If your dog has been with you for a decade or more, you may notice that his or her breath is beginning to worsen due to tooth decay. While younger dogs can undergo an intensive dental cleaning (generally requiring the administration of general anesthesia to keep your pet calm throughout the process), older dogs may not always have this option due to the strain general anesthesia can put on organs like the heart and kidneys. However, keeping your dog's teeth clean can offer more benefits than just fresher breath, and it's important to do all you can to maintain your dog's dental health as he or she ages.
Is anesthesia for dental care too dangerous for your elderly dog?
Without a doubt, it can be dangerous. However, your dog's veterinarian will order an extensive series of blood tests prior to a teeth cleaning to ensure that your older dog's organs are in good health before proceeding with this option. These tests can include liver and kidney enzyme screenings, blood pressure measurement, thyroid screening, and a complete blood count. If your pet's organs are in good shape and his or her white blood cell count doesn't indicate infection anywhere in the body, a dog dental cleaning to remove potentially dangerous bacteria is likely to be a good investment in your pet's health.
If your pet isn't a good candidate for general anesthesia but has one or more severely decayed teeth, your dog's veterinarian may opt to quickly pull the teeth under local, rather than general anesthesia. You may be required to give your pet a mild anti-anxiety drug before the cleaning, and the vet will then administer a quick injection that will numb the jaw and allow the tooth to be pulled without pain. Doing this could prevent a severe infection that could damage your pet's ability to eat or even bark.
What can you do to keep your dog's breath fresh and teeth clean between dental cleanings?
If you receive word that your dog is not a good candidate for anesthesia and he or she doesn't have any decayed teeth that require immediate removal, there are some at-home cleaning options that can help improve your pet's dental health.
The first is using a large, soft-bristled toothbrush. Getting your dog into the habit of having his or her teeth gently brushed every day can be simple with the addition of some meat-flavored toothpaste. Removing surface plaque and tartar buildup can prevent cavities and gum disease. You may also want to look into dog foods specifically targeted toward oral health, especially if your dog doesn't take well to brushing. Some hard dog food is even manufactured in special tooth-cleaning shapes.