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The Importance Of Cleaning Your Dog’s Teeth

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Our Jammy Vet, Steve Leonard, talks us through the importance of looking after your dog’s teeth as well as providing us with a rather helpful how-to video from his colleague at Leonard Brothers Veterinary Centre on how to brush their gnashers!



Over 20 yrs of working as a vet I have seen dramatic changes in what is possible in the care of our furry friends. When I think about the kit we had to cope with when I first qualified compared to the shiny, LED covered, computer controlled gizmos we have today I am amazed we were able to get through a normal working day.


Take dentistry for an example – it’s the most common disorder we see come through the door. Historically, as a profession we used to largely ignore dental disease in pets, accepting that as our pets got older, their breath got worse and their teeth fell out. By the time I got to university in the mid 90’s, dentistry was on the syllabus but with a large emphasis on removing problem teeth and no real mention of preventative care.


Today, every properly equipped small animal practice should have a modern air-powered dental unit for scaling and polishing teeth and the dreaded drill for those awful extractions. Even more importantly we are now working increasingly hard to prevent tooth decay in the first place. Dental sticks, toys and other chewable items all encourage dogs to use their teeth for what they were intended and encourage good bone development in the jaw.


But not all teeth are for chewing. There are broadly 3 different types of teeth in a dog or cats mouth and they are used for different things. The tiny peg teeth at the front are the incisors and these make an excellent comb for finding fleas, ticks and thorns in the fur. You may see your dog nibbling at itself with those teeth from time to time getting at those little itchy spots. The large fangs, or canine teeth as we call them (even in cats – confusing I know), are for grasping. When your dog wants to play tug-of-war or shake the bejesus out of a stuffed toy it’s utilising with those large rooted teeth. Be careful that you don’t allow them to pull too hard as they can fracture these teeth, strong as they are! The cheek teeth are the scissors and grinders which is where the real chewing is done.


The best way to keep all these teeth in tip top condition is brushing. It’s the same as our own teeth. Getting the bristles of a brush into that gum margin cleans out the build up of plaque bacteria and prevent those bacteria breaking down the tooth attachments and loosening the tooth in its socket. When you start brushing it’s common to see bleeding from the gums – this is a good sign! It means you are hitting the inflamed spots and clearing them out. After a few days the bleeding will settle down.


Introducing a brush to a pets mouth is to be done really gently. You can’t expect them to take it as normal from day one. You need to train them slowly to accept handling of the mouth and texture of bristles against their teeth. I filmed Andy, one of the vets at our clinic, brushing his own dog’s teeth while talking about how to introduce this to your own pet. Take a look at this video and hopefully you’ll see it is possible and only takes a minute or so a day, and keeps the dentist away!



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Introducing you to Steve Leonard

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Steve Leonard is a veterinary surgeon and television presenter. Over the last 18 years he has travelled the globe filming some of the world’s most enigmatic wildlife. During the same period he has continued to work as a veterinary surgeon. He currently works at Leonard Brothers Veterinary Centre in Cheshire and Shropshire, with his brother Tom. Steve has a keen interest in dog & cat internal medicine and is studying for a post-graduate certificate in this subject. Steve lives in Cheshire with his wife Cathy, their baby daughter Severn and their pet cat Bruce.



Over to Steve….


Well, another Christmas has passed full of food and good company. New Year has started with the usual promises to ourselves to become fitter, healthier and spend more quality time with those we love. Thankfully, all those things can be completed together when you own a dog. Now the winter solstice has passed, we’re over the hump and looking forward to the return of the sun. The winter period can seem dark and miserable but it still offers moments of brilliance with clear blue skies and frost on the floor. Great days for crunching over mud rather than wading through it and soaking up the miles to work off the Christmas calories!


At this time of year it’s also an opportunity to think about calories going in as well. The festive period tends to result in lots of ‘naughty’ treats finding their way into doggie diets, sometimes slipped off a plate by a guilty visitor or sniffed  out and unwrapped prematurely by the dog themselves. Raisins were the big issue for us at the practice this year with lots of tasty mince pies and puddings being snaffled by hungry four legged burglars. Grapes, raisins, sultanas and their kin are relatively newly discovered toxins to dogs. We are not sure which dogs will be affected so there isn’t a safe dose we can ignore. All dogs exposed have to be made to vomit (we have an injection for this) as soon after ingestion and then they are given intravenous fluids to protect their kidneys. If treated promptly the prognosis is good and all of our patients have been thankfully totally fine.


Having healthy, safe treats as part of a well balanced, calorie controlled diet is an important part of training and rewarding a pet. It’s also good to be able to give that relative who insists on giving in to those big brown eyes a little something to pass on to ensure ongoing devotion.


Adjust the rest of the diet accordingly and get out in that winter sunshine – just like the photos I took just after Christmas on a walk with friends in the Shropshire hills, which should get you motivated!