Pet Dental Care
Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health issue faced by our pets, with 80% of dogs and 70% of cats diagnosed with dental problems by the age of three.(1)
Dental problems affect much more than teeth. If left untreated, dental disease can suppress the immune system and lead to other degenerative diseases including heart disease, not only in pets but in humans too. People and pets with dental disease are twice as likely to suffer from a heart condition.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) states that about 2/3 of pet owners do not provide appropriate dental care for their pets, largely because they are unaware of just how important dental health is. Some consider it a daunting task at best, and others assume that an annual cleaning at the vet is enough. With today's highly processed commercial pet food diets, unfortunately that is not the case.
Let's spend a few minutes talking about what dental disease is and how it can affect pets, and then talk about a natural approach to dental care that will help keep your pup's breath fresh and teeth sparkly clean!
Understanding Dental Disease
How Plaque Builds Up
"People & pets with dental disease are twice as likely to suffer from a heart condition."
Luckily, dogs are not as prone to cavities as we humans are, but they still develop plaque build-up and gum disease.
- Gum disease begins when plaque (colonizing bacteria) starts to form at your pet's gum line against the teeth. This bacteria collects, and if not removed, it hardens into tartar which sticks to your their teeth.
- Over time, the tartar build-up creates inflammation, causing the gums to redden and eventually recede. The receding gums create very small spaces where more bacteria collects.
- This bacteria slowly eats away at the bone and causes pain, infection, abscesses, loose teeth, and bone loss. At this point, the gums and teeth become extremely painful and cause your pet to no longer be able to eat.
How Dental Disease Affects Overall Health
When the gums break down, this provides a path for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Studies have shown that bacteria from dental disease can be strong enough to often survive the immune response. If the immune system is unable to fight off this bacteria, it will then circulate throughout the body and damage your pet’s heart, liver, and kidneys, and compromise nearly every aspect of their health.
Signs of Dental Problems
Signs of dental issues in your pet include:
- Bad breath
- Red gums, including redness along the gum line
- Discolored teeth
- Difficulty chewing
- Pain while chewing
- Blood in the mouth
- Pawing at the face
When pets have infected teeth and gums, the pain they experience can cause them to stop eating, and they can become weak and malnourished.
Damaged Teeth - Should They Be Removed?
If your pet's tooth has been damaged or infected, talk to your vet. The tooth may need a filling, or if the damage is more extensive, it may need a root canal or extraction. One of the decisions you may be faced with is whether to move forward with a root canal, or choose to have the tooth extracted.
The answer is largely dependent on which tooth has the problem (some are more important than others when your pet chews). If possible, the preference is always to save the tooth with a root canal. If the tooth cannot be saved (e.g. if the tooth has been significantly fractured or is very damaged), then the only option may be to remove the tooth. Sometimes, even though saving the tooth is the best option, the cost may be too expensive, leaving extraction as the only choice.
Natural Approach to Pet Dental Care
When looking at dental health, we need to look beyond the mouth at what factors help create healthy teeth and gums, and what factors contribute to tooth and gum decay:
Feed the right diet...
Commercial kibble is one of the biggest culprits in the poor dental health of our pets. Commercial pet foods (especially low quality kibble) are high in carbohydrates instead of protein - sometimes 50% or more, which contributes to plaque build-up. Consider switching to a higher quality kibble that contains at least 70% protein from meat and/or fish. No corn, wheat, or soy should be present in their food. Dogs and cats are carnivores and these ingredients are simply not biologically appropriate for them.
Commercial kibble is very low in moisture content as compared to healthier foods, home-cooked foods, and raw food diets. In the absence of moisture, the food particles are more likely to remain and collect on their teeth to create a breeding ground for bacteria (then plaque). One of the best things you can do is include some fresh meat or fish in their diet, or some raw products - even if only a couple of times a week. Also, by hydrating kibble with a high quality bone broth you can help reduce plaque build-up.
Home-cooked diets and raw food diets are a fantastic and much healthier alternative to commercial kibble. Many raw food pet manufacturers offer a wide selection of high quality raw diets in the frozen section of reputable pet food stores. These foods include very important nutritional ingredients such as muscle meat, organ meat, and bone meal - important elements in a healthy diet.
Foods & Herbs that Fight Oral Bacteria
Herb such as peppermint and spearmint have germicidal properties that help prevent the growth of bacteria in the mouth. Chop up finely and add directly to your pet's food.
Med and large dogs: 2 tablespoons/day
Small dogs and cats: 1 tablespoon/day
The following foods also help prevent the growth of bacteria:
- Citrus fruits
*Cheese lowers the pH level in the mouth, helping to fight plaque. Choose raw/unpasteurized cheese, now available in the natural section of most supermarkets and from health food stores. Organic Valley and Alta Dena are both very popular brands).
Feed raw bones - nature's toothbrush!...
Without raw bones, it is very difficult to keep your pet's teeth healthy. It is the single best way to clean your pet's teeth. In the wild, a canine chews on the bones after eating the flesh of its prey as a natural way of removing food particles from their teeth. The cartilage, ligaments, and tendons act as a natural dental floss. The bones contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and various trace minerals that are an essential part of the diet.
Raw bones: Why they are important...
Offer the right treats & chews...
It is a common myth that "crunchy" foods or "crunchy cookies" prevent build-up. These crunchy cookies are often no better than our human crunchy cookies, leaving deposits on teeth.
Dogs intuitively love to chew things. Supplying your dog with healthy dental chews is a great way to naturally help them clean their teeth. As well as offering raw bones, a great chew treat for teeth is Vibrac's Enzymatic Oral Hygiene Chews (for both dogs and cats).
Clean your pet's teeth...
This is not nearly as daunting as it sounds, and you have more options than you think:
- Use Enzymes
Add natural enzymes to your pet's water, which help reduce the growth of oral bacteria. Ark Naturals Enzyme Powder is an odorless, tasteless, 100% natural enzyme-based product that is mixed into your pet’s water. With regular use, it helps to neutralize the pH level of saliva, deter the growth of bacteria, control plaque and tartar, and helps freshen breath.
- Use Natural Oral Gels
Products such as Petzlife Oral Care Gel (which contains wild salmon oil) are another natural solution for your pet's oral needs. This particular product is guaranteed to break down plaque and tartar, work under the gum line to help heal gum tissue, and kill the bacteria that causes bad breath. It is also recommended by various Naturopathic vets.
- Brush your pup's teeth 2-3 times each week
Small dogs and brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat or short, broad muzzles such as pugs and bulldogs) may need more frequent brushing as their teeth are more crowded together, and this can increase plaque accumulation. Many commercial toothpastes have all sorts of undesirables. Learn more about how you can use a completely natural toothpaste for your pup made from simple home ingredients, and about what type of toothbrush I recommend. ...Pet dental kit
How to brush your pup's teeth
The best time to begin teeth cleaning is from puppyhood. The earlier your pup gets used to the feeling of the brush on their teeth, the easier it will be when they are adults. So, make it easier on both of you by starting early!
Choose a time when your pup is not full of energy, such as after a walk or play/activity time. For the first time, simply introduce the toothbrush and toothpaste to them, rather than have a brushing session. Take it slow. Let them sniff at the toothbrush - perhaps dip the bristles into some coconut oil and let them lick off the oil (coconut oil is one of the ingredients we recommend as a natural toothpaste, which most pups go crazy for!). Slide your finger between their gums and lips, letting them get used to the feel of your finger in their mouth. Make it a fun and non-intimidating experience, and offer lots of praise with a treat afterwards.
When it is the next time for a session, repeat the first step, for 2-3 minutes, and follow with treats. Find a position that is most comfortable, and that gives you the ability to hold their muzzle firmly while you slide the toothbrush along the outside of their teeth. Give lots of praise, and a treat or two. Repeat, but this time, slide the toothbrush inside the mouth and along the inside of their teeth. Gently work through the resistance with lots of praise (and kisses!).
If your pup shows signs of aggression, such as snarling, biting, or snapping, talk to a behavioral specialist or professional dog trainer for help and training to overcome this problem.
Treating Infected Gums
When treating infected gums, if the infection is severe and your pet is in pain, head to the vet for professional help as soon as possible. This is especially important if sore gums and teeth are affecting their ability to eat.
For minor infections and abrasions, use a cotton swab to gently apply one of the following remedies directly to the infected area 2-3 time each day. This will help inhibit the growth of bacteria.
Remedy 1: 1 teaspoon oregano oil with 2 teaspoons coconut oil
Remedy 2: 1 teaspoon coconut oil or 1 tablespoon water with 2 drops grapefruit seed extract
Remedy 3: Colloidal silver
If you see no improvement, or any worsening after 2-3 days of treatment, head to your vet.
Build your own natural pet dental kit...
Schedule a Professional Teeth Cleaning
For tartar buildup, consider anesthesia-free dental care. Naturopathic veterinarians and veterinarians with a more natural approach to dental care often recommend this non-invasive procedure. Many offer this service at their clinic, or can recommend a professional who does. Putting a dog under anesthesia is not a minor event and more and more pet owners are opting for this procedure instead.
If your dog or cat already has significant plaque build-up, it is best to have the plaque removed by a pet dentist, in which case anesthesia at your vet's office may be your only option.
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