Dental care for our pets can be tricky. They're not like kids where you can teach them to brush their own teeth, floss, or use mouth wash daily. Because of this reason, we have to be responsible pet owners by feeding them and caring for their teeth properly. Periodontal disease can arise from poor diet & bad habits. Unfortunately, Periodontal Disease or dental disease is extremely common, but can be entirely prevented. By the age of 3, most cats & dogs have some evidence of periodontal disease. Not only does this disease cause bad breath, teeth pain, inflamed or bloody gums, it can also put your pet at a higher risk of heart, liver, & kidney diseases. Pain from these issues can also be the root cause of behavioral problems. There are a number of ways to help prevent this common disease from plaguing your pets.
1) Diet - Quality pet food is key to providing good dental health. Regardless of what the dry kibble manufacturers have been 'feeding' consumers for years, dry kibble does NOT scrape plaque/tartar off your pets teeth. Dogs & cats do not chew their food like humans. Since their jaw only moves up & down vs. side to side motion, they can not grind food. You will also notice, they do not have any flat molars. Unlike herbivores and omnivores, both cats & dogs have sharp, narrow, pointed teeth, meant to tear apart and swallow flesh. With that being said, dogs & cats thrive on a species appropriate diet, filled with animal proteins and fewer to no carbohydrates.
When your pet consumes food, the food, along with bacteria, and saliva begin forming a sticky film called plaque on teeth. A diet high in sugars & carbohydrates exacerbate the issue because these carbs are sticky and bind to teeth, locking in bacteria. All dry kibble uses starchy carbohydrates to bind the ingredients together. Typically, higher quality dry kibble manufacturers will use quality carbohydrates as a binding agent, however it is still a necessary part of the manufacturing process, in order to make the ingredients stick together. By limiting carbohydrates and feeding a more biologically appropriate diet, your pet's dental hygiene will improve dramatically.
Raw food will keep your pet's dental health (not to mention overall health) in tip top shape. Raw pet food also contains naturally occurring enzymes that will fight plaque & tartar build up. These enzymes will break-down plaque even under the gum line; something that even traditional brushing cannot do. Although the initial investment on raw food can be looked at as high, it can save your pet from costly dental cleanings, dental issues, vet visits, and other overall health issues in the long-scheme of things.
2) Chews are also another part of the equation to keep your pet's dental health in good order. Anything that is hard enough to scrape your pet's teeth is beneficial to their dental health. These include bully sticks, raw bones, dried yak cheese, antlers, No-Hide chews, & dental chews. One of our favorite chews for dogs & cats are recreational & edible raw bones. These raw bones allow for your pet to gnaw & actually scrape plaque/tartar through the jaw motions as your pet tries to remove any remaining meat or bone marrow. Since these bones are raw, they also contain the same natural enzymes that will help break down plaque & tartar.
Some pet owners have concerns about bones regarding choking hazards, cracking your pet's teeth, or the bones splintering or cracking and your pet swallowing them and causing internal issues. Although these are all valid points to be aware of, most of these concerns can be addressed by choosing the correct type & size of bone for your pet and supervising them while they enjoy it.
Recreational raw bones come in a variety of shapes & sizes. This plays a major role in deciding if it's the correct one for your pet. First and foremost, it's always safer to go with a larger bone. There is no such thing as a bone that is too big, but there is concern for a bone that is too small, so choose accordingly. The shape of the bone will also depend on your dog or cat's chewing habits. Is he/she an aggressive chewer (those that just want to consume everything in the shortest amount of time possible) , a scarfer (those that just devour everything whole), or a gentle chewer (they tend to savor and gnaw gently)?
Aggressive chewers need bones that are large enough where they cannot get their entire jaw around it. Knuckle bones are a great fit for aggressive chewers, since they typically can't wrap their jaw around the bone. They can only gnaw on the bones from the side. Long femur or rib style bones would not be a good fit as they can wrap their jaw around the bone, which allows a strong vertical bite which can result in fractured teeth.
Scarfers also need bones that are larger than their mouth (or even head!) which prevents them from devouring and swallowing the bone whole. Once again, you can never give a bone that is too big. When in doubt on bone size, always go with the larger size bone!
Gentle chewers are the easiest to shop for, you can get them essentially any type of bone, as long as it's sized appropriately. Remember, if there's any thought that it might be too small, go larger.
Another type of bone are edible raw bones. which are great for cats (and even dogs). Edible raw bones generally consists of chicken, turkey, or duck necks. The neck consists of smaller & softer bones that can actually be crushed and eaten. When giving your pet this type of bone, you may want to cut back on their daily food since edible bones do provide nutritional value to your pet's diet.
Please note that we do NOT recommend cooked bones since cooking any bone will cause it to become brittle. We also NEVER recommend the use of raw hide since this common dog product is not digestible and extremely toxic. Please monitor your pet whenever giving them any type of chew!
3) Dental Products - There are a number of dental cleaning products that work great. PetzLife offers a gel & spray that is made of all-natural ingredients such as grape & grapefruit seed extract, grain alcohol, thyme oils, neem oils, & peppermint oils. With the combination of these natural ingredients, PetzLife dissolves the plaque & tartar buildup in just about a month's time, with recommended daily usage. No brushing required, just spray or apply the gel to your pet's mouth and it'll mix with the saliva to work its magic. It will even get under the gum line. Natural pet health specialist Ark Naturals from Naples, Florida also produces an easy to use dental maintenance product called Breathless-Brushless Toothpaste. This dental chew contains a combination of easy digesting natural herbal ingredients that make up the toothpaste center. The firm outer ridges of the dental chew help scrape the tartar & plaque while the toothpaste center aids in the fight to kill off bacteria in the mouth which causes bad breath. Also made by Ark Naturals is the Plaque-Zapper. Add a packet to your dog or cat's water bowl to help neutralize pH levels, deter growth of bacteria, control plaque, tartar, & bad breath. Completely tasteless, your dog or cat won't even notice it.
As you can see, there are a number of ways to care for your cat & dog's dental health. Don't wait till your pet develops periodontal disease and has other health issues associated with it until you do something. Be proactive in dental health, as it can add happiness & years to your pet's life.
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