Take Care: Your Puppy's Eyes, Ears, and Teeth
Along with acclimating your puppy to having his hair brushed and bathed, you need to accustom him to having his ears, eyes and teeth checked and cared for. Not only is this important for future grooming, but for present and future trips to the veterinarian.
Healthy eyes require very little attention except to use a moist cloth to clean away any crusts that may accumulate overnight. But this gives you a chance every day to check your dog's eye health. Check that errant hairs or lashes are not touching the cornea (the clear outer surface of the eye) and causing irritation. If your dog has long facial hair, some strands may start rubbing his eyes, and you may need to clip the hair or carefully tie it back (make sure it's not too tight).
Some lid and lash disorders may become noticeable in puppyhood. In some cases, the lid turns in toward the eye and irritates it. This condition, called entropion, may persist into adulthood and need surgical correction, but in many cases it will go away as the dog's face matures. See your veterinarian if problems persist.
Many eye problems cause a watery or mucous discharge. Some dogs have tear ducts that fail to open, so their tears drain out onto the face. Tears cause the coat to stain red. You may also need to keep the face wiped clean to try to prevent tear staining. Ask your veterinarian to check your dog's eyes if he has tear staining.
Squinting or pawing at the eye can arise from pain. Swelling and redness may indicate a scratched cornea, or several other problems. Profuse tear discharge may be caused by a foreign body, scratched cornea, or blocked tear drainage duct. Any change in pupil size could indicate a brain injury or other potentially serious problem.
If you need to apply eye drops, wait until the puppy is drowsy and then tip his head back and place the drops or ointment in the inner corner of his eye. Follow with a treat immediately.
Ear mites are especially common in youngsters. They’re contagious, so separate a dog you suspect of having them from other pets. Signs are head shaking, head tilt, and a dark coffee-ground like build-up in the ears. They itch like mad, so you need to get right to them. Your veterinarian can prescribe ear drops or newer systemic drug therapies. Your veterinarian may also advise you to bathe the dog in a mite killing shampoo.
Aside from mite problems, most puppies have fairly healthy ears. Look as far inside them as you can to check for debris. A certain amount of wax is normal and serves a protective function in the ear, but if you see black or brown globs, you probably need to clean the ears. Overzealous cleaning can actually contribute to the problem. If you dig down with cotton swabs and scratch the delicate lining, you create a foothold for bacteria. It's better to use an ear wash, which not only loosens wax and debris so medication can reach the ear’s surface, but has a drying agent so it doesn’t leave the ear wet. Squirt the liquid in quickly (the slower it goes in the more it tickles) then gently massage it around the base of the ear. Let go and stand back while your dog shakes. (Do this outside!). Give a treat. Then do it again. Give a treat. After the ear is cleaned, you can squeeze medicated ointment or drops into the canal, again gently massaging the ear base to disperse the prescribed medicine. And give a treat.
Dental care begins in puppyhood, as you teach your puppy to enjoy getting his teeth brushed. At first, just get your puppy used to having your fingers in his mouth. Rub them along his teeth and give him a treat. Then cover your fingers with gauze and do the same. You can get finger brushes from your veterinarian that fit around your finger, and most dogs tolerate them more than real tooth brushes. But you can also use a toothbrush---even an electric toothbrush if you get your puppy used to it gradually and use a lot of treats. Also use doggy toothpaste, which comes in meat flavored. Dogs usually hate human toothpaste and because dogs don't spit, the foaming agents in human toothpaste can make them feel sick.
While you're brushing, examine your puppy's teeth to make sure a permanent tooth hasn't come in next to a baby tooth that refuses to fall out. This happens most often with the large canine teeth. Especially in toy dogs, this is fairly common, but if both teeth stay, it can cause overcrowding. If the condition persists for a week, see your veterinarian.