February is National Pet Dental Health month. It seemed like the perfect time to talk about a subject I often get asked about. Dental health is just as important for our pets as it is for our own health. Did you know that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats begin showing signs of oral disease by age 3? Yet 2/3 of pet owners do not take care of their pets’ teeth regularly.
Much of a pet’s health relies on proper oral hygiene. Dental disease may affect the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, skin and joints. There is also a link between dental health and diabetes. Two consequences of poor dental health are chronic inflammation and stress. Both cause insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes.
Part of the reasons our pets have dental issues are that most commercial foods are highly processed and do not provide the tooth-cleansing effects of pulling meat and other soft tissues off raw bones. The biggest myth I like to debunk is that dry pet “kibble” helps clean teeth. It makes me crazy every time I hear this! That equates to a human saying “I need to clean my teeth. Hand me that bag of potato chips.” Kibble is full of sugar and carbohydrates. Kibble gets stuck to teeth and can actually exacerbate dental problems. But there is hope!
There are options to help stay on top of your pet’s dental hygiene. Most importantly is brushing their teeth at least once a week. It is imperative to start this from an early age. We don’t all have that luxury, especially if you’ve adopted an older pet. So first check their tolerance for you brushing their teeth! Start slow and let them get used to the process. Let them taste the toothpaste first. Try rubbing some on their gums with your finger. If they tolerate that well, move to trying the toothbrush. Toothbrushes for pets come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are standard toothbrushes like we use, only made to fit a dog’s mouth. There are also ones that fit on your finger. Use plenty of positive reinforcement when beginning this new process with your pet.
As for what toothpaste to choose, of course I prefer anything natural to synthetic products. You may use straight coconut oil for brushing, or try one of these easy homemade toothpastes, all coconut oil based, found here: https://care4dogs.net/5-natural-recipes-to-clean-your-dogs-teeth-using-coconut-oil/
I learned about dental care with my first dog. I was not taught how to brush his teeth. I had never experienced seeing a dog get its teeth brushed! Therefore, by age 6, Brody’s teeth were covered in tartar and his breath was horrible. We knew of no other option but to have him anesthetized and his teeth professionally cleaned by our veterinarian at a whopping $700.00! (and that was 10 years ago). After that I was much more conscious of his teeth.
Although Brody would never allow me to brush his teeth, we changed his diet to raw and gave him frozen raw bones regularly, as well as natural dental chews to help keep them clean. He also got coconut oil in every meal. I would throw a dollop on his food and he would gobble it down. Coconut oil has natural antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal properties that help as a dental aid. It also provides a myriad of other benefits, but that is for another blog!
The recommended daily dose of coconut oil is 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of pet. Cats love it, too! And it can be especially helpful with cats since I do not know anyone able to brush their cat’s teeth, including me! I like my fingers and prefer to keep them attached to my hand!
Believe it or not, nature provides plenty of items to help keep teeth cleaned. Frozen carrots can be given to puppies to promote good dental health and also to ease teething pain. They can be given to older dogs to help clean their teeth. Raw carrots finely chopped in a food processor can easily be added in place of some kibble. This is helpful if you are trying to get your dog to shed some weight, also. Chopped parsley added to your pet’s meal will help to freshen their breath. Chopped cilantro has healing properties, as well as being a great breath freshener.
Other helpful items are anything your dog will chew on for a long time, such as bully sticks, Himalayan chews, antlers and raw, meaty bones. Not only will they help scrape off tartar they aid in saliva production, which helps clean the mouth of any impurities.
There are many sprays, water additives and dental chews on the market. Be sure you always read ingredients and avoid anything that is made in China.
Hopefully this offers some suggestions on ways to keep those pearly whites nice and clean! A clean mouth equals a healthy pet!