Oral Hygiene and Fresh Breath
Dr. Al Townshend
Dental health is really about the overall health of the mouth, or what is known as oral health. It is just as essential in the pet’s health as it is for their Guardians. Can you imagine how your mouth would look and feel if you never brushed your teeth or used mouth wash? Without proper care, a pet’s mouth can cause severe health issues that will lower the pet’s quality of life and can even be life-threatening. It is one of the most common problems recognized in domestic dogs and cats.
Wild predators like wolves and lions don’t usually have the same serious dental and gum diseases as their domesticated relatives. They rip and tear flesh, skin and bones, which keep their teeth and gums clean. We feed our canine and feline companions differently, and the types of food we feed can encourage the formation of plaque and tartar. If allowed to accumulate, they inflame the gums, loosen the teeth and open the door for infection, which can spread throughout the body.
Most experts agree that regular brushing is the best way to slow the formation of plaque and tartar in a dog or cat’s mouth, as it is for humans. It is not as easy to brush a pet’s teeth as it is a human unless the pet has been trained to accept the procedure. Some animals accept brushing easily while others struggle. Starting the training early in a pet’s life offers the best chance of successfully training the pet to accept it. You can teach an older dog to accept the process, but it usually takes patience and perseverance from both the pet and Guardian.
Proper instruction on the best methods is important to the success of the training. Professional groomers, veterinarians and internet sites can offer accepted methods of training (see Additional Resources below).
Oral Health Beyond Brushing
Diet is important in oral health and hygiene. Here are a few things to take into consideration:
- Many believe that feeding a dry kibble will keep their pet’s teeth clean and healthy. Kibble quickly mixes with saliva and softens to have very little abrasive effect. Cooking the ingredients degrades the natural enzymes that can protect the gums and discourage harmful bacteria. Lower quality dry foods contain higher levels of carbohydrates, which are a good nutritional source for bacteria.
- Raw food diets are not cooked like kibble, and so the natural enzymes are intact. They are generally much lower in carbohydrates. Many raw recipes have ground bone that acts as an abrasive to scrub the teeth.
- Feeding a high protein, and low carbohydrate diet is important for the overall health of a carnivore.
- Supplementing the diet with nutrients that support the immune system helps to make the mouth more resistant to inflammation and bacterial growth. The Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils and natural antioxidants in fruits and vegetables can slow the formation of plaque and tartar.
- Adding probiotics, the good bacteria, to the diet discourages the harmful bacteria that encourage plaque and tartar formation and bad breath.
Oral Sprays and gels applied to the gums and teeth slow the formation of plaque and tartar and often freshen the pet’s breath.
Dental Chews and treats help to keep the teeth clean and the gums healthy.
Chew toys are an additional resource to keep the teeth and gums healthy and slow the formation of plaque and tartar while stimulating a dog’s need to chew.
Be sure and check with the staff at your local Pet Planet store for up to date information and products to support oral health and hygiene.
It is important to remember that despite the fact humans brush their teeth daily, they still require professional cleaning to maintain good oral health. Pets are no exception, and so the trick is to slow the process and delay the need for professional cleaning for as long as possible. Annual veterinary exams help to determine how well a Guardian’s dental care is doing, and when a professional cleaning is necessary.