouth, and I remembered hearing somewhere that tartar build up and dental problems can contribute to other health problems, so I decided to take Pacey to his vet to see if a professional cleaning was in order. The vet checked out his teeth and gave me some really good information about canine dental health. (Shout out to the awesome staff at Littlestown Veterinary Hospital in Littlestown, PA!)
General anesthesia, which carries a risk of complication for any animal, is needed for a teeth cleaning at a vet’s office, so it’s important to weigh the risk. In Pacey’s case, the vet said that his teeth still looked good and that we could hold off on a professional cleaning for a little while and try some other measures first. (But our vet is planning to do another assessment in about 6 months). However, if your pet has substantial tartar build-up, a professional cleaning is probably needed, since tartar is known to lead to:
-The gums being pushed away from the roots of the dog’s teeth, which will eventually cause the teeth to loosen and fall out.
-Infections inside the dog’s mouth. Antibiotics may be able to suppress the infection, but without removing the tartar, the infection will likely keep returning. (Infections also smell horrible and can cause very stinky dog breath.)
-In severe cases, tartar can break off and infection will enter the dog’s bloodstream. This can lead to serious conditions of the heart, kidney, and/or joints.
But there are some routine measures that you can take to aid your dog’s dental health:
-Feed dry dog food and hard biscuits made to help clean tartar (like Milk-Bones or Dentastix).
-Ask your vet about prescription food specially formulated to scrape the tartar off dogs’ teeth.
-Try giving a hard chew toy.
-Brush your dog’s teeth regularly. It may be tricky to get inside your dog’s mouth, but even getting a few swipes on the outside of their teeth with a toothbrush will help. Just be sure to use a toothpaste specifically made for dogs.
-Make sure that your vet takes a good look at your dog’s teeth at an annual check-up.
These minty treats won’t cure tartar problems, but they may help freshen up a case of bad breath. I use mint in this recipe because I think it’s stronger for covering odor than parsley. If you’d like, you could substitute fresh parsley or use a mix of parsley and mint.
Doggie Breath Mints
Makes about 180 bite-sized treats
1 2/3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
3/4 cup water, plus more as needed
1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, and mint.
3. Add the egg and water, and knead until a smooth dough forms.
4. Generously dust the countertop with cornmeal, and roll the dough out to about 1/2-inch thick. Cut into pieces using your desired cookie cutter.
5. Arrange the treats on an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake until firm to the touch, about 10 minutes.
6. Turn off the oven, crack the oven door, and leave the cookies to dry for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.