Dental Health in Dogs AND Cats

By Chelsea Kent

Boo smiling

Did you know that Wrestlers train for the Olympics by brushing the teeth of dogs and cats? And that the Dali Lama learns patience the same way? Ok, not really, but we all know how complicated and frustrating it can be to accomplish the feat of brushing animals’ teeth. Not only that but you have to REMEMBER to do it, GAH!!!

We’ve all heard chewing is a great alternative or addition to brushing. But vets tell us that chewing can cause dental fractures or intestinal blockages, leaving us afraid to allow chewing. So what’s the right thing to do? Hopefully this will help you decide how to safely and effectively keep your pets teeth clean while you maintain your sanity.

First up… DIET MATTERS!!! The digestive system starts in the mouth and ends at the rectum. If one end is dirty so is the other, and visa versa. Most people like to think it's possible to have a dirty gut and still have good teeth but, as much as we hate to burst your bubble, that’s just not the case. A gut full of dead, processed food and starches lacking in raw enzymes and good bacteria will allow bacteria in the mouth to proliferate. If you want a clean mouth you have to have a clean gut. Feed a diet low or absent in unnecessary starches and processed foods and full of good bacteria, such as an appropriate raw diet (not all raw diets are appropriate) and you’re on your way to problem free teeth for life.

Second up CHEWING STRENGTHENS THE TEETH. But wait, the vet said it breaks teeth. Well let’s consider that by comparing two scenarios that doctors commonly run into with people.

Scenario one

On her 64th birthday a woman goes into the doctor for hip surgery because she has osteoporosis. She has never enjoyed lifting weights, eats a diet high in processed foods, low in raw fruits and veggies, and has been into the doctor every few months for bone and joint problems since she was 42. Your doctor would tell you that statistics show that the healthiest thing you can do to prevent osteoporosis is eat healthy and exercise, specifically with weight bearing activity. If an all cereal and canned food diet and no exercise aren’t good for you, why would it be good for your pet? Teeth ARE bones and chewing strengthens them. The less the bones are used, the weaker they get and the more likely they are to break under even minimal pressure. If your vet tells you that chewing breaks teeth they’re only telling you half the story.

[caption id="attachment_2165" align="alignnone" width="611"]Wise Old Dog Wise Old Dog prescribes one bone a day to keep the doctor away.[/caption]

Scenario two

On his 86th birthday a man, who has only been to a doctor once in the last decade, happily enjoys a night of dancing with family and friends. He has always loved working out and lifting weights and has always had a healthy diet full of whole, primarily unprocessed foods. He's using those healthy bones, with minimal doctor involvement.

A pet that eats a healthy diet full of raw nutrients and chews/exercises regularly MAINTAINS strong bones and teeth, keeping her out of the vet office. If you have not let your pet chew for a long time they probably DO have weak teeth so you’ll need to work them up to heavier chewing just as you’d have to work up to heavier weights, if you had minimally weight lifted before. Don’t forget that the unhealthy person/pet with repeated issues is the one the doctor/vet sees all the time. The healthy person that never has any problems is not the one you’re going to hear stories about.

All that being said, BROKEN TEETH HAPPEN. Even people with healthy bones can still break them if they apply enough force. Usually this happens when you’re doing something stupid (think America’s Funniest Home Videos). Well, dogs and cats do stupid things sometimes, too… and that can result in a broken tooth.

Knowing this, we are left with two scenarios to choose from:

  1. Never allow your pet to chew on things, thus never risking broken teeth. Not allowing your pet to chew will likely result in expensive annual teeth cleanings (anesthesia causes a 10% loss of liver function each time), organ damage, and destructive behavior.

  2. OR allow your pet to chew bones, preventing the necessity for expensive and physically taxing teeth cleanings and contributing to the health and happiness (chewing bones decreases stress) of your pet BUT you may or may not suffer a broken tooth if he gets really carried away.

WHAT IS SAFE AND WHEN SHOULD YOU GIVE IT??? You need to seek out appropriate chews for the type of chewer your pet is. Hero’s Pets can help you determine what is right for your pet. Until you make it in, though, here are some basic guidelines…

What TO chew:

For Heavy and Young Chewers: Raw meaty bones (not from the grocery store), Antlers, Himalayan Yak Chews, Bison or Beef Shanks, Ziwi Peak Venison Shanks, some interactive toys.

For Medium Chewers: Bully Sticks, Water Buffalo Horns, Tracheas, Raw Kneecaps, Raw Ribs, Raw Turkey and Chicken Necks.

For Light and Old Chewers: Lamb Ears, Tracheas and Weasands, PUFFED Himalayan Yak Chews, Achilles Tendons, Braided or otherwise Twisted Bully Sticks, Raw Ribs, Turkey Necks or Chicken Necks.

[caption id="attachment_2166" align="alignnone" width="611"]Bulldog I must chew something right this instant.[/caption]

What NOT to chew:

Cooked and basted bones. Cooked bones must be smoked for an exact amount of time to keep them from being brittle and able to splinter. Many companies are not precise enough to produce non-splintering, safe bones. Basted bones are treated with chemical flavorings that your pet doesn’t need.

Rawhide: Rawhide is basically indigestible leather treated with bleach, formaldehyde, arsenic and other chemicals. It is likely to cause blockages and is unhealthy to chew.

Nylabones: More pets break their teeth on these than any other “bone”. Nylabones are plastic and plastic can contain acne inducing and carcinogenic chemicals including BPA and other lesser known toxins.

Greenies, Booda Bones, Zukes Z-Ridge Bones, etc: There are many products on the market that require reading the labels. Things like greenies are full of wheat, soy, corn or other starchy, possibly genetically modified, bacteria feeding ingredients. Don’t ever buy anything with “meat by-product,” corn, wheat, soy, propylene glycol, sugars (or anything that ends in “-ose”) or salts as a chew.

You should also always CHECK THE MOUTH FOR PROBLEMS. Pets are capable of damaging their mouths on sticks, rocks, toys, bones, furniture, foreign objects, or anything that is or isn’t a “chew bone.” Because of this you should always, whether you let them chew bones or not, check their mouths for health. Look for broken teeth, punctures (especially in the upper palate), abnormal redness or black spots...anything strange. Especially if you aren’t brushing everyday taking a peek once a week or so will help you catch problems before they get serious.

Even if you do everything right, sometimes you have to deal with GENETIC AND HEALTH FACTORS. Some dogs and cats genetically have bad teeth, though it’s not that common. Also, certain health conditions and medications can weaken the teeth and bones. Only you can determine if your pet has abnormally weak teeth. If so, you can still allow her to chew; you just have to be careful that the things you offer are not particularly hard.

And the topic we don’t want to discuss, BRUSHING!!! Obviously brushing is great, if you do it. You can brush daily or every few days. Less often than that isn’t really worth the effort. There are many products out there to cater to the level of commitment you have. If you’re really committed we like Petz Life gels rather than toothpastes (we haven’t found many pastes that we think are very good). If you’re partially committed we like Wysong Dentatreat and Plaque Off because you can use both of these on the food or as a toothpaste if you add a little water… so you can go back and forth with how you use them depending on whether or not you brushed that day. If you have commitment issues you can use water additives like Ark Naturals Brushless Toothpaste… but raw turkey and chicken necks and a clean, raw diet is going to get you more bang for your buck when it comes to cleaning teeth, overall.

[caption id="attachment_2167" align="alignnone" width="611"]West Highland White Terrier I am pearly white inside and out.[/caption]

Last but not least, DENTALS!! Don’t forget that your vet makes a lot of money off of dentals, so it’s not in their financial interests to keep your pets teeth clean. However, some pets actually DO need them cleaned by a vet no matter what the cost. Don’t forget that significant tarter build up can cause organ damage. If you don’t let your pets chew, you don’t brush, you don’t feed a raw diet, and/or you have a pet with a genetic propensity for tarter buildup you will probably have to pay for dentals here and there. In the case where the tarter build up is really significant or an extraction is necessary a regular vet is required. However, Anesthesia Free Teeth Cleanings are readily available these days and while they don’t have the ability to do exactly what can be done under anesthesia, not all pets need that serious of a procedure. Think of Anesthesia Free Teeth Cleanings like Physical Therapists for an injured knee… you don’t need a surgeon, you need physical therapy. If you needed a surgeon you’d go to one, but not everyone needs one. Your pet won’t always need “surgery” to fix his teeth when sometimes “dental therapy” will do.

Stop by Hero’s Pets for assistance in finding the right things for your pet (including cats), as well as to get tips and tricks on how to make simple chews even more long lasting and fun. We also have dental care products and tips on how to use them. We can also recommend vets for dentals and we regularly host Anesthesia Free Teeth Cleanings through the Well Animal Institute. 8246 w. Bowles Ave, Unit J. Littleton, CO 80123. 303-972-1926 303-972-1926