Home care is essential to keeping your dog and cat's teeth at their healthiest, and can be easy to incorporate into your daily routine! Let's start with your pet's dog food....
Ditch the soft food people! I know your dog likes it (probably loves it!) but for 99% of dogs and cats, there is no need for soft, moist, semi-moist, gravy or any other non-dry kibble food. Compare it to covering your broccoli with cheddar cheese. Does it make it more delicious? Absolutely. Does it add unnecessary calories? Uh, yeah. Does it counteract the healthy act of eating broccoli? Pretty much. Canned and pouch foods, and whatever other delectable "toppings" you are adding to your dog or cat's food is likely negating the benefit of any hard food. It makes it easier for them to wolf it down so they're not getting the mechanical benefit of chewing- so no hard stuff scrubbing up against their teeth. It's also sticking more to their teeth, adding unnecessary calories, and actually costs more to feed than dry food alone. Sorry dogs and cats of the world, but I've got to be honest. Reserve the canned food for birthdays, special occasions or as a sneaky way to hide in medication when they have to take it.
According to the American Veterinary Dental College, brushing is the absolute #1 thing you can do to help your pet's dental health. Think about it- you and I brush our teeth at least twice a day, and we still have to go to the dentist at least yearly if not more for the professional cleaning. Imagine never brushing your teeth, and chewing on all sorts of the weird treats, chew toys and food that we give our dog. Insert gross face here!
So yes, it's absolutely important. In an ideal world. I'm a realist, and as I admitted last week, I don't routinely brush my pet's teeth (sorry Dr. Manfra). But with work, kids, a busy schedule and a dog that hates it, it just doesn't get done as it should. That said, it's no excuse, and the trade off is that my dog has a professional dental cleaning at least every year and a half or so. That comes at a higher cost, and of course, is an anesthetic procedure.
Cats often will tolerate brushing a little bit better in my experience, particularly if they like the Seafood flavor toothpaste. For cats and dogs, it's best to start with a gradual introduction to first the pet-friendly flavored toothpaste (yummy treat!), then by brushing your pet's teeth with the the toothpaste on your finger, and then up to a finger toothbrush or regular dog or cat toothbrush (or you can use a kid's soft toothbrush in a pinch). It really depends on the pet, but my dogs always thought the toothbrush was a chew toy, so we were much more effective with the finger toothbrush.
What some more tips on brushing? Here's a link to a helpful video on how to brush your pet's teeth! (Also on our Pinterest page)
I LOVE this option! Why? Everybody wins. Literally. You want to give your pets treats, and they want you to give them to them. AND they actually help! Studies have shown lower levels of gingivitis, plaque and calculus in dogs given a daily dental chew. Our pooches get one while we're eating dinner so they are less likely to give us the sad eyes while we're dining.
Keep in mind all dental chews are NOT created equal. Just because it says it is a "dental" chew doesn't mean that it is going to give your dog a blinging smile in a few weeks. If it's also coated in a thick peanut butter or other flavoring, it's probably adding unnecessary calories and debris to your pet's teeth. If your dog can inhale the chew in 30 seconds with minimal chewing, it's probably not doing the job either. Next week I'll give you the run-down of some clinically tested products that myself and the staff personally use. Well, not personally, but our dogs.
In recent years, several prescription foods have emerged to provide dogs and cats with a little extra mechanical action in the chewing process. These foods have a unique kibble shape and consistency to "scrub" the plaque and tartar away. These diets have some great results and many dogs love the taste. Owners often like that the dogs can't gobble their food down as quick, and can see their pet actually chewing! While some pet parents are reluctant to adopt the prescription dental diets as a sole food, we have many clients (myself included) who use these diets in place of treats. My own dog Maple, for instance, gets 2-3 pieces of the Hill's T/D kibble instead of the traditional milkbone-type treats when she comes in from outside. I've noticed a definite delay in her calculus buildup as a result, and she loves them! We'll review these diets more in depth in our next blog.
These products have taken the market by storm recently! These liquid or powder additives are added to pet's drinking water daily to provide a decrease in bacteria and help freshen breath. You have to add them every day and mix with fresh water.
There's a huge variation in products out there, and some are controversial due to containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol. This ingredient can be toxic to dogs in high doses, but given the tiny amounts present (usually less than 1/30th of the dose needed to cause clinical signs), they are generally accepted as safe. Just be sure to read the label to make sure it's safe for dogs and cats (some labeled as dog only) and keep the full bottle out of pet's reach.
No matter your time limits, pet attitude limits or finances, there is a product out there to help. Additional options to those above include a dental rinse, dental gel and dental wipes. If you find that one of the options discussed doesn't work for you, let us know and we'd be happy to help find a more effective solution.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM