I see a lot of dogs in my massage practice who have bad breath and/or other noticeable signs of dental disease. Ask most veterinarians and they’ll tell you that they do a lot of ‘dentals’ during the course of any given week. If your dog requires teeth to be extracted because of infection, cracking, or gum disease, your healthcare bill will quickly increase.
The first line of defense in keeping your dog’s teeth healthy is a good diet of wholesome ingredients. That includes chews and bones. Raw diets excel in this because they use bones as a staple part of the diet but I have also seen dogs with excellent teeth who are fed commercial dog foods – typically supplemented with fresh ingredients – and with bones and chews a regular part of the regime.
Some owners feed a combination of raw and commercial diets; I personally like this balanced approach and it is what I feed my own dog.
But, and here’s the but…bones and chews don’t solve the dental disease problem for a good number of dogs. Why?
- Some dogs just aren’t naturally strong chewers; they aren’t motivated by chewing for very long – even on a fresh and meaty bone
- Dogs who have been rescued or adopted may already have already experienced damage to their teeth or suffered early in life because of a poor diet or starvation
- I believe that some dogs, like people, have a mouth chemistry that pre-disposes them to tartar build-up. Dogs are individuals and we simply can’t rule out that nature deals the bad-teeth card to some dogs
- Dogs who have been born with defects such as cleft palates usually have something wrong with their teeth from the outset; bones and chews may be difficult for these dogs
So what’s the next step?
My view is definitely teeth-brushing. We train our children to do this daily. Why would it be any different for a domesticated dog?
[And, with hand on heart, most vets will choose teeth brushing over a special ‘dental diet’ any day.] The issue here is having the patience and persistence to brush teeth effectively. Unfortunately, a lot of owners simply give up because of their dog’s protests and vets then become conditioned to ‘water down’ the advice by saying ‘try it a couple of days per week..’ and ‘feed a dental diet.’
I brush my dog’s teeth daily. Izzy is a retired racing greyhound, a breed known for their bad teeth. By the time Izzy was adopted at age 5 1/2, her teeth were noticeably unstable and worn down from what must have been chewing on the bars of a kennel or some other surface equally as unforgiving. She had teeth extracted as part of her adoption medical visit.
I like this very straightforward video from The Whole Dog Journal on the subject of teeth brushing. The only oversight is that the video doesn’t cover the triple-headed toothbrush design which I prefer. My concern with the long-handled toothbrushes is that it is easy to poke a dog in the mouth with them, particularly if they are fussing with you over getting their teeth brushed in the first place…
There are other natural solutions to dental care which include the use of homeopathics and herbs. All of these are my choice before a dental diet. Why?
Well here’s the ingredient list off the label of a well-known prescription diet product. Does it sound healthy/wholesome to you?
Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Pork Fat, Soybean Mill Run, Lactic Acid, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Natural Flavors, Beta-Carotene
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand