So you’ve got a happy new puppy scampering around the house, and all the joy that goes with him. Your days are suddenly full of impromptu playtimes and snuggly naps, and your fingers are completely lacerated and bleeding—it can’t all be joyous. Why must these delightful little creatures come with a face full of sewing needles?
The good news is that these painful days will pass. Just like people, dogs and cats get a starter set of baby teeth. And for some reason, they are much sharper than the adult teeth that will eventually replace them. There’s some variation depending on size and breed, but you can expect those nasty little things to start falling out around 16 weeks of age. You might find a few lying around for the Tooth Fairy, but they’re just as likely to be swallowed up first, and I’ve never had a patient suffer indigestion from it.
Unfortunately, teething isn’t going to happen overnight. It takes about two months, and in the meantime, his insufferable chewing is likely to worsen. It is important to keep valuable items well out of reach, and to bar any access to dangerous things like electrical wires. Assume that if your puppy can reach it, he will chew it. Topical deterrents like Bitter Apple can be spritzed in trouble areas for additional peace of mind, but they aren’t foolproof by any means, so proper physical barriers are ideal.
As for the problem of chewing on people, the goal is to focus on positive reinforcement of good behavior rather than punishment of bad behavior. Try to distract him with a loud “ouch!,” offer up a proper chew toy instead of your thumb and praise him for munching on that instead. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t turn things around right away. The teething impulse is strong, and you’ll likely be fighting this battle until the process finally ends. But consistent enforcement now can lay the groundwork for proper behavior later, and it will prevent this from becoming a problem into adulthood.
Blood and destruction aside, teething usually goes smoothly. The roots of the baby teeth dissolve as the adult teeth push in behind them, and the crowns simply fall away. But in some dogs, especially smaller breeds, this process fails. Some baby teeth may keep their roots and persist alongside their own replacements. It’s important that these stubborn holdouts be extracted promptly by a veterinarian to avoid permanent damage to the adult tooth.
Apart from evolutionary whim, it can be hard to imagine why dogs and cats really need baby teeth. It hardly seems worth growing a whole set of pearly whites just to have them replaced a few short months later. And I’m even less certain of why they seem custom designed to snag on sweaters and puncture human skin. Teething can be a frustrating phase, but with some patience, a bit of training and a few boxes of Band-Aids, it’ll be over soon enough.
Dr. Mike Fietz is a small-animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.
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