For decades now, there has been a National Pet Dental Health Month. Despite this fact, dental health is one of the most overlooked, and most common disease processes that our pets suffer from.
Dogs and cats suffer from their mouth pain quietly. Many owners aren’t even aware that there is a problem with the mouth since animals do not cry when in pain. The teeth can literally rot out of the mouth, and pets do not tell us how much they hurt. They eat and act normal, despite the amount of oral pain they are experiencing. How is this possible? It is because of a different way of thinking. Animals think as animals and humans think like humans. Animals think of themselves as members of a pack and as pack members, they must be a strong members of the pack, or the pack no longer needs them. So, they work really, really hard to hide any sign of weakness that would lead them to be kicked out of the pack/family. Pain is a sign of weakness. They do not show us pain, of any kind until the pain is so unbearable that they can’t hide it any longer. This includes mouth pain. Humans, on the other hand, spend most of their day discussing their aches and pains.
Animals are different in their thought processes in another way too. Not only do they think they must hide their pain in order to stay in our family/pack, but they really don’t know that there is an alternative to their pain. Think about that sentence for just a moment. What if you were in pain, and didn’t know there was a drug or a treatment to alleviate it? What would you do? You, like our pets, find a way to go on with life and “workaround” the pain. You would find a way to eat and do the things you love, anyway. If the pain in the mouth starts on the left side, you learn to chew on the right. When the dental disease progresses to both sides, you learn to swallow the food without chewing it first. You would adapt because you didn’t know there is any other choice.
What can we do to determine if our pets have dental pain?
During your annual exams, your veterinarian will inform you whether there is dental illness is present, and what your options are for your pet. If you don’t address these issues, the dental illness just gets worse and worse over time. Just like any other disease process, it doesn’t go away just because you ignore it. And remember, your pet is going to suffer in silence, not letting you know just how much they hurt. Also, the more advanced the disease is before you address it, the longer the dental cleaning will take and the more invasive it will be – which is harder on your pet and much more costly to the pet caregiver.
What can you do to promote dental health in your pet?
This is a multifactorial issue. Just like humans, it requires multiple steps, and all pieces of the puzzle are important to create a healthy mouth. You can’t cheat and win here. Dental health is affected by genetics, diet/treats, and by the mechanical removal of tartar from the mouth. Let’s address the two steps that we have control over. We can’t change genetics, of course, but we can control the sugar levels and the steps to controlling tartar development in the mouth.
First, let’s address diet. A poor-quality diet is a common cause of tartar buildup on the teeth, which leads to dental disease. Unfortunately, most diets available on the market are of poor quality. They are made with pet-grade foodstuffs (which means literally food no longer fit for human consumption) and stuffed with sugar. We all know that sugar in the diet leads to dental illness. There are places in life to save a buck, but this should never apply to our diet choices in life. It is just not worth it, on so many levels. Money spent on a human-grade, properly balanced diet is imperative, not only for dental health but for overall health and wellbeing too. Treats also count in this equation, as most of those are just sugar too. Choosing treats that are protein-based, which do not contain flour, is important. Proper guidance from a holistic veterinarian on diet can help you determine the right food for your pet’s dental health.
Now let’s address the mechanical removal of the tartar. As humans, we brush and floss our teeth. In addition, we have regular cleanings. We can certainly offer this care to our pets, as well. However, most of our pets are disinclined to have us brush their teeth, and routine cleanings require general anesthesia, which has inherent risks of its own. Sometimes, the dental disease is advanced and we have no choice but to do anesthesia and fix the problems. But once that is resolved….what else can you do?
There are products that you can add to the water to help “rinse” away from the bacteria that form the tartar in the first place. One example of this is Oral Hygiene by Oxyfresh. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So, your pet doesn’t even know it is in the water. It doesn’t replace brushing, but it is better than not doing anything to promote dental health.
- There are products that you can add to the food, like Wysong’s DentaTreat Powder. Again, this product is intended to remove bacteria from the mouth and slow down tartar buildup.
- There are dental supplements like BIO-DENT from Standard Process, designed to create the proper pH in the mouth, which keeps the bacteria from growing. This also has nutrients that promote good strong teeth. It is a chewable tablet that you just give to your pet each day.
- Natural approaches for your cat include: never feeding dry kibble food or treats AND offering a daily treat of a raw food product. It also promotes overall health in many ways. Cats in the wild don’t brush their teeth and their teeth don’t rot out. This is because they eat a diet high in protein and fat and very low in sugar (mice) and they brush their teeth by crunching on the bones of their prey. While we prefer to pretend that our pets “would never do something like that,” the truth is that they most certainly would, if given the chance to live a natural way of life.
- Natural approaches for your dog include: avoiding sugar in the diet AND offering a daily treat of a raw food product – especially at bedtime. Also, encourage your dog to chew on RAW bones. Unfortunately, we have moved away from offering bones to our dogs. This is for many reasons, but it really does a dis-services to our dogs. Bones support not only dental health but overall skeletal and joint health. The act of chewing on the bones also helps prevent behavioral problems. Bones are actually nature’s “toothbrush” for your dog. The reason bones have gotten a “bad rap” is that pet owners have made poor choices. You MUST follow the rules when offering a bone to your dog.
Here are the rules for giving raw bones:
- The bone MUST be RAW. This means you CANNOT cook it. Do NOT cook it. Cooking the bone alters it so it is not digestible anymore. This can cause all kinds of medical problems.
- Since the bone is raw, feed it to your dog in a crate. After he/she is done chewing on it, discard it. Do not reuse it. Clean the crate out thoroughly. It is a raw product, after all.
- Separate dogs away from other dogs and kids while chewing on a bone. They can be possessive and this can result in a dog bite. Even nice dogs can be possessive over a bone. Do not try to take a bone away from a dog. Call your dog and send them outside when they are done chewing on the bone. Once they are outside, go ahead and pick up the bone and discard it.
- The bone must be HUGE. It must be SO big that your dog cannot pick it up and carry it around. It must be so big that they just sit there and chew on it. Knucklebones or long bones are the best choices.
- Buy bones that are from a grass-fed cow, not a commercially raised cow.
- If you have a suppressed immune system or have children in the home, do not give raw bones to your pets. Please, have someone else give your pet a bone when children are not present.
- Do NOT give bones from ham or steak cut bones. Do NOT give poultry bones.
For additional help in determining a personal dental care prevention plan, specific to your pet’s needs, please call the office at 262-534-9392 to set up a dental consult appointment. We would be happy to help you formulate a plan that works best for both you and your pet.