dog teethUntil recently, dental problems in cats and dogs were a neglected aspect of home pet care. These problems include the build up of tartar or scale on the teeth, gum inflammation or gingivitis and stomatitis, and serious periodontal disease and tooth-root abscesses. Not only do affected pets develop nauseating halitosis and find it painful to eat, the inflammation in their mouths can result in the spread of bacteria in their blood streams to internal organs, along with inflammatory substances called cytokines. These can damage the heart, causing serious and often fatal heart disease, as in humans with severe peridontitis, and also harm the kidneys, pancreas, liver, and other internal organs.

These inflammatory substances are also produced from body fat in overweight and obese animals, just as in humans. Obesity and dental problems are associated with highly processed manufactured pet foods**, especially those high in cereals, and can lead to heart, kidney, liver, and joint inflammation, pancreatic disease and related digestive problems, Type 11 diabetes, and other health problems, including increased susceptibility to infections and allergies because the animals’ immune systems are impaired.

A few drops of  fish oil like Nordic Naturals (1 teaspoon daily for a cat or 30 lb dog, 1 tablespoon for larger dogs) in the pet’s food every day will help reduce any gum inflammation. Getting the animal used to having very strong organic green or black tea, or  some dry leaves rubbed nightly on the gums and between the teeth may help stop plaque accumulation and help in the treatment of canine and feline periodontal disease. Such treatment has been recommended for oral cancer and caries in humans.

It is critically important, especially for older pets and toy breeds, to feed a wholesome diet, provide safe chew-toys, and get them used to regular tooth cleaning. Wrap a moist gauze bandage around your index finger and get your pet used to having teeth and gums rubbed. The oral gel  made by PetzLife Oral Care Products (www.petzlife.com Tel : 1-763-477-0062) is an excellent product that loosens scale/tartar, and helps reduce inflammation and infection. A spray is also available. Safe and effective dental health care products like PetzLife Oral Care products are the missing link in holistic pet health care, where good nutrition and safe chew-toys go hand in hand with dental health. Together, dental problems and those related to what pets are fed, account for most of the serious diseases of cats and dogs today.

Safe chew-toys made of ideally organic rubber (most plastics contain toxic phthalates), knotted cotton ropes, raw beef marrow bones (some dogs chew too hard and damage teeth so only allow short 5-10 min chewings per day!), and organic US certified rawhide strips, are good tooth cleaners, along with strips of scalded beef heart, shank beef, and chicken wing tips.  Cats enjoy chewing  on chicken wing tips, chicken or turkey gizzard strips or beef shank or heart slivers.

Maintaining  pets’ dental hygiene, along with good nutrition—where highly processed   pet food ingredients, especially corn and soy glutens, leave micro-particles adhering to the teeth and foster dental disease—prevents much animal suffering. Dental problems, closely related to diet, are very common in dogs and cats and are often left untreated for too long, causing much suffering and long crippling, even fatal illness. These include kidney, liver and heart disease secondary to periodontal disease that afflicts, to varying degrees of severity, an estimated seventy five percent of the US dog population. This is the oral equivalent of AIDS that goes from halitosis to toxicosis, and can lead to similar symptoms of immune system impairment associated with chronic oral disease/dysbiosis.

Costly dental surgery under anesthesia, which can often result in fatalities in animals whose health is seriously compromised by bacterial infection and related problems originating from the oral cavity, can also be avoided.

To reiterate, when harmful bacteria proliferate under the gums and oral health is compromised as periodontal disease becomes established, the bacteria enter the bloodstream and as they are filtered out by the kidneys and liver, can cause micro-abscesses in these organs. Animals with periodontal disease can therefore develop secondary kidney disease—glomerulonephritis and interstitial nephritis, and also  hepatitis. When the bacteria lodge in the heart or respiratory system, heart disease— endocarditis and myocarditis, and chronic bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis can develop.

In an article entitled Remove Malpractice Risk from Anesthetic Risk published in DVM Newsmagazine, June 1st, 2004, Dr. Christopher Allen, DVM, who is also an attorney, writes that “Clients who sue are shocked clients; they sue after they bring in a reasonably healthy looking pet but leave with their animal in a plastic bag. They sue when their high-risk pet dies under anesthesia and no one fully explained the concept of anesthetic risk. —calls taken—a disproportionate number involve pet deaths that have occurred while an animal was sedated or under anesthesia.”

He asks veterinarians “Is putting this otherwise decently healthy dog under anesthetic something I really want to do?” Now that dental cleaning under general anesthesia seems to becoming an annual event promoted by veterinarians for both dogs and cats as young as 1-year of age, Dr. Allen’s advice is indeed timely. Ensuring that dogs and cats are given foods that do not contribute to dental disease, and that they receive appropriate oral health care maintenance are responsibilities of  veterinarians, and pet owners who should be advised accordingly. Cleaning teeth on a regular basis under general anesthesia is a high-risk money-maker that can mean death for otherwise healthy animals.

Wellness therefore includes maintaining healthy oral cavities and bacterial populations in the entire digestive tract. And that entails vigilance and good nutrition to help maintain tissue health and vigorous populations of beneficial bacteria in all body cavities and surfaces. Good dental hygiene and good nutrition go hand in hand as the cornerstones of holistic pet health care maintenance.

** For details, and home-prepared recipes, see the ground-breaking book by three veterinarians,  M.W.Fox, E. Hodgkins and M.E.Smart, (2008) Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog & Cat Foods, Sanger, CA Quill Driver Books