Pet Dental Health – Debunking Myths

For week 2 of my Pet Dental Health Month series I’m going to address several pet dental health myths that I hear frequently. So, forget what you’ve heard and let’s get down to the facts! 

dog kibble
Untitled by Fake Plastic Alice licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

Myth: Dry food is better for pet’s teeth.

Fact: This is a myth I’ve always heard, and for a long time believed. I was sure that if you fed a dog or cat exclusively wet food their teeth would rot right out of their head. Not so. The basis of this myth is that crunching on kibble pieces will scrape plaque and tartar off while the pet chews.

In reality, kibble pieces shatter when your pets tooth hits it, so there are no dental benefits (source: Patrick Mahaney, VMD). There are prescription dental diets available that resist shattering, but they usually contain a lot of corn, soy and animal by-products which gets them a big thumbs down from me.

Myth: Pets don’t feel pain, or they can’t be in pain if they are still eating.

Fact: I had never heard this “pets don’t feel pain” thing until recently while reading comments about the infamous Sarah Palin dog picture. Someone said that the dog wasn’t uncomfortable being stood on because dogs don’t feel pain. That was certainly a first for me! In fact, dogs and cats feel just as much pains as humans do, though they certainly show it in different ways.

Just because a dog or cat continues to eat doesn’t mean he or she isn’t in pain. Pets have a strong survival instinct so  they will often continue to eat as long as they can because they know they must to survive – even if it causes them pain. Showing pain would be detrimental to them in the wild, so they are programmed to hide it whenever possible (source: Family Pet Hospital)

Myth: Older dogs shouldn’t have dental cleanings.

Fact: This is one that I struggle with myself, because I too have the fear of ever putting my seniors under anesthesia. In reality, just because a dog is a senior, doesn’t automatically make them a bad candidate for a professional dental cleaning.

It’s worth discussing with your vet the risks versus rewards for your individual pet. I think professional dental cleanings are often looked at as a superfluous treatment,but they can actually have a big impact on the quality and longevity of your pets life (source: Family Pet Hospital).

I also recommend anyone who is nervous about what happens during a dental cleaning watch Chubbs the Wampug’s Youtube video. Her mom is a vet and walks you through the entire process from start to finish. I know her video definitely eased some of my concerns about dental cleanings.

Myth: Anesthesia Free Dentals are comparable to full dental cleanings.

Fact: Concerns about putting senior pets under anesthesia has turned some people to an anesthesia free alternative. On the surface, this sounds like you get all the benefits of a dental cleaning without the risks associated with anesthesia. Unfortunately, these types of cleanings only clean the visible surface of the teeth. They are unable to examine and treat beneath the gumline.

The tool used during an anesthesia free dental cleaning also leaves grooves in your pets teeth that are a prime spot for future bacteria growth. (source: American Veterinary Dental College) While these types of cleanings are cheaper, you’re better off saving up for the real thing rather than wasting money on something that could do more harm than good.

Brushing Pug's Teeth

Myth: My dog/cat won’t tolerate a toothbrush, so there is nothing I can do. 

Fact: While brushing is most definitely advised, there are a number of things you can do to keep your dogs teeth clean that don’t involve a toothbrush! There are gels and foams that don’t require brushing, even water additives that you put in their water dish and they never know they’re consuming.

Dental treats are a huge part of the pet market, but things like raw meaty bones and bully sticks are also great at scraping the teeth and exercising the jaw. In next week’s series finale post I will be discussing products available in more detail and let you know what my personal favorites are.

The point to remember is just because your pet won’t let you brush the traditional way, there are still a lot of options open to you!