This month let's talk about a subject that is too often overlooked: pet oral care.
Oral health doesn't just affect the mouth. In humans and dogs, studies show a strong association between oral disease and both heart and kidney disease. As humans, we have one set of adult teeth and this set of teeth requires a lot of care. We don't get a do-over if we let them rot away - we don't get another natural set. This makes maintenance vitally important. Dogs and cats are the same as us. They, too, only have one set of adult teeth and as their caretakers, part of our responsibility is their oral health. So, what can we do at home?
The best thing we can do for our pets is brush their teeth. Just like we brush our teeth twice a day, brushing dogs' (or cats' - good luck) teeth is optimal. Daily brushing is clearly the Gold Standard of oral care. As a veterinarian, I can usually tell who brushes their dog's teeth when I do a yearly examination. Brushing makes a huge difference, BUT I am not that naive. I know most of us won't brush, can't brush, forget to brush, or the pets will not let it happen. So, what's the next best?
Lots of treats exist and are on the market for dog and cat oral health. The majority really don't accomplish much; they are abrasive and are supposed to knock off the tartar. Two problems with this: 1. Tartar mostly accumulates on the side of the tooth but the treat is being mashed between chewing surfaces - so not in the right spot and 2. Tartar is a mineralized calcium deposit. It's rock-hard and no treat is substantial enough to chip off that substance. So, abrasive treats are mostly ineffective. Think of "I'll keep my teeth clean by eating carrots", you know how practical that would be? But some treats do and are proven to work in clinical studies.
Oravet, a clinically proven treat, appears to be the best. By preventing plaque, or dead bacteria, from sticking to the tooth, oral health is greatly enhanced. Plaque comes from tartar. Oravet is proven to reduce plaque, odor, and tartar by about 50%. A 50% reduction is massive. These trials were done by giving one Oravet treat per day. Oravet is also a prescription product.
There are some foods, but they have to be specifically designed. The most effective one I know of on the market is Science Diet Oral Care. Oral care food nuggets are porous, scraping the sides of the tooth as the tooth sinks in. These foods must be used as a primary diet, not a treat, to be very efficient.
Getting your pets' teeth cleaned is often necessary. Actually, pet dental care is more involved than getting our teeth cleaned in that sedation, pre-anesthetic bloodwork, hospitalization is required. Some dogs need it more often than others. For example, Yorkshire Terriers and Greyhounds need lots of dental attention compared to your average Labrador Retriever. Oh, and don't forget your feline friends; cats aren't going to let us do much for them in regards to prevention, so professional cleanings are our most direct option to address an oral care issue.
I know what some of you are thinking, "Come on, I'll do anything for my pet, but they're just teeth" Think of it this way - what gets my pet super excited? Eating. Think about if one of the things you got most excited about caused you pain with every bite?
I view dental care in dogs as a pay now or pay later thing. The more investment you make at home like brushing, effective foods, and proven treats, the less will be spent on professional cleaning. But if you're passive about dental care and Fido needs a few cleanings in his life span - it's well worth it.