What to Know About Your Teething Puppy
Here's how to redirect chewing behavior and alleviate their pain, according to veterinary experts.
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Many of us have succumbed to the allure of a puppy, particularly now as being stuck in the house all day becomes a lot more entertaining when there's a pet afoot. That being said, puppies are a full-time responsibility and, like babies, they require supervision, upkeep, and of course, lots of love and affection. One milestone to expect are the ins and outs of teething, or the action of biting or chewing on objects to relieve pain as their adult teeth grow in.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, according to the experts.
Why Puppies Teethe
Puppies have around 28 baby teeth that are pearly white and sharp as tacks. "These teeth are hollowed out; they don't have the traditional root structure you'd expect to see," says Dr. Karen Overall, an associate professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island. "They exist to help dogs manipulate things with their mouths until they outgrow them. The permanent teeth begin to push through the gums and the baby teeth fall out."
Dr. Overall says there are two sources of pain caused by teething: One is when the baby tooth loosens but remains partially attached to the ligaments under the gums, creating a pulling sensation as the tooth wiggles back and forth in the mouth; the other is when the permanent teeth begin to erupt, breaking through tissue to grow into place. This growth process in puppies can last anywhere from three to four months, and usually stops at around six months of age.
Signs of Teething
"You might notice some type of spot-bleeding on their chew toys," says Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, D.V.M., Medical Director of Behavior Vets of New York City. "Whenever you see blood, you should check with your vet, but just know this can also be a sign of teething, especially when it's just a few pink-tinged spots." You might find teeth on the floor and this is because, oftentimes, they loosen while the puppy is chewing or eating and are then swallowed.
The most obvious sign of teething is excessive chewing. While teething, your puppy will look for objects they can sink their teeth into to relieve the pressure on their gums. Having lots of safe chew toys available will appease your puppy as well as protect your furniture, base boards, and other "chewable" surfaces they may find around the house.
How to Relieve Your Puppy's Sore Gums
"My rule with puppies is that they explore with their mouths, so it's our job to give them things to chew on that are appropriate," says Lauren Novack, a certified behavior consultant at Behavior Vets of New York City. These could include bully sticks or a variety of squeaky toys, rope toys, or hard rubber toys that massage the gums. "As your puppy makes better choices, you can give them more access to your home," she says. Novack recommends providing your teething puppy something cold to gnaw on. "I like to stuff Kongs with cream cheese, peanut butter, or apple sauce and freeze them," says Novack. "I throw everything in the freezer if it's hard, such as Nylabones and silicone toys." You can also make homemade treats like bone broth ice cubs, or a treat-filled ice cube (made from freezing water and treats in an empty food container) so when they lick through the ice, they find little snacks.
How to Prevent Nipping Behavior
At times, your puppy might turn their razor-sharp teeth toward your fingers and toes. Dr. Overall recommends using toys that are twice the size of the puppy's head so you can handle it without their mouths coming in contact with your fingers. When it comes to ankle-biters, Novack suggests dragging a toy behind you on walks so they learn to go to the toy and not your ankles. "If you have to redirect your dog more than twice, that means they can't make a good decision in that moment, because they might be too excited or too tired, and they should go into their playpen or crate with a chew toy," she explains. If your puppy nips at you while playing, simply say "ow!" loudly, and stop playing. This teaches the puppy bite control, or that when he or she bites too hard, playtime will stop. Once the puppy has backed off, redirect them to an appropriate toy or object. All three experts emphasize the importance of positive reinforcement in training rather than punishment.
Dr. Tu cautions that there are different motivations behind little bites or nips. If you approach the dog and they snap at the air, that's not teething. Watch your dog for signs of fear or anxiety as these types of bites can be signs of predisposed behavioral conditions that lead to issues down the road. She suggests having all new dogs thoroughly checked by a veterinarian and watching their behavior to differentiate playful nips that come with teething from more serious bites that indicate a fearful dog.