4 Ways to Reduce Dental Disease in Dogs & Cats
Hello, I’m Dr. Leigh Chisholm at Seasons Veterinary Clinic, and today, I’m going to talk a little bit about dental disease in dogs and cats, and then I’m going to go over four different ways to slow it down and prevent it.
So, first a really brief overview of dental disease. When you wake up in the morning, and you brush that fuzzy little soft sweater off your teeth, that’s plaque. It’s soft, it’s easy to get rid of, and most of the things I’m going to talk about today will get rid of that plaque. Once that plaque mixes with some of the minerals that are in saliva, you get tartar, which is basically a mineral almost like a rock. It’s hard, it’s stuck, and it’s much more difficult to get rid of. Once there’s any amount of tartar, really, if you get a substantial amount of tartar, you would have a professional cleaning under anesthesia is the best way to get rid of that. So, to get rid of plaque, there are four things that I’m going to mention.
Brush Your Pet’s Teeth
First, arguably the most effective, and probably the most difficult for a lot of patients, is brushing teeth. Same as little kids, you can’t tell your dog or your cat not to swallow their toothpaste, so there are lots of brands of fluoride-free toothpaste for pets. It comes in good flavours like poultry and malt, and for the toothbrush, pet stores, or vet clinics, including ourselves, will have pet-specific toothbrushes.
If you go down to the drugstore and get a small soft or extra-soft toothbrush, that will work as well, and if you are going to come here for your free dental exam, you’ll also get a little free toothbrushing pamphlet that has a brief overview of brushing teeth. So, what you’re going to do is put your toothbrush where the gum and the tooth meet, and back and forth, once a day, and scrub that plaque off before it hardens into tartar.
Plaque takes 24 or 48 hours before it starts to harden into tartar, so if you’re brushing teeth more than every day or two, the benefit increases substantially, and brushing teeth is a long-term plan. You don’t get the instant gratification that you do from pulling off a tick or pulling out a sliver, but three, five, 10 years down the road, it makes a huge difference.
Use Dental Food
The second way to slow down to prevent dental disease in a dog or a cat is with a dental food. There are several good options out there. Hill’s TD Food is currently my favourite. Royal Canin also has a dental food that’s a big help, and even if a pet doesn’t like having their teeth brushed, everybody needs to eat, so if we have a food that does a good job of slowing down and preventing dental disease, it makes a big difference for these patients, and now we’ll give you a demonstration on how the Hill’s TD Food works.
So, I’ve got three diets here. I’ve got a small dog diet with teeny tiny bites, and a different diet with more regular-sized kibbles, and I’ve got the TD Small Bites. So, how TD works is its bigger kibbles, so the dog or the cat can’t just swallow them all whole. They actually have to chew a few of them, and when they chew them, the kibble doesn’t shatter right away. The tooth actually sinks into it and scrapes off that plaque, so almost as good as brushing, and everybody has to eat, so even if you can’t convince your dog to let them have their teeth brushed, they’ll be hungry, so a dental food can make a big difference.
So, as you’ll see in the video, I’ve got some white-out on a screwdriver that is going to represent plaque on a tooth. First, the teeny tiny bites from the small dog food, we take our plaque-covered tooth, it just shatters, and we’re still covered in plaque. Those nibblets are small enough that a dog whose teeth are in really bad shape could quite happily swallow them whole without having to worry about chewing them. And then a bigger food, shatters, all the plaque is still on that tooth, so even though he had to chew a few of them, he’s still got dirty teeth.
Then we compare to TD Dental food. And look at all the plaque we scraped off that tooth. So that is how the TD food works.
Use a Water Additive to Soften Plaque
The third way I’m going to describe to slow down dental disease is with a water additive. There’s several on the market right now, and the one I’m going to bring up by name is Healthy Mouth. It’s an all-natural product, and it’s added to the water for a dog or a cat, and what it does is it weakens that plaque, so the plaque doesn’t stick to the tooth as well. The plaque is slower to build up. There’s not as much plaque available to harden into the tartar that becomes such a challenge. In and of itself, it’s a help. If combined with something like brushing or the dental food, it makes a really big difference, because it’ll act in the locations between teeth that either the dog doesn’t like having brushed, or that they don’t chew on, so yes, the Healthy Mouth, dogs and cats, lots of different flavours. These are a really good add-on for a dental preventative programme.
Use Dental Chews – But, Sparingly
The fourth way I’m going to mention that can slow down and prevent dental disease in dogs and cats is a chew, something they’re chewing on. And if they like a treat, if they like a rawhide, and you pick one that can help with their teeth, you’re giving them something fun to do, and helping those teeth out a little bit at the same time.
The two I’ve got on the shelf right now, one of these, Tartar Shield’s rawhide bacon flavoured chews, and they’re a help, and the second one are these Veggie Dents, and they are all vegetable-based. If you’ve got a dog with allergies, something like this can be a good option. Greenies is another popular brand that does a good job.
Two things to caution you with dental treats. One is their calorie intake. If you’ve got a dog who’s borderline heavy, and they eat a whole bunch of dental treats, that might be enough calories to push them into too heavy, so if you’re giving them a bunch of treats, you’re going to have to cut back some calories somewhere else, decrease the food a little bit.
And the other thing is to keep an eye out for this: The Veterinary Oral Health Council stamp. It is a group of veterinary dentists, and companies will submit studies of their products, and if those products work, then they’re allowed to use the stamp, so if you see that good stamp on a product, you can be confident it’s going to be a help.
The Healthy Mouth has it, way down in the corner there. The Hill’s TD Food has it, and it’s on the bag somewhere. There it is, on the back, and these Tartar Shield chews, they’ve got that stamp too. It’s sitting on the inside cover, so that is something that should give you some confidence that the product you’re looking at is going to be a help.
So those are the four things that you can do to prevent dental disease in your dogs and your cats. Brushing their teeth does a whole lot of good. A dental food will be a really big help. The Healthy Mouth water additive is going to be a very good help as well, and then if they get treats if they like treats, and you pick something that’s good for their teeth, that’s excellent.
The challenge of dental disease is it marches on, and all we can do is slow it down. I brush my teeth, I floss my teeth, and I still get a reminder card from my dentist every six months telling me to come in and get them professionally cleaned.
Our cats and dogs though, they often go 10 years down the road without regular cleaning. If we had one dog that had a whole bunch of home care done, teeth brushed, and add in a dental food and a water additive, and all the home care options possible, and his twin brother dog, who didn’t have any dental care done, depending on other factors like the size of their head and the way their teeth are lined up, and apparently genetics in saliva, but the difference is huge.
In 10 years, it’s the difference between having no extractions and just getting those teeth cleaned up and polished up. I had a dog here the other day where I had to extract 32 teeth, because they were just not viable any longer, so it’s a long term commitment, but it’s worth it for the health of the animal, the health of their teeth, and selfishly, the health of your wallet if you can keep those teeth clean and shiny for the long run.