Veterinary dentists and pet owners alike want what is best for their animals. Unfortunately, the subject of pet dental care is plagued with harmful misconceptions.
Is “dog breath” normal? Should dogs chew bones? Is it safe for groomers to use dental equipment? These are among the persistent veterinary dental myths we want to address in this article.
1. Bad Breath Is Normal in Dogs
Myth: Even healthy pups can have foul-smelling “dog breath”; it’s just one of those things that come with owning a dog.
Fact: In dogs and other pets, halitosis is a clear sign of gingivitis or oral infection.
The idea that “dog breath” is normal is a common misconception. The truth is that dogs with halitosis almost always suffer from significant to severe periodontal disease.
Halitosis occurs when anaerobic bacteria in the mouth certain amino acids. Although it can result from gingivitis alone, oral infection is by far the most common cause.
Chronic bad breath is a clear sign that a pet needs veterinary attention.
2. It is Safe for Dogs to Chew Bones
Myth: A canine’s powerful teeth and jaws are built to chew through hard materials like bone.
Fact: Chewing bones poses numerous health hazards to dogs.
Much as dogs love to gnaw on a good bone, it’s not necessarily good for them. While it’s true that dogs benefit from having something to chomp on, there are many reasons why hard materials like bone, antlers and chicken’s feet are not a safe choice:
- A dog’s teeth are susceptible to fractures, which are immensely painful and may require surgical treatment.
- Bones and other firm materials can splinter into sharp pieces, causing gum or tongue lacerations, or becoming embedded under the gum line.
- Bones are a serious choking hazard.
- Since bones are not digestible, they can cause stomach and intestinal problems if swallowed.
Dr. Fraser Hale, a veterinary dental specialist, recommends owners use the “kneecap rule” to decide whether a toy is suitable for a dog. The rule goes like this: if you wouldn’t want someone to hit you in the kneecap with it, your dog shouldn’t be chewing on it.
3. Dental Chews and Dental Formula Food Will Improve a Pet’s Oral Health
Myth: Using products marketed as ‘dental chews’ or ‘dental formula food’ can help improve an animal’s teeth and gums.
Fact: Not all pet dental products are effective.
It isn’t difficult to find chew toys, treats, and pet food that carriers the ‘dentist-approved’ label. Well-meaning pet owners collectively spend millions of dollars on these products each year.
However, not all ‘dental formulas’ are beneficial for an animal’s teeth (not more than the average bag of kibble, at least.)
Veterinary dental specialists recommend that pet owners look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval before purchasing a product that purports to promote good oral health. The Council’s work is approved by the American Veterinary Dental College.
4. Dental Scaling by a Groomer Can Prevent Oral Health Issues
Myth: Dental scaling services offered by pet groomers are a good way to keep a pet’s teeth clean and healthy.
Fact: Non-professional dental scaling is cosmetic only and does not prevent or treat oral disease.
It is illegal in many places for pet groomers to offer non-professional dental scaling (NPDS). However, in some regions, the myth persists that this service can help pets stay healthy.
Dental scaling involves using dental equipment to scrape debris from the surface of an animal’s teeth. Some groomers purchase these tools and offer scaling services to clients at a lower cost than a professional dental cleaning performed by a vet.
Unfortunately, this non-professional dental scaling is merely cosmetic. Groomers lack the knowledge to identify oral health treatments, nor the ability to prescribe treatment. Without anaesthetic, they cannot remove disease-causing bacteria below the gumline.
Veterinary dental specialists recommend pet owners avoid these services, as they do nothing improve oral health.
5. You Can Judge A Pet’s Oral Health by Its Appetite
Myth: If an animal is still eating, it must not have dental issues.
Fact: Many pets will eat despite severe oral pain.
It’s true: loss of appetite and difficulty chewing are tell-tale signs of periodontal disease. However, these are far from the only signs, and many dogs, cats and other pets will not stop eating just because they’re in pain.
When an animal is in pain, they will often instinctively try to conceal it. It’s typical for an animal with serious oral health issues to clean their bowl as usual.
This is one reason why it’s important for owners to stay vigilant about their pet’s oral health and be aware of other warning signs, such as:
- Red or bleeding gums
- Pawing at the mouth
- Loose or missing teeth
- Facial swelling
- Nasal discharge
- Gum recession
Pet owners should also take steps to prevent these issues at home; which leads to the final veterinary dental myth that must be quashed.
6. Dogs Don’t Need to Have Their Teeth Brushed
Myth: Dogs clean their teeth naturally by gnawing on bones and chew toys, so they don’t need to have their teeth brushed.
Fact: Daily brushing is the best way to prevent oral health issues in dogs.
By the age of 3, over 85% of dogs have some degree of periodontal disease.
It begins when bacteria form plaque on the teeth, gradually working their way under the gums. Over time, oral bacteria damage the supportive tissue around the teeth. In serious cases, periodontal disease can destroy the gum, bone and ligaments holding teeth in place and even infect the bloodstream.
Fortunately, there is a simple way to deter this prevalent problem: regular brushing.
As demonstrated by this video, the process is no different from how we humans brush. Dog toothpaste is available in appealing flavours like chicken and seafood. Eventually, the routine can become as natural as brushing our own teeth.
Vets and veterinary dentists should encourage this practice among every owner they advise.
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