Italian Greyhounds, like many other toy breeds, are notoriously prone to gum disease. Contributing factors are a long narrow skull with tight lips and a dry mouth. Dog saliva is alkaline and contains antibacterial enzymes. The normal bacterial flora which lives in the dog’s mouth helps keep harmful bacteria from flourishing but not a lot of this will come into contact with the outer gum line. The IG’s tight lips will hold food particles against the gum line until it is removed by you.
This is not a Show Dog versus Pet Dog grooming issue nor is it fanatical over-attention to your dog’s needs. It’s a serious health issue with this breed which you should be willing to take responsibility for on a daily basis. This knowledge might convince you that an IG isn’t really the breed for you or help you to set a reasonable limit to the number of IGs in your household. There is no magic number to this limit: Some people can’t manage to care for the teeth of one IG and some have no problem caring for the daily dental needs of 7-10 IGs. A responsible breeder or rescue rep should not only stress the importance of daily dental care but be able and willing to teach you how to properly brush your dog’s teeth and train your dog to accept brushing. They should be providing follow-up counsel to be sure that you are comfortable with the procedure.
The general rule of thumb is this: Brush DAILY for excellent oral health. Brush every other day for only mediocre dental health. Brush every 3 days and you probably WILL get tartar formation. The first several times you miss a 3rd day of brushing the tartar won’t be visible but it will be forming and given time, it will darken.
Brush for a few minutes each day, alternating between MaxiGuard (or another unflavoured or mint flavor canine toothpaste) and, when necessary, a canine oral solution containing .12% chlorhexidine (an antibacterial agent) like Enzadent. When the mouth is perfectly healthy I recommend using only MaxiGuard daily. If you notice the beginning of a gum problem such as bleeding or inflammation or detachment, you can use the chlorhexidine solution daily (or as a periodic preventative measure where permanent recession is evident) until the problem subsides. Prolonged use of products containing chlorhexidine can cause yellowing of the teeth which would not be desirable in a young show dog.
Yummy flavored toothpaste only makes cleaning the teeth more difficult because the dog will want to lick more.
It’s best to use a small dog or cat toothbrush. Finger brushes & big dog tooth brushes are too large to get all the way to the very back teeth of an IG. Some people prefer dental wipes, which are great for young dogs, but I don’t believe they do as good a job between teeth, in crevasses or along the gum line. Some people swear by electric toothbrushes but be aware that it can be more difficult to train dogs to accept this and you need to be careful not to use so much pressure that you damage delicate gums.
Your local pet supply store might have what you need just be sure that the paste isn’t a “tasty” beef or poultry flavor. This will only encourage the dog to lick a lot, making efficient brushing more difficult. Mint flavor is not tasty to the dog and makes their breath fresher.
Be sure to use lukewarm water for rinsing the toothbrush.
Brushing should be done gently and with the confident and firm attitude of – “I am not going to hurt you but we are going to do this” and thinking “don’t be silly this doesn’t hurt, now cut it out, this is important”. Your IG doesn’t have to love this procedure but must learn to accept it. It’s a fact of life. Be sure to PRAISE whenever the dog is behaving!
Begin these sessions when you have time to go slow but keep at it until you are finished. Do not attempt the training if you are feeling frustrated or impatient.
Start training your dog as adult teeth become fully erupted. Be aware that intensive and/or excessive mouth handling while the adult teeth are erupting and the puppy is teething is pointless and can create a dog that will always resent having it’s mouth handled. Gently lifting the lips and touching the gums of a young puppy is generally enough to have it accept later mouth handling. As the adult teeth become fully erupted you can start gently wiping them with a moistened gauze pad.
I don’t advise waiting for all of the adult teeth to be fully and completely in before starting dental care because I have seen several IGs that had to have adult incisors pulled at one year of age. These dogs didn’t have “genetically bad teeth” unless you think that the genetic structure that defines a pretty and houndy IG head is bad. Certainly some IGs seem to have teeth that you can neglect a bit longer since their teeth may be less crowded and in larger skulls but all IGs will benefit from daily attention to dental hygiene. If you don’t want a breed that requires this level of attention you might be better off with a breed that has a head like a Fox Terrier.
This structural propensity to gum disease is not to be confused with the very real problem of enamel hypoplasia that has been seen in IGs. Enamel hypoplasia is a defect in the enamel that usually occurs during tooth development. Formation of the dental enamel is disrupted, leading to inadequate or absent mineralization of the the dental enamel. Causes can be due to a number of issues occurring while the the teeth are developing, such as: distemper, trauma and inflammation of the permanent tooth bud, systemic infections, massive parasite infection, endocrine problems and excessive fluoride in the drinking water. This leaves the enamel weak and pitted, causing rapid dental wear and yellowing and even greater propensity to tartar build-up. Full dental restoration or bi-yearly dental sealant may be applied. The critical need for daily brushing is further amplified by the presence of this condition.
Part of the key to success is learning to restrain your dog in such a way that he can’t get loose from your firm grip. Dog that are allowed to flail and/or get loose are more inclined to build up a certain level of hysteria and/or determination to struggle. Think of a native American infant in a papoose: keeping them held snugly will give them a sense of security and keep them calmer!
To get your dog down on his/her side in the first place, hold the dog firmly against your chest and lower the dog to your side (or lap) while still against your chest. Once the dog is completely down (sandwiched between your side, or lap, and chest) put your hand on his shoulder and lift your body away from the dog.
Be sure to have your vet or canine dental hygienist examine your dog’s teeth and mouth thoroughly on a bi-yearly or yearly basis. As you become experienced at caring for your IG’s teeth you will be able to hold his mouth open for the vet as s/he exams the mouth. I mention this as I have been hearing with greater frequency about (dental specialists) vets who won’t do an oral exam unless the dog is anesthetized.
Bonuses of daily dental care include strengthening the bond you have with your dog and learning to detect early signs of oral disease which could be an indication of more serious impending health problems. It’s also very likely that your dog may NEVER need an anesthesia dental if brushing is done thoroughly and daily.
Dental chews and toys, hard biscuits and special dental diets can certainly help maintain optimum oral hygiene but should not be considered a reasonable substitute for daily teeth brushing.
Info provided by Tia Resleure