Adopting a dog after visiting an animal shelter is probably inevitable for most people, that’s why many people won’t visit an animal shelter.
So the story goes, I adopted Zeus (an American Pit Bull Terrier) this past summer and the decision to do so was rooted in emotion. I’d gone into my local SPCA one night to walk one of the dogs, and that night Zeus ended up being that dog.
While we were out on the walk I noticed that one of his bottom canines had no point - it was flat on top and black at the tip (actually there was no tip). I checked the rest of his teeth, and all four canines were the same, flat and black on the tips. The sharp points on his molars were also worn down.
This was right around the time that Michael Vick was taken on by the Philadelphia Eagles, so I jumped to the conclusion (the wrong one), that Zeus’ teeth had been filed down - perhaps because somebody
was prepping him to be used as a bait dog. That was it, I had to have him.
Flash forward a couple of months. Having learned that Zeus is insanely ball obsessive, I now believe that the wearing of his teeth has been caused by tennis balls.
Yes, tennis balls. Tennis balls used to be covered with a fiberglass material, these days they’re covered with nylon - both materials are very abrasive to a dog’s teeth.
Over time, carrying and/or chewing on tennis balls can cause attrition, (abnormally rapid loss of the top of the crown of the tooth). The black spots on tips of Zeus’ canines was the result of the outer enamel wearing off exposing the dentin in the tooth. At this point more dentin is laid down to seal the tooth to prevent bacterial infection; this is the process that leaves the dark spots I was seeing on Zeus' teeth. If wear continues, teeth can be worn down to the gum line - reduced to little nubs.
Some of the Consequences of Worn Canines
- Severely worn canines lose their role of preventing tongue movement and the tongue may fall out of the dog’s mouth. The wet tongue now lying on the edge of the lip can cause dermatitis.
- The four canine teeth also play a role in jaw alignment, without them the jaw will be able to move side to side and may further exacerbate and speed up tooth wear.
- Severely worn teeth unable to be sealed by dentin exposes tooth pulp to bacteria and infection may occur. The resulting infection can be very painful for the dog, who’s pain may go unnoticed until such time as the tooth is removed and the dog becomes more active or playful.
Other Contributors to Abnormal Tooth Wear
- Dogs with skin irritations, allergies or fleas that continually nibble at the areas of irritation, can over years, wear their teeth down to the gum line.
- Bones, rocks and sticks can also wear and damage and fracture teeth. For this reason I no longer give my dogs recreational bones.
But Tennis Balls Are Cheap, What Can I Use Then?
As you may have guessed, Zeus is a power chewer. I’ve found the Chuckit Ultra to be flexible enough to not further damage his teeth, yet it's durable enough that he won’t destroy it within his first 15 minutes with the ball. These ones seem to last a couple of months with him. I can live with spending $10 on a new ball every few months. As a general rule of thumb though; if you can't take the ball in the shin without it hurting, it'll be too hard on your dog's teeth.
The takeaway message here; if you want to minimize the wear on your dog’s teeth, keep him or her pain free and save on trips to the doggy dentist – don’t let your dog chew on tennis balls.