So you paid a fortune for a puppy to cheer up the family in lockdown? Or maybe you got lucky in the lottery where hundreds of people competed for the most popular dog at the pound.
You shelled out for a leash, a water bowl, some grooming tools, and maybe even a dorky little vest for your new loved one.
But what about a toothbrush and a tube of special dog toothpaste?
Because, just like humans, dogs need their teeth cleaned every day to prevent bad breath, plaque and gum disease.
Aren’t bones and dental chews enough?
Raw bones were thought to be the best option for a dog’s dental hygiene – but the advice is mixed. Chewing a raw bone is softer than a cooked bone and is less prone to breaking up into sharp pieces – and it’s good for teeth and gums.
But choose your bones carefully as they can cause teeth to crack.
Also, bones are best given three times a week – meaning not every day, and not for protracted periods. Meanwhile, those puppy gums still need daily attention.
Dental chews have become a popular and easy option – and dogs love them as snacks.
But they can just as easily gulp them down than chew on them – which means the teeth don’t get cleaned and there is a risk that pieces of larger chew-treats can get stuck in the dog’s gums or gastrointestinal tract.
Just like your children, but with sharper teeth
If you’ve never brushed your dog’s teeth, don’t feel bad about it. Most people don’t even know it’s an issue.
“People are definitely surprised when we mention brushing,” says Sydney vet Dr Matt Buchanan-Pascall.
“We’ll ask if they’ll be up for it. Some people say straight out, ‘Definitely not’. They don’t have time or they know their dog gets funny when you try and handle it around the mouth.”
An older, well socialised dog can be trained to submit to brushing – and the trick here is to choose a quiet room, with no distractions and no kids running around.
Dr Buchanan-Pascall says it’s easier if you start brushing when your dog is a puppy.
Either way, the first step is getting the dog used to you having your hand around its mouth – and then slowly build up the amount of time you spend working around and inside.
“I advise you start with a finger and some peanut butter or Vegemite and just literally wiping it across the teeth for a few seconds, and leave it at that.”
Over time, you and your dig will become more comfortable “so you can move your finger to the back of the mouth and deal with those large molars”.
Gradually, you’ll swap your finger for a finger-brush or a toothbrush and toothpaste. You must use dedicated dog toothpaste.
From then on, you should clean the dog’s teeth in the same way that you clean your own, by brushing along the gum line. If you can only manage it once a week, well, it’s better than nothing.
But generally, dogs experience plaque build-up in the same way that humans do. So every day is best.
“My job is to tell people to brush their dog’s or cat’s teeth every day. A lot will give it a go. But it’s not fun for owner or pet, and they’ll give up,” Dr Buchanan-Pascall says.
In fact, he can pretty well name the very few clients “who do it religiously”.
Most people rely on dental chew products. “But in my experience, nothing works better than brushing,” Dr Buchanan-Pascall says.
And given that extractions can – when you factor in scans, painkillers and theatre costs – leave you up to $2000 out of pocket, having a crack with the toothbrush might pay off in the long run.