By Dr. Moira Drosdovech, DVM
This article might well have been titled The Top 4 Secrets to Spending Less at the Vet! It stands to reason that if you can maintain the health of your pets’ teeth without having them professionally cleaned, you simply spend less!
What exactly are we talking about here that we want to prevent? The condition is known as Periodontal Disease and it is rampant in our pet population.
What does periodontal disease look like? Loose teeth and gum inflammation combined with halitosis and bacterial infection. There are varying grades of this disease with progressive worsening of the condition as we advance from Grade 1 to 4. Many toy dog breeds acquire this condition and end up toothless long before they have reached a ripe old age.
As common at that is for smaller breeds, that does not make it normal by any stretch. However, what is normal for dogs and cats alike is to keep all of their teeth to old age and for there to be minimal gum disease and loose teeth. I have a small Shih tzu cross that is over 13 now and still has every single tooth she started with and has never had to have a professional dental because she keeps her own teeth clean (secret below)!
So what are the secrets to good dental health in pets??
Secret 1: Through smart choices from the very day you bring home your dog or cat! If we choose the right foods and things to chew on when our animals are young and easily conditioned to eat what we offer, then half the battle is won. If you wait until the rot of periodontal disease have set in, it is nearly too late.
For my clients, that tends to be the raw food diet with raw bones to gnaw on usually starting at as young as 6 weeks old, but certainly by 12 weeks. Dry foods do not clean teeth as is commonly believed. An analogy I often use is that, if indeed that was the case, dentists would be out of business as we could just eat crispy cookies before we go to bed and dispense with the tooth brush!
Secret 2: Regular chewing of items like bones and safe, non-toxic chew sticks that keep your pets’ gums healthy and teeth tartar-free. Regular means a few times weekly!
While not for everyone or every pet, eating and chewing on raw bones is an excellent way to maintain dental health and can even benefit those pets that already have significant tartar buildup or even have some periodontal disease, but not if there are loose teeth.
Raw bones can be knuckle and marrow bones, but they can also be poultry parts, like necks and wings, even legs. When eating a raw bone such as these, the bones do not splinter into shards as they do when they are cooked and are therefore safe. I highly advise against all cooked bones and each bone must be evaluated for the safety for your particular dog or cat. It is best to obtain professional advice before beginning to feed raw bones.
You may choose to feed chews like Greenies, or Bully Sticks and the like, but the ingredients of some of those items are questionable and might be toxic in some cases. I have watched the manufacturing process of rawhides and it will turn your stomach when you discover that they use a wide assortment of toxic chemicals to make them, including bleach. As they are a by-product of the leather industry, there is no need for approval by the FDA and no need to disclose what goes in them!!!
See the end of the article for Guidelines for feeding raw bones.
Secret 3: Regular checkups so that your veterinarian can examine the mouth and teeth to not only check for inflammation and other signs of periodontal disease, but also to check for abnormal growths and other issues. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen oral cancer that may have been more treatable had the pet been in regularly for check ups.
Secret 4: Use only a veterinary professional to examine your pets’ mouth, as they are the only ones qualified to examine and make a diagnosis followed by a professional cleaning, yes, with anesthetic. Over the years, there have been countless times when we have examined and then recommended professional dental work on a pet that had been having their teeth “cleaned” every 6 – 12 months by a canine dental hygienist. Many of these pets, mostly dogs, have needed multiple teeth extracted and were afflicted with what I refer to as “foul mouth aids” with breath so bad, the entire room is putrid. Some are so bad it makes you want to cry at the amount of suffering they endured for far longer than necessary.
I’ll admit that there are times when the tartar buildup on your pet’s teeth is strictly “cosmetic” and a canine hygienist can be used, but that is where the practicality of this stops. To know if it is simply cosmetic tartar, only a veterinarian can tell you that. It is erroneous to compare animal dentistry to human dentistry as animals cannot inform the hygienist or the dentist about what their teeth feel like.
If there is any kind of occult (underlying) periodontal disease, your pet will experience discomfort during a non-anesthetic cleaning and the procedure will likely hasten the disease progression as now even more bacteria can get in between the tooth and gums and, of course, the hygienist cannot prescribe antibiotics. Your pet will continue to suffer, unbeknownst by you. I feel strongly that having this procedure done because it is “anesthetic-free” is one of the worst choices you can make for your pet’s health care, bar none.
Remember! Dentistry is not expensive! Neglect is!
Guidelines for Feeding Raw Bones to your Dogs
Before you give a dog a bone, there are some rules to be aware of:
- Some dogs are “aggressive chewers” and can chip or fracture their teeth on raw bones. Don’t blindly offer raw bones to your dogs as you may wind up with a bill for expensive dental work. Monitor their chewing and progress and intervene as needed.
Consumable bones are the bones of birds (typically chicken wings and chicken, duck and turkey necks). They are softer and more pliable and (whole or coarsely ground) are a good alternative to the recreational raw bones for aggressive chewers.
- Bone marrow contains fat and therefore, the calories must be taken into account and should be avoided if your pet has pancreatitis.
- Marrow can sometimes cause diarrhea if consumed by dogs with sensitive stomachs or in large quantities. I always advise clients to scoop out at least some of the marrow for the first few bones until they become accustomed to it.
- Bones can be messy. I usually suggest tying the dog to the kitchen table leg and having them chew their bone on one of those inexpensive area mats.
- When it comes to the right size bone for your dog, match the bone size to your dog’s head. There’s really no such thing as a “too big” bone, but there are definitely bones that are too small for some dogs.
- If your pet breaks off large pieces of raw bone, I recommend removing them before she has the opportunity to swallow them. Choose bones that don’t have extra pieces that can be chewed off.
- Never cook raw bones; cooked bones splinter and are dangerous.
- Always supervise dogs when you’ve given them raw bones.
- Feed bones to multiple dogs in separate rooms or tied up. No need to test how much they enjoy sharing their bones!