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Before I had dogs, I didn't know that I had to brush their teeth and if someone would have told me, I bet I would have laughed thinking they were joking. Today, I know differently and I've learned that keeping my dogs' teeth clean is easy.

February Is National Pet Dental Health Month. What are you doing to keep your dogs' teeth clean?

I'm lucky, we have five dogs that have clean teeth and have never needed teeth cleanings beyond what I do for them. That means one less visit to the vet each year, which the dogs would appreciate if they understood and my wallet definitely appreciates.

According to VCA Hospitals, “it is estimated that more than two-thirds of dogs over three years of age suffer from some degree of periodontal disease, making it by far the most common disease affecting pet dogs.” Periodontal disease is the inflammation or infection of the tissue around the tooth caused by a build-up of plaque and tartar. Some believe that periodontal disease is caused by a combination of feeding kibble, which is high in starch and sugar which leads to plaque and tartar, and failure to brush our dogs' teeth.

To be honest, before we got dogs, I didn't know that it was necessary to brush their teeth.

So, what am I doing to save myself a trip to the vet? Here are a few things that help keep my dogs' teeth clean and healthy.

1 – Feeding a Diet of Raw Dog Food

One of the benefits of feeding a diet of raw dog food is fresher breath and cleaner teeth. The reason raw fed dogs have cleaner teeth is because of the bones in the diet. The act of gnawing on bones and cartilage scraps plaque and tartar from the teeth while chewing the leftover meat on the bones act as a natural dental floss. But raw feeding alone doesn't keep our dogs' teeth clean and white. I know plenty of raw feeders who take their dogs in for teeth cleaning. It could be because their dogs don't eat raw meaty bones or it could be because they feed a diet of ground raw dog food, which doesn't have the same impact as feeding whole raw.

I give my dogs lamb necks, duck frames, and beef knuckle bones during the summer when they can eat outside. I used to also feed whole rabbit, but one of my dogs eats it too fast and vomits shortly after.

Raw bones can be sourced from your local butcher, through a local raw food co-op, from local farmers, or from some raw pet food brands. Raw Paws Pet Food, for example, has a large variety of raw bones.

2 – Healthy Chews for Dogs

When I can't feed raw bones to my dogs, I opt for bully sticks and other healthy chews. While they don't work the magic that a raw bone can wield, they do a good job of both satisfying my dogs' chew drives while keeping their teeth clean. But, sadly, bully sticks and other chews can be expensive when you have five big dogs, and I've found a couple of affordable sources: Pawstruck.com and Real.dog (a subscription box).

I recently wrote a post that lists all of my favorite chews, which include options beyond bully sticks, including Himalayan chews, dehydrated trachea, and more.

The benefit of healthy chews is that, when sourced well, I'm giving my dogs a safe treat (when given under supervision), they're not that messy (like raw bones or frames), and these can be digested, unlike rawhide chews.

My dogs love CocoChew dog toys. These are chew toys that are made from the husks of coconuts and they help keep our dogs' teeth clean.

3 – Dental Chew Toys

My dogs also enjoy dental chew toys. My favorite are toys from CocoChews, a company that makes rope and balls from coconut husks. All of our dogs love them and they have a long life with four out of our five dogs. Our puppy does a great job of destroying the CocoChew rope toys so I redirect his focus to the balls. What I love about these toys is that they're all-natural and it's okay if our dogs swallow a bit of the husk – it's fiber for their system.

I didn't think CocoChews would work for my strong chewers and was hesitant to allow Rodrigo to try them, but he did great and, eventually, lost interest beyond a few minutes of chewing because these weren't easily destroyed. Our puppy, Apollo, however, did quick work of the rope toys so I give him the balls instead, which last a lot longer.

Another favorite in our home and BeneBones. Yeah, these aren't very popular by some in the pet lover community, but they're a hit in our house. As I type this, our puppy is working on one and it's keeping him busy and quiet. I like BeneBones for our tough chewers (we have two). I purchase a few at a time and replace them every three months or so and scatter them around the house. My favorites are the wishbone and the bacon stick.

Because every toy comes with a risk, our dogs get these under supervision only.

For the most part, I don't have to brush my dogs teeth, but there are times when it comes in handy. One time was when one of our dogs got venison caught in her teeth and couldn't dislodge it. Brushing her teeth cleaned up the nasty bacteria that made her breath stink while getting rid of the meat. There are other reasons to brush a dog's teeth, of course, but that memory is the that comes to mind whenever I reach for the coconut oil and finger brushes.

What About Brushing My Dogs' Teeth?

Every now and again, I brush my dogs' teeth with coconut oil from CocoTherapy. Coconut oil is a natural antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. I use a finger brush to brush my dogs' teeth and gums. This doesn't remove plaque and tartar; instead, I brush my dogs' teeth to keep plaque and tartar from developing and growing. The dogs love the coconut oil and don't mind me brushing their teeth.

I know that there are toothpaste, gels, and wipes for dogs, but I'm not a fan of using those items on my dogs because I'm not a fan of the ingredients. There are also additives that we can add to water that I've tried in the past with no success.

But there is one supplement that has worked on my dogs' teeth. It's not heavily marketed as a supplement that removes plaque and tartar but I noticed a difference when I used it for my dogs. 1TDC Periodontal & Joint Health Supplement is a four-in-one supplement that supports joint health, dental health, skin and coat health, and improved performance. I used it with my senior dogs last year for a few months, replacing their WINPRO Mobility with 1TDC and was impressed. My dogs continued to have improved mobility and I noticed the darkness around the gums reduced significantly.

For Pet Parents Who Have Tried Everything

One thing that I've learned in the past ten years as a pet parent is that every dog is different. I have plenty of friends who feed kibble to their dogs and their dogs have gorgeous, white teeth without the benefit of brushing. And I have friends who are raw feeders and their dogs go in for annual teeth cleanings. So there isn't always a clear cut way to keep our dogs' teeth clean. I think dental health can be related to genetics too. That being the case, I know that I hit the jackpot with my dogs because, so far, none of them have had any dental issues. I'll continue doing what I shared here because it's working for my pups and it's saving me a ton of money.

My Favorite Dental Care Products

Before I had dogs, I didn't know that I had to brush their teeth and if someone would have told me, I bet I would have laughed thinking they were joking. Today, I know differently and I've learned that keeping my dogs' teeth clean is easy.

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