by Dr. Linda Vognar, DVM
Have you ever wrinkled your nose at the odor coming from your pet’s mouth? We have long called this “doggy breath” or “kitty breath”, but it is really a sign of dental disease, and can make it unpleasant to cuddle or play with your dog or cat.
When tartar (hardened plaque, those slick deposits on teeth that are not regularly brushed and cleaned) accumulates around the teeth and under your animal friend’s gums, it houses bacteria. That bacteria grows and causes inflammation of the gums and destruction of the bony tissue that hold the teeth in their sockets. If unchecked it causes the teeth to loosen. They fall out or must be pulled under anesthesia by your animal friend’s veterinarian.
But dental disease is not just a problem confined to mouth. The bacteria that begins in the mouth is carried to other parts of the body by entering the inflamed blood vessels of the gums. It is carried by the blood to areas far away from the mouth – first to the throat, and even worse, eventually to the heart and kidneys. There it can set up housekeeping and slowly destroy the heart muscle and valves, and the filtering systems of the kidney. This can be prevented by paying attention to good dental care through the various stages of your pet’s life.
Good dental care begins at home and its foundation is an excellent diet. Low and no grain diets tend to be less inflammatory in general, and more closely approximate a diet that your pet would have in a natural setting. Young animals, who are Yang in nature (energetic, young, dry, and hot blooded) by constitution, often flourish on raw diets, which are also very Yang in nature energetically. As they age, pets often need cooked foods added or substituted for the raw to complement the Yin nature of age (cool, still, moist). Both types of diets come in low or no grain varieties and will complement your pet’s general health as well as their dental health.
For those of you who choose a food higher in grains, either because you find your pet’s constitution requires this, or for convenience or cost factors, oral care diets (formulated in large hard chunks) are available from most major dog food manufacturers. Cat oral care diets are not yet widely available, however, and the abrasive benefits of dog oral care diets are sometimes offset by the inflammatory qualities of many grains.
Handle your animal friend’s mouth daily from puppy or kittenhood, so that they become accustom to this regular routine. Then it is easy to introduce a tooth brush and a paste formulated for animals into their routine on a daily or every other day basis when they reach 6 months of age. The abrasive action of the brush helps remove plaque while it is still soft and easily removed.
There are also several safe and effective natural products available for your pet’s teeth that retard tartar and plaque formation, promote healthy gums, and are affordable to use on an ongoing basis. The first is a North Sea kelp that is added to your pet’s food daily or twice a day. This is very convenient because it doesn’t require handling your pet’s mouth (something we, in our busy routines, often neglect). The second is a grapefruit seed, parsley, rosemary, lemon oil extract that is applied twice weekly to a healthy mouth, and twice daily to a mouth that has tartar already. This is available in a gel form that can be brushed on the teeth or applied with a gauze sponge directly to the teeth.
Finally, regular professional dental care through your family veterinarian is important. Your veterinarian evaluates your pet’s teeth and gums regularly and will make recommendations concerning dental cleaning, x-rays, extractions, and referrals to board certified veterinary dentists when necessary. Routine teeth cleaning, x-rays, and extractions are often done at your family veterinarian’s office under anesthesia. A physical exam and pre-anesthetic blood work should be done before any procedures requiring anesthesia.
Anesthesia-free dental cleaning in the Chippewa Valley is also available. Many owners prefer to avoid anesthesia for animals with underlying disease (usually those with kidney, liver disease, diabetes, epilepsy, or a history anesthesia complications) or who require frequent cleaning without extractions or x-rays, and for whom scaling awake will not cause pain. A homeopathic calmer is generally used for these holistic dental procedures and this can be augmented by calming acupuncture points. All procedures must be supervised by a veterinarian, who decides after a mouth exam and medical history if your pet is a good candidate for a holistic cleaning and if antibiotics and/or herbal pain medicine are required after the procedure. At this time, anesthesia-free dental clinics are conducted on a monthly basis at several free standing sites in the Chippewa Valley by appointment.
LINDA VOGNAR is certified in veterinary acupuncture and completed rigorous training at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. She currently offers acupuncture, herbal and Chinese food therapy consultations at OAKWOOD HILLS ANIMAL HOSPITAL through FOUR PAWS, FIVE TREASURES, LLC. She lives in Chippewa Valley with her husband and son, and her dog, Tank.