Dental Dilemmas

As we all know, Greyhounds are one of the most structurally sound breeds of dog around. But all breeds have their own specific health issues. When asked what is the most common medical condition affecting Greyhounds, the answer is simple – bad teeth!!

The majority of Greys, fortunately, have great dental health. Having a dolichocephalic (elongated) head shape, there is generally ample room for the 42 permanent teeth, so crowding is not an issue. The incidence of maxillary prognathism (undershot jaw) is higher in Greyhounds than many other pure breeds, as this genetic trait is not specifically selected against when planning a litter. (A racing Greyhound's value depends on its speed and soundness – not on the length of its jaws!!)

How many of you have had your hound poke his or her long face into yours and experienced unpleasant doggy breath, or halitosis? This is usually caused by periodontal disease – inflammation and infection of the gingival (gum) pockets surrounding the teeth. Clinical signs of periodontal disease include redness or swelling of the gum margins, recession of the gums from the tooth roots, the presence of purulent exudate or tartar buildup on the teeth and a foul odour (due to excess anaerobic bacteria in the gingival pockets).

With serious gum recession, teeth become loose and may fall out. Tooth root abscesses may develop, causing severe pain, osteomyelitis (infection of the jaw bones) or facial swelling. In less acute situations, ongoing discomfort, inability to chew properly and weight loss can occur. Low grade, chronic periodontal infections can lead to bacteraemia and lodging of bacterial organisms in vital organs such as the kidneys.

So – what can you do to prevent your Greyhound developing dental / periodontal disease? Probably the most important thing is to give your dog regular access (at least 2 or 3 times a week) to hard beef or lamb bones (brisket, shank, etc), whole chicken frames, pigs ears, roo tails or manufactured dental chews. Smaller chicken bones (such as necks or wings) are popular with most dogs, and can help the teeth a bit, but are usually too soft to make a significant difference. (Some dogs, like my Lilly, will swallow a chicken neck in one gulp, without chewing at all!). NOTE WELL: Only RAW bones should ever be given to dogs; cooked bones are rendered indigestible, causing splintering or constipation.

Although some owners are in the habit of leaving their dog with a bone / chew when they go out, it is advised only to give such objects when there is someone around to supervise. Dogs can, and have, choked to death when swallowing large chunks of bone or rawhide. In addition, if you own more than one dog, fights can occur over juicy bones or prized pigs ears.

Owners can brush their dog's teeth each day, just as they do their own. A range of meaty flavoured, non-foaming toothpaste is available from pet shops and vet clinics. Normal (soft) human toothbrushes can be used, but also available are special canine toothbrushes, which sit over the owner's index finger, a bit like a thimble. Alternatively, a piece of old stocking or pantyhose can be stretched over a finger and used as a mildly abrasive brush. Most Greyhounds will permit their owners to brush their teeth without too much fuss, especially if a special treat (food or toy) is given to the dog at the end of each session. GAP also stocks double-ended dental scalers for dogs that require slightly more aggressive dental hygiene measures!

Many vet clinics stock oral rinses or gels, often containing mild antiseptics, which the owner sprays or smears over the gums after brushing. This can be useful for dogs with chronic gum problems.

Some specially formulated commercial dry dog foods (eg Hill's canine t/d prescription diet) are designed specifically for dogs predisposed to dental disease. The large chunks require much more chewing than smaller pieces of kibble that Greyhounds often devour in seconds. Such foods can be useful for dogs that show little or no interest in chewing bones.

Despite all the above measures, a percentage of Greys will still develop moderate dental disease at a relatively young age. It is likely that these dogs have inherited some genetic predisposition to periodontitis and/or an inability of their immune system to deal with the normal anaerobic bacterial flora in their mouths.

Greyhounds with a noticeable build-up of mineralized tartar (calculus) on their teeth, or with moderately inflamed gum margins, will require an ultrasonic teeth clean, performed under general anaesthetic.