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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Veterinarians and pet owners have long advocated dry food as the best choice to promote dental health in pets. The common belief is that because kibble is hard it requires more chewing, which promotes dental health. It could be argued that these are desperate beliefs to alleviate any guilt about feeding an inexpensive, convenient diet. Simple observation of canine eating behavior would confirm little chewing of a meal. In fact the cat has anatomical limitations that prevent it from chewing. Also research does not favor dry over wet for teeth health.

 

The Dog’s Teeth in the Wild

 

As pack hunters dogs compete fiercely with each other over a carcass. They tear and gulp and dive back in for more. Taking time to chew would decrease overall food consumption, which is not an effective survival technique. The modern, domestic dog exhibits the same “grab and swallow” feeding behavior with only minor cracking of larger kibble bits. Observation of the physical form of dog vomitus confirms that little chewing occurs during eating. The vomit looks exactly like the food, only wetter.

 

Interestingly, studies of African wild dogs revealed these animals have significantly less dental tarter than their kibble eating domestic relatives. Yet these wild dogs suffer the same incidence of periodontal disease as domestic dogs eating commercial food. This seems to contradict the early studies in dogs and cats that suggested kibble was better than soft food for tooth health. These early studies focused on plaque and tarter accumulation rather than periodontal disease and other more serious oral problems, and inadvertently overstated the case for dry food and dental health.

 

Even more interesting are studies in dogs with access to bones for chewing. Despite significant protection from plaque formation and gingivitis, bone chewing does not significantly decrease the incidence of periodontitis, especially around the premolars and molars at the back of the mouth.

 

The Cat – At Home and in the Wild

 

As with the dog, anyone who has looked at their cat’s vomit knows that cats don’t chew. In fact they can’t. Felines have an anatomically fixed lower jaw. This means they have limited lateral or side-to-side movement of the jaw that is necessary to really chew. That is why kibble eating cats tilt their head and use gravity to move food to the side so it can be cracked, not chewed, by sharp teeth. The absence of flat teeth like molars and only sharp tearing teeth alone is evidence of a species that does not chew. I am amazed that years of examining the mouths of cats do not alert veterinarians to the lack of chewing capabilities of the cat.

 

Again studies of feral and wild cats in Africa and Australia confirm that these cats have less dental tarter than domestic cats fed canned and dry diets, yet suffer the same incidence of periodontal disease.

 

The Plaque Disconnect

 

So we have wild cats and dogs that rip and tear soft carcasses with less dental tarter than domestic cats and dogs that don’t chew their hard kibble, yet both groups exhibit the same incidence of periodontal disease. What this means is that the relationship of tarter and dental disease is still to be defined. It also means that the relationship of chewing and dental disease has yet to be defined.

 

This does not build a case for dry food over wet food for preventing dental disease. Dental health is far more complex than the consistency of food and chewing activity of the animal. All pets, no matter what their diet, require regular teeth brushing to prevent periodontal disease. I am sure your pet will welcome the addition of canned food to its diet.

 

 

Dr. Ken Tudor

 

Image: maximult / Shutterstock

           

Comments  3

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  • Dental Care
    12/26/2013 06:12pm

    If we could just get Fluffy and Fido to floss, we'd have it made!

    Interesting that dogs and cats in the wild have the same periodontal disease as household pets. Do you think that maybe since they don't live as long as pets, it's less of a problem for them?

  • 12/26/2013 09:26pm

    Peridontal disease is a problem for all animals, pet or wild. I think you are asking whether peridontal has an impact on the lifespan of wild cats and dogs. We simply do not know. In fact, we do not have that answer for pets. We know that mouth bacteria can affect the heart, liver and kidneys. But the extent to which heart, liver and kidney disease can be attributed to mouth bacteria is unknown. The impact that dental disease may have on a pet's lifespan is also not directly known. We know dental hygiene is important but we have yet to measure how important it is.

  • Squash and teeth
    04/06/2014 11:39am

    Squash is a great tooth cleaner for dogs. Our Goldendoodle loves a raw Delicata or Spagetti squash to chew on, and it's entertaining for him. His Vet. always remarks about how clean his teeth are at each check up.

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