We all have busy schedules and it can be a struggle to make the time to brush our pets' teeth on a daily basis. Or, maybe you have a pet that is a sweetheart all the time except for when it comes time to sit still for a tooth brushing. If you fit either of these scenarios, or if your pet has specific problems with tartar buildup and bad breath that cannot be handled by brushing alone, your veterinarian may suggest a special dental diet.
Plaque is a natural component of the mouth's bacterial balance. It is soft, colorless, and easily removable with a firm brush. But while plaque is a normal part of the mouth's bacterial system, it can harden on the teeth if it is not removed on a regular basis, eventually becoming tartar.
Tartar attaches firmly to the tooth's surface, causing irritation to the gingiva, or gums, and further leading to tissue loss in the inflamed gingiva. Once plaque has formed into tartar it can only be removed by dental instruments. Dental diets are formulated especially for reducing the amount of plaque and tartar that accumulates on the teeth, and in some cases may even prevent serious oral diseases from occurring.
What Kind of Products Should You Look For?
The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) has reviewed many of the foods and treats that are made for reducing plaque on the tooth's surface, giving their seal of approval only to those products that meet the required standards that have been shown to control tartar and plaque in the mouths of cats and dogs. Look for foods with the VOHC seal (pictured to the right) on the package.
These foods are required to be balanced, with the same nutrient content as regular foods, but with the additional formulations that make them capable of cleaning teeth. Most hard kibble and treat products that are made for dental diets are larger in size, with an airy, fibrous texture that breaks up easily so that the edges of the kibble, in effect, scrub at the surfaces of the teeth as the animal chews. Some foods also have an added coating to reduce dental plaque.
Dental diet foods and treats are available online, from your veterinarian’s office, and at local pet stores where prescription diets are sold.
Is a Dental Diet Right for YOUR Pet?
Because dental diets are nutritionally balanced, most pets can eat them as part of a normal daily diet. It is important to note, however, that not all animals' needs can be met with this diet plan. Dental diets should not be a main nutritional source for puppies or dogs that have special nutritional or medical needs, but should instead be used to supplement an established diet that is already meeting their specific nutritional requirements.
Additionally, some animals may not be able to tolerate a dental diet formula on a daily basis. In these cases, the dental food can be given as a treat instead.
Before Switching to a Dental Diet …
You should decide whether a dental diet is appropriate for your pet by discussing it with your veterinarian first. It is not always appropriate to use a dental diet instead of a brush, and not all animals are suited to this type of diet. This may be due to underlying health issues, the current health status of the teeth and gums, or the age of your pet. Before initiating a dental diet, your veterinary dentist may even suggest a professional teeth cleaning, among or other procedures.
If you are planning to switch to a dental diet you will also need to keep in mind that in order to make it work you will need to abstain from sharing table scraps or extra treats with your pet, as this will defeat the purpose of the dental diet. It may be difficult to get used to not sharing with your furry friend, but keep in mind that if she loses her teeth or suffers from gum irritation due to tartar buildup, she won't be able to eat anything but mushy foods.
In the long run, you will be glad that you and your pet endured the short-term suffering of unhealthy treat withdrawal in favor of the long-term benefits that come from having healthy teeth.
Image: D. Sharon Pruitt / via Flickr