by Dr. Nicole Rous, Veterinarian
We all brush our teeth twice a day and visit the dentist every year for a check. As well as brushing, many people will floss, whiten or use mouthwash. Is this the same standard of care we should be offering our pets?
Ten years ago, our pets just had to put up with sore and smelly mouths, with their teeth falling out as they broke or became rotten. It’s heartbreaking. Have you ever had a toothache? Imagine not being able to communicate or fix this problem yourself? Luckily these days, pet parents and vets are more educated than ever before. We do better when we know better. We all know now that good dental prevention is one of the most important ways we can help ensure that pets live their best lives.
Here are my top 4 tips for natural dental prevention that I discuss with clients in clinic daily:
#1 - 20 minutes of chewing daily (bones or natural chews)
Although not for everyone, bones can be a fantastic addition to your pet’s diet and dental prevention regime, when used appropriately. It’s important to choose wisely and supervise properly. First, never choose weight-bearing bones. Think of the big leg or arm bones. They’re good at breaking teeth and often have big marrow cavities that can upset tummies. Pick a size that’s appropriate for your dog (or cat!). Dogs need to spend 20 minutes chewing to have a good cleaning effect.
Rough guideline examples to feed:
- Toy breeds: turkey neck; medium breeds: rib racks; large breeds: kangaroo tail (whole).
- Avoid machine cut bones and cooked bones. They’re more likely to splinter or cause blockages.
- Ensure they’re fed frequently (1-2 times per week minimum). If too infrequent they can be considered a high prize and therefore more likely to be guzzled and choked on.
- Dehydrated bones can suit many dogs if they have a relatively gentle chewing approach. As they’re (usually) heated to 65 degrees there are protein alterations so they can risk splintering more than raw. I personally feed them frequently to my dogs as they’re only toy breeds, they love them and they much prefer them over raw bones.
- There are various natural dental chews on the market that many owners prefer over bones for sensitive stomachs or hygiene reasons. It is up to the consumer to research the ingredients as there is very little regulation. Without a doubt avoid rawhide chews, they’re full of toxins in their processing.
#2 - Supplements/therapeutic chews
There are various supplements and chews on the market targeting dental prevention. They’re considered to be effective as they contain ingredients that have evidence of reducing or preventing periodontal disease. Consumers need to be aware of marketing tricks as there is very little evidence of their efficacy. A seaweed species, Ascophyllum nodosum has some good research and there are a couple of water additive products that help but the majority are very poorly effective.
#3 - Toothpaste
Without a doubt toothpaste and brushing teeth is the gold standard for dental prevention. We’re lucky as pet parents you don’t really need to worry about brushing the inside of teeth, the outside is adequate. Ensure you don’t use human toothpaste, it contains fluoride which dogs shouldn’t have as well as often containing xylitol, a sweetener that is toxic to dogs. Natural dog toothpaste is ideal for dogs and choosing a polish style paste is a great way to introduce the concept of teeth brushing. It’s important to introduce teeth brushing very slowly, ensuring lots of treat rewards so that it becomes a long-term habit. Full disclosure I am completely biased as I developed the natural toothpaste for Shy Tiger!
#4 - Fresh food diet
Almost all kibble diets don’t clean teeth and the high levels of processed carbohydrate content can accelerate dental disease. All my fresh fed patients have better dental health than kibble fed dogs without a doubt. It’s common sense for me.
With all the options listed, what’s my favourite natural approach?
Without a doubt what works for me time and time again for my patients is three-fold:
- Fresh food diet
- Chewing 20 minutes a day
- Brushing teeth 1-2 times a week
This strategy I have found to be the most practical and repeatable for most lifestyles and flexible for all breeds. I’m not particularly fussed about which of the chewing options you implement but it’s important to try and hit the 20-minute chewing mark. Firstly, it’s good for their mental health, chewing helps to release the happy hormones and second, the extensive chewing session helps to target almost all of the teeth, not just the back molars. If you can’t reach the 20 minute daily chewing then brushing will be required more frequently. With regards to brushing, I always recommend placing particular emphasis on the tearing teeth – the incisors and canines to ensure a well-rounded strategy as they get less attention with chewing.
If you can adopt these strategies from a puppy they can easily become routine. The challenges escalate for pet parents that implement them once dental disease is well established. As a vet my advice would be please don’t fear booking your dog in for an anaesthetic and dental. They’re so important to keep teeth healthy and chronic dental disease is not good for overall health: it causes chronic pain, puts pressure on every organ and not to mention creates bad dog breath!
About the Author - Dr. Nicole Rous
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