Chewing is such an important part of our pet’s dental health (and with dogs, helps with mental stimulation as well!) - yet we commonly see dogs presenting with broken teeth from chewing seemingly “appropriate” treats; and cats and dogs with severe periodontal disease despite regular dental treats...what gives?
So...about brushing, that’s not happening...what other options do we have?
As we discussed in our last article, brushing your pet’s teeth regularly is the best way to prevent periodontal disease - but as we all know, that is not always feasible.
So, I guess we should start with WHY is chewing so important? The mechanical act of chewing does two important things: 1) it causes mechanical massage/stimulation of the tooth/gingival surface which increases blood flow and can help physically remove plaque and 2) it causes salivary stimulation which has anti-microbial properties and can reduce plaque (bacterial colonies) buildup.
When we start thinking about what dental chews, treats and water additives we give our pets - our first question is: has it been proven to actually help? There is a group called the Veterinary Oral Health council whose mission is just that - to determine if and set standards for products that claim to reduce plaque and tartar in our pets. We particularly like the Tartar Shield chews and treats for dogs and cats and the OraVet chews for dogs
Another consideration with chews, especially for dogs, is if they will cause physical trauma to their teeth. We regularly see dogs present with fractured teeth, dental pain and dental abscesses secondary to trauma to their teeth. This generally happens when chews that are too hard are given to our pets (such as antlers, cow hooves, dried natural bones or hard nylon products) - they may be tempting to give as dogs would chew on bones in the wild, however these products are too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass.
Some non-dental considerations with chews/treats and water additives:
Dietary sensitivities and food allergies: some dogs have sensitive stomachs and can’t tolerate the ingredients of a chew/treat or water additive and some dogs have food allergies that needs to be taken into consideration when giving these treats. Bottom line - if you give your dog a chew/treat or water additive and they develop diarrhea or vomiting, don’t give it!
The daily caloric impact of the treats: It’s easy to lose track of how many calories your pet is getting each day when you factor in all the treats and “extras” they get. Remember that even if a treat is 50 calories - that may be 10-15% of the daily caloric requirements for a 20# dog. Those calories really add up, and while we want to take care of our pet’s teeth we don’t want to give them another problem (obesity) instead.
The size of the treat needs to be appropriate for the size of the pet. This is especially important for small dogs trying to ingest a chew that is too large and large dogs given a treat that is too small (and then “inhaling” it). If your pet does not chew the product thoroughly, discontinue use of the treat, as this can pose a risk for the treat becoming lodged in the esophagus (as well as no longer being effective for it’s intended purpose of reducing plaque/tartar.)
Pet dogs should be monitored while chewing a chew treat or toy, as they may swallow large pieces, leading to a variety of digestive system disorders.
Is my pet’s dental health really that important?
Well, like people, every pet’s mouth is different. Some animals and breeds are more susceptible for dental disease than others. In some animals a neglected mouth will result with some degree of plaque build up over time, and gingivitis (or inflammation and infection of the gums). But in some animals that neglected mouth will lead to severe infectious of the mouth, abscesses, pain, bad breath, and can make it more difficult to regulate other disease processes (such as diabetes). In the more severe cases, treatment may involve tooth extractions or complicated dental procedures and can lead to infections of the liver, heart and other internal organs.
In the majority of cases, dental disease is a condition where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -- small preventative measures such as regular brushing, appropriate chews, treats and water additives can significantly slow the progression of gingivitis, plaque and tartar accumulation.