Feeding for dental health

Dental health is vitally important to our pet’s overall health and wellbeing; if we allow dental disease to go unchecked, we are setting our pet’s up for heart disease, kidney disease, pain and of course above all else, lack of proper nutrition. Throughout August, veterinary clinics in Australia are celebrating Pet Dental Health month so if your pet has recently had a dental, has been recommended to have a dental procedure or you want to know how to prevent or reduce the need for dental procedures, this post is for you. There’s so many ways of improving, maintaining and supporting your pet’s teeth through nutrition and it’s not as simply cut and dry as you might think. Here I will run you through some common misconceptions about dental health, and what to look for in a diet to support your pet’s teeth and gums.

Dental health has a big impact on your pet’s overall health

Does dry food prevent dental disease?

Not all dry food is made equal. It’s a misconception that all kibble will clean the pet’s teeth by scrubbing the tooth surface. This is not the case; only some kibble diets that are specifically formulated for dental health will provide this mechanical action of scrubbing the tooth surface. I’d look for the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) Seal of Approval or Acceptance when looking for a diet that provides a dental health benefit as this ensures the diet has been tested and clinically proven to provide the benefit it is labelled for. The VOHC Seal is awarded for two benefits; reduces plaque or reduces tartar (or both). The two diets that carry the seal are Hill’s Prescription Diet T/d which reduces both plaque and tartar, and Purina ProPlan DH that reduces tartar. All other kibble diets may provide some benefit to dental health and can reduce buildup, however I’d use it in conjuction with other methods of dental care. We do see quite frequently in clinic, patients that purely eat wet diets do tend to be more prone to severe dental disease, which tends to be due to the lack of abrasion on the tooth surface from their diet, which doesn’t rub the plaque off. If your pet eats a wet only diet, seek the advice of your vet or nutritionist on how you can prevent dental disease occuring, as there are other options if your pet must be on a wet diet for medical reasons.

What about treats?

Again, check the VOHC Seal. My personal favourites for dogs are Oravet chews and Whimzees Brushzees sticks. Oravet contain an enzyme that is released when your dog chews and spreads through the mouth to prevent accumulation of debris on the tooth surface and creates an unfavorable environment for tartar to form. Oravet are softer than Whimzees, and are mint flavoured. Whimzees are a natural “raw hide” style treat. They are safe for pets with allergies or on strict diet trials as they are made from potato starch and are gluten, dairy and meat free (vegetarian). They are very hard and promote chewing in dogs in a similar way that bones do (more on that later) to provide abrasion and rub away the plaque and tartar. For cats, Greenies are the main treats available that carry VOHC approval; they come in a wide range of flavours and really do a great job of reducing tartar build-up. My cats love the tasty, crunchy treats! There’s so many ‘dental treats’ on the market but again, not all are created equal, so definately look for the VOHC Seal and discuss with your vet for a personalised recommendation on what is the best option for your pet. Also be aware that some supermarket treats can cause gastrointestinal upsets and always supervise your dogs when they are eating chews as ingesting them too quickly can lead to choking or obstructions.

Can I feed raw meaty bones?

With caution. There is limited scientific evidence that supports the theory that raw meaty bones actually improve or benefit dental health in animals. In fact, recent studies have shown the risks of food-borne illness of feeding raw meat and/or feeding bones with raw meat attached, outweighs any slight benefit to dental health. In addition to this, it’s vitally important to provide bones too big for your pet to ingest and never cooked, as these can splinter, cause obstructions or fracture teeth. If you do wish to feed raw meaty bones, it’s always a good idea to seek the advice of your vet first. The correct way to provide bones to your dog would be getting large bones with the joint attached such as leg bones, and provide them to your pet while supervising, allowing your pet to chew the meat and as soon as the meat is cleaned from the bone, discard it. The idea of bones providing a benefit is again about abrasion – you do not want your dog chewing through or on the bone, only gnawing on the outside as they strip the meat from it, as this rubs against the outside of the teeth and gums to rub the plaque away. I personally don’t recommend bones, as there are simply so many better products on the market that are far lower risk and do a much better job at keeping your pet’s teeth clean.

Should I brush their teeth?

Absolutely! But don’t be discouraged if you can’t. It is a slow process on training your pet to accept toothbrushing and it’s best started when they are young. Always make sure you purchase a veterinary toothpaste not a human one, as your pet is unable to rinse their mouth out and fluoride is toxic to pets – toothpaste that is formulated for your pet is designed to be swallowed and is also flavoured to be more acceptable. I’d recommend Dentipet, which is chicken and beef flavoured, and pets love it!

I hope that has been helpful in determining some ways you can improve your cat or dog’s dental health through nutrition, and edible products!

What do you use to maintain your pet’s pearly whites?

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