Resolve to Be the Best Possible Dog Owner in 2013

Our vet offers common-sense things you can do to keep your dogs healthy and safe.


As Jan. 1 approaches each year, I am asked what sort of new year’s resolutions I recommend for dog owners. In fact, not long ago the Dogster editorial staff posed the question to me. I’m not one to let down my editors if I can avoid it, so this article is dedicated to new year’s resolutions for dog owners.

I have heard that some motivation experts advise making only one new year’s resolution, but this article would be a bit light if I offered only one, so there will be several. However, if you resolve to do only one new thing for your dog in 2013, here is what I recommend:

Resolve to brush your dog’s teeth. Please don’t laugh. I have been recommending tooth brushing for my entire career, and I put my money where my mouth is: My pal Buster’s teeth get brushed every night. For years I suffered ridicule and derision (often from some of my friends who are veterinarians) for this activity. However, I’m getting the last laugh now — Buster’s teeth are nearly perfect, and many of the people who have made fun of me have dogs who need dental work.

Dental disease is the No. 1 — by a mile — medical problem of dogs. It occurs in more than 80 percent of adult dogs. It causes pain, bad breath, and lethargy. It might be linked to heart disease, bodily inflammatoy conditions, diabetes, and cancer. Advanced dental disease requires treatment with general anesthesia for root planing, supra- and subgingival scaling, and (often) extractions or other advanced periodontal procedures. It’s expensive, and it’s no fun.

Dental disease is almost totally preventable with tooth brushing.

I recommend using a human soft-bristled toothbrush. Do not, however, use human toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains fluoride and is not safe to swallow. There are a variety of veterinary toothpastes widely available in pet stores. Gently brush the outside all of the teeth, focusing on the gum line in a circular fashion. It is not necessary to open your dog’s mouth in order to brush teeth — the toothbrush can be slipped between the lips. Remember that dogs have relatively massive mouths, and that there are teeth all the way in the back. The current recommendation is to brush teeth at least once every 24 hours.

The overwhelming majority of dogs will tolerate tooth brushing. However, sometimes it is necessary to wade into the process gradually by first habituating your dog to having his mouth handled, then using a toothbrush without paste, and finally graduating to full brushing with paste.

Some hardcore adherents to certain diets believe that their diets will prevent dental disease in dogs. My experience? No diet can accurately make this claim. Even if you believe that your dog’s diet is good for the teeth, no harm will come to your dog from brushing the teeth as well. There is no reason — other than the nuisance of it — not to brush your dog’s teeth. Period.

A few weeks ago I was walking Buster when I saw an off-leash Yorkshire Terrier trot across a street and approach us. His owner showed up a few minutes later, busily engaged in sending a text message to someone. Although I’m sure he won’t, I would love for that dog’s owner to resolve to use a leash and pay attention. Leashed dogs are almost never hit by cars (although I have treated a few who were struck by vehicles that drove onto sidewalks). Fights between two leashed dogs are vanishingly uncommon. The Yorkshire Terrier in question could have been creamed by a car as he crossed the street ahead of his owner. And, if Buster were less friendly, the Yorkie could have been mauled or killed.

I also recommend that dog owners resolve to take time to properly socialize their dogs. Well-mannered dogs are joys to be around. They don’t bark at strangers, knock over old ladies, lunge at other dogs, or chase joggers. Most important, they don’t give ammunition to people who fear or dislike dogs — you know, the people who would like to see dogs banned from parks, other public areas, and special events.

Speaking of dog haters, they get especially mad when they step in dog poop. So, for that matter, do dog lovers. Please, resolve to be a decent member of society and pick up your dog’s poop.

Finally, if your dog hasn’t had a checkup in a while, I recommend that you resolve to take him in for a physical. However, if your dog has been getting shots every year, I recommend that you rethink your dog’s vaccine schedule. I am surprised by how many adult dogs get every vaccine every year despite the mounting evidence that this is probably not the best thing. Talk to your vet about which (if any) vaccines are appropriate based upon your dog’s lifestyle and age. And while you’re there, talk about starting a broad spectrum heartworm and roundworm preventative. These help keep your dog free of potentially dangerous parasites, some of which can spread to humans.

Best wishes for a happy new year to all!

Photo: Miniature dachshund puppy by Shutterstock

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