Brushing dog's teeth
Grooming involves more than just keeping your dog’s hair looking good. After all, you wouldn’t consider a person well-groomed if they never brushed their teeth or cleaned their eyes — even if they did have perfectly coiffed hair. For dogs, keeping the teeth, ears and eyes properly groomed is vital not only for good looks, but for good health.


For most dogs, healthy eyes require very little attention beyond using a moist cloth to clean away any crusts that may accumulate overnight. But this gives you a chance every day to monitor your dog’s eye health. Check that errant hairs or lashes are not touching the cornea (the clear outer surface of the eye) and causing irritation. Dogs with long hair or with eyelid problems may need special care, such as clipping the hair or tying it back, to help keep hair away from the eyes. In some cases a few extra eyelashes turn in toward the eye and begin to scratch the cornea. In this situation, surgery may be recommended to correct this condition.

Many eye problems can cause a watery or mucous discharge. Some dogs have tear ducts that get clogged, so their tears may drain out onto their face. Tears cause the fur on the face to stain red or brown. You can help keep the eyes clean to make your dog more comfortable and attractive. Ask your veterinarian to check your dog’s eyes if he has tear staining or if you notice discharge from the eyes.

Pain can cause your dog to squint or paw at his eye. Swelling, redness or discharge may indicate glaucoma, a scratched cornea, an object (foreign body) in the eye or one of several other problems. Some dogs don’t produce enough tears, a painful condition called “dry eye” (keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS). Contact your vet if you notice squinting, pawing, rubbing redness or discharge for an ophthalmic exam. If you can see a sort of half-moon shape behind the pupil, anything protruding from the pupil or any change in pupil size is cause for an immediate visit to the veterinarian as these symptoms could indicate a brain injury, lens detachment or another potentially serious problem.


Many dogs live their entire lives without having any ear problems, but others are not so lucky. The dog’s ear canal is made up of an initial long vertical segment with an abrupt right angle turn before the ear drum. This design means that moisture and debris can sometimes accumulate and cause problems. For some dogs, this can mean bacterial or yeast ear infections. Although certain types of bacteria are normal and harmless inhabitants of the ear canal, others can grow unchecked under the right conditions, such as inflammation or excessive moisture in the ears.

Several factors can contribute to ear problems. Allergies are the most common cause of ear infections in dogs. Seborrhea can cause itchiness and contributes to a heavy accumulation of ear wax. Parasites, such as ear mites, can also cause intense itching and inflammation.

Signs of ear problems can include head shaking, head tilt, scratching at the ear, rubbing the ear, smelly ear, redness and waxy build-up within the ear. Problems like ear infections and ear mites can look very similar, yet the various causes require different treatments. In addition, especially in cases of chronic problems, the eardrum could be perforated or damaged, in which case you would not want to put the same medications into the ear as you would with an intact eardrum. For these reasons, ear problems should be examined by a veterinarian.
If the problem is an ear infection, the veterinarian will likely prescribe ointment or drops for you to apply into the ears. Your veterinarian may also recommend diagnostic tests, such as taking a sample of ear debris for examination under a microscope or for bacterial culture testing. Your veterinarian will also clean your dog’s ears and try to assess the severity of the problem. If the infection is advanced, oral antibiotics and additional medications may also be prescribed.

If the ear is filled with wax and debris, it will need to be cleaned so the medication can reach the lining of the canal. If the ear is extremely painful it will be impossible to clean it properly without sedating the dog. Sedation also allows your vet to thoroughly examine your dog’s ear canal and eardrum. If diagnostic testing is necessary, like taking a sample of ear debris for bacterial culture testing, your veterinarian may also recommend doing this while the pet is sedated.

Whatever medication is prescribed for your dog’s ear problem, it is important to follow all directions and keep your vet informed about your dog’s progress. If the problem doesn’t resolve, a follow-up exam and further testing and treatments may be recommended.

If your dog has normal ears, ask your vet about a cleaning solution to help remove occasional wax. Ear flush solutions loosen wax and debris and some also have a drying agent to help reduce moisture inside the ear. Squirt some liquid into the ear (or apply some to a cotton ball), then gently massage it around the base of the ear. Let go and stand back while your dog shakes. Then do it again. After the ear is cleaned, you can use a cotton ball to remove any residual solution. Never use cotton swabs in your dog’s ear, as this can damage the eardrum.


Dental care ideally begins in puppyhood, as you teach your dog to enjoy getting his teeth brushed. But even if your dog is older, it’s not too late. You can start by rubbing your fingers, along with some meat-flavored doggy toothpaste, along his teeth. Work up to using a finger brush and then a soft-bristled doggy toothbrush. Don’t use human toothpaste, which is not safe for dogs. Brush a little and give a treat. Make it habit to brush once a day.

Plaque begins as a bacteria-laden film on your dog’s teeth. If you let plaque build up, it can harden into tartar. Over time, tartar and plaque can spread rootward, causing irreversible periodontal disease with tissue, bone and tooth loss. Hard, crunchy foods don’t help as much as they were once thought to, although special foods and chews exist that are designed to help slow down plaque or tartar buildup. Regardless, they don’t take the place of brushing. If tartar accumulates, your dog may need a thorough cleaning under anesthesia. If you don’t brush your dog’s teeth, chances are he will develop periodontal disease by a few years of age, and it will continue to worsen.

When brushing your dog’s teeth, look for other problems that may develop. Dogs that chew hard bones can crack or break their teeth. Dogs that play a lot of catching games or get into fights can also crack their teeth. Toy dogs and dogs with periodontal disease are prone to recessed gums, loose teeth and tooth loss. These problems all require veterinary attention for your dog’s health and comfort.

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