Marli's Chi's - AKC Longcoat Chihuahuas
of San Jose, California
Chihuahuas and Dental Hygiene
My experiences as a breeder and the books I have read on Chihuahuas have convinced me that the two problems most likely to shorten a Chihuahuas life expectancy (that we as owners can affect) are obesity and gum disease. While proper diet and exercise will take care of obesity, dental care is trickier. Some lines of Chis have hereditary dental problems such as: premature loss of teeth, dirty teeth (they seem to gunk up as fast as you can clean them), or retained puppy teeth (especially the canines).
Of these problems, premature tooth-loss, while distressing is, on its own, the least life/health threatening. Smaller Chis and/or Chis with very short muzzles seem to be most prone to it, and the incisors are the teeth most often affected. The problem is so common that most dog judges think nothing of a Chi with missing teeth and there are plenty of Champions with teeth missing. I have seen nearly completely toothless Chis who appear perfectly happy and healthy.
Retained puppy teeth are dangerous because they can make the adult teeth come in crooked, or the adult teeth can impact on them and cause a serious infection. If you have a puppy that is not shedding its puppy teeth in a timely fashion, have them pulled. The good part about this problem is that if you have the puppy teeth removed before the adult bite is ruined, the adult teeth will probably be in good and tight.
The hereditary problem of dirty teeth is the most aggravating to deal with, and the most dangerous. Why does one Chi, who is fed the same as the others and seems to chew just as much, always have such gunky teeth? If you are dealing with this situation, it is frustrating, but itís not necessarily your fault. But it does mean that you have to really keep those teeth clean!
Dirty teeth or impacted teeth cause gum disease/infection. The infection in the gums will attack the jawbone causing it to erode and allowing teeth to fall out. I have seen too many Chis who not only have no teeth, but have no lower jaw. Their little tongues literally hang straight down on their chests. They canít close their mouths because they no longer have a mouth to close. Itís not pretty. And, while the life expectancy of a Chi is 12 to 20 years, the infection that causes these Chis mouths to decay will usually spread to one or more of the internal organs (usually the heart) and can cause them to die prematurely. Feeding a properly balanced diet of fresh foods (instead of canned dog food or kibble) and encouraging your Chi to chew raw bones and/or rope toys may help, but usually wonít be enough. You will need to clean your Chis teeth. And, even dogs who seem to have perfectly healthy mouths will keep their mouths in excellent condition much longer if their teeth are cleaned regularly.
Having your vet clean your Chiís teeth on a regular basis is a good idea, just as we regularly go to the dentist for cleanings and a check up. I have not found brushing a Chis teeth to be too difficult, and I donít like having Chis anaesthetized too often, so I limit cleaning trips to the vet to when they are really needed.
What I do to keep my Chisí mouths healthy between veterinary dental appointments is brush and scale my Chis teeth at home whenever it looks like they need it. I get dental tools from pet supply catalogs. A scaler with a small slightly curved tip is the most useful. I start by wrapping the Chi in a towel so only the head sticks out and then I hold the bundle on my lap with the head at my knees and apply slight pressure with my legs to keep the towel from coming loose. Then I hold the muzzle closed and steady (with the flews pulled back) with one hand and hold the scaler in the other. I have used this technique on Chis as small as 2 1/2 lbs adult weight. Concentrate on the area near the gumline. If the gums bleed a little, donít worry too much it just means the teeth REALLY need cleaning and the gums are already infected. If a tooth is really loose, please have a vet pull it out - it will just cause more infection. (Too often trying to save an infected tooth is doomed to failure and just ends up spreading the infection to neighboring teeth that are lost in turn. And pulling them is the quickest way to relieve the pain they are causing your baby.) After scaling, use a battery operated toothbrush for kids (you can get them at the grocery or drug store) and a toothpaste designed for dogs. I use a dental gel produced by OxyFresh. Then use an antiseptic mouth rinse designed for dogs, such as Nolvadent.Brushing your Chiís teeth and using an antiseptic rinse on a daily or even weekly basis will really help to keep the gums healthy and help give him or her the healthiest life and longest life-expectancy possible.