Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
German Shepherds rely on their teeth. They do not have hands or opposable thumbs for picking up and carrying things, so instead, they use their teeth. They need clean teeth to eat, groom, and to stay fit and healthy.
An infection in the mouth can actually spread to the rest of the body, causing more serious problems than just painful gums or tooth loss. If you have a German Shepherd, you know that brushing their teeth is not always a viable option, even if they are very well-behaved.
The right dental care can make your dog's life much happier and healthier. Here’s everything you need to know about how to care for their teeth.
Basic Information on Canine Tooth Health
Just like with humans, dental health has a lot to do with general health. Infections in the mouth can spread to the heart and to the rest of the body. Keeping a dog’s mouth clean does not have to be time-consuming or difficult. A well-behaved German Shepherd will sit to have its teeth brushed, but as most owners know, this is not always the best way to keep his mouth clean.
Your dog should have teeth along the top and bottom length of the jaw. He should have two longer canines on the bottom jaw, and two longer canines on the top jaw. You’ve probably never experienced the sheer force of being bitten by a dog, but you can see how damaging those teeth can be. When you play tug-of-war with your dog, you might get some sense of just how strong his jaw is. Shepherds were bred specifically for that bite power, which even today, is used to subdue criminals and to defend families.
A dog needs a healthy mouth because his teeth are used for far more than just eating. Here are some of the most common dental issues German Shepherds experience.
Possible German Shepherd Tooth Issues
- Plaque and Tartar: Plaque and tartar buildup are not just annoying, it can be an indicator that your dog has cavities and even more significant dental health problems. Plaque is a film that builds up on the teeth after eating. As the dog salivates, and as bacteria in the mouth work on the plaque, the plaque becomes tartar. If your dog has yellow or brown spots on his teeth, this is tartar.
- Gingivitis: Gingivitis is actually a surprisingly common problem for German Shepherds. Most dogs today are not fed the diet their ancestors would have eaten. Many of the foods they ate in the past helped to clean the teeth. Today, if a dog is given only canned food, for example, he may host enough bacteria and tartar in his mouth to develop gingivitis. This condition inflames the gums and can cause periodontal disease if left untreated.
- Periodontal Disease: Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and the teeth. The infection is inside the gums and under the teeth, so you might not see any significant problems when you look at your dog's teeth. If his gingivitis has progressed to this state, he may also experience pain.
- Pain and Discomfort: While German Shepherds are unlikely to whine when they are in pain, they might become aggressive or angry, especially if you try to touch their teeth. You might observe a reduced appetite, and he may avoid drinking water because the temperature of the water hurts his teeth. If left unchecked, this disease will cause your dog to lose teeth, develop ulcers in his mouth, and even develop infections in the rest of his body.
Taking Care of Your German Shepherd’s Teeth
In order to avoid any of these dental problems, know what signs to look out for. If your dog has bad breath, drools, has discolored or swollen gums, and has visible tartar on his teeth, he needs better dental care. Here are some techniques you can use to help your dog keep his teeth clean.
Brush Your Shepherd’s Teeth
You can use a regular toothbrush, but get some dog-approved toothpaste from your vet or from a pet store; there are natural brands available. Pay special attention to the upper back teeth, as these teeth are more likely to collect tartar. Do this once or twice a week, or every day if necessary.
Feed Your Dog Dry Food
Dogs need something to crunch into. Not only does the texture of dry dog food help to clear away tartar and plaque, it can also help to strengthen the bones themselves. The body withstands pressure when a dog chews crunchy, dry food, and this action strengthens the bones that are impacted.
Rawhide for Dental Care
Let him chew on some rawhide. Rawhide is a great way to get your dog to “brush” his own teeth. Vigorous chewing on rawhide will clean away any leftover food particles and plaque, can help relieve tension in the jaw, and may strengthen the muscles in the jaw. There are even rawhide bones designed specifically to help keep your dog’s teeth clean.
Offer Your Dog a Rope Toy
Give him a rope toy. While your German Shepherd probably has plenty of toys to chew on (and rip apart), add a rope toy to the mix. The texture of the rope will help clean away anything sticking in between or to his teeth and he will have great fun chewing away (and ripping apart) his new toy. You can even squeeze a line of dog toothpaste onto the toy for further cleaning.
Dental Health Spray
Purchase canine dental health spray. These are sprays made specifically for dogs that help fight the buildup of plaque. Look for one that is supposed to improve fresh breath, but does not contain any kind of alcohol or xylitol.
Aging German Shepherd Tooth Health
Older German Shepherds often suffer from bad teeth and related health issues. As dogs age, their teeth start to become more brittle and less functional. You may start to notice that your dog has lost some teeth or that some of his formerly pristine teeth have become chipped, broken, or have started to decay. Your dog's teeth are imperative not just for eating and grooming, but for a range of everyday activities.
What can be done to help keep your German Shepherd’s teeth healthy? Brushing your dog’s teeth is one of the best preventative measures, as is feeding your dog high-quality dry food. Not only will they enjoy the crunch, these hard pieces of food will help clean teeth, as will giving them something to chew on like rawhide.
Keep up your routine of brushing and if you start to notice a serious problem developing, do not be afraid to take your dog to a veterinarian who might be able to suggest a technique or a product that can relieve pain and keep your dog’s mouth healthy for as long as possible.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on July 25, 2017:
Thanks Eric. Probably the most important thing for German Shepherd health after food and joint issues, especially when they get older.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 25, 2017:
That is interesting.