Okay. Let's talk about... teefs.
When Winston was two I got the first indication from the vet that this was going to be a problem.
"He's got quite a lot of plaque and it will need cleaning regularly." they said.
I remember being horrified - he was only two! Aside from the £200 bill every time, I didn't really want to put Winston through the stress of being put under anesthesia just to have his teeth cleaned every year for the rest of his life.
So... I had to get creative. Winston isn't a huge fan (unsurprisingly...) of having a tooth brush forced into his mouth once a month, let alone daily!
Fortunately, after plenty of research, some changes to his diet and a few handy supplements his dental hygiene has completely changed, without a toothbrush in site. He's now nearing six and the vet hasn't ever mentioned it again. Phew!
This blog covers some of the natural ways that you can improve your dog's hygiene. Some pretty radical (diet changes) and some easier to implement; but none of them involve chemical toothpastes or anesthesia.
So the first and most radical change that I made was to Winston's diet. When he came to us, he was fed on a reasonably high quality kibble, which I had changed to an even higher percentage of meat and veg option. It was grain free, made from human grade ethically sourced ingredients but it still caused plaque.
The reason that most kibbles contribute to plaque build up is due to the high levels of carbohydrates. Humans are well-equipped for starchy diets: Human saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts breaking down starches as soon as food hits the mouth.
Dogs do not have the enzyme amylase in their saliva to break down the starch so the bacteria in the mouth feed on these sugars and carbohydrates. This leads to rapid tartar and plaque buildup.
Even those kibbles that are not full of starches and sugars (like the one Winston was on...) have their downsides. By their very design the pieces are usually small and easy to swallow, creating very little friction (think flossing) on the teeth.
So... I switched Winston to raw. I had always given him raw bones (more about them below!) which he seemed to enjoy, but I went whole hog and switched him to raw meals too.
I dabbled with DIY where you make the meals yourself, (there are some amazing companies out there that can help you with this such as Paleo Ridge, who not only stock a wide variety of ethically sourced meats, but have a really active and informative facebook community) but in the end, it wasn't for us. Winston didn't really "eat" the whole pieces of food... he'd rather carry them around the house... eventually "killing" them by shaking his head violently resulting in liver splashes all over my ceiling... nice.
So we tried to a minced option. Companies such as Naturaw (who we currently use) do a wide variety of flavours that meet the 80/10/10 rule (80% meat, 10% offal and 10% bone) and offer a great mixed box which you can order on subscription. Winston took an immediate liking, actually bothered turning up at mealtimes - previously he had been known to ignore his dinner!
The reduction in carbohydrates between kibble and raw and the abrasion from the pieces of raw bone had an immediate impact and the levels of plaque started to reduce almost instantly.
I appreciate that raw food isn't for everyone, and below is a couple of other things that I have added to this change which would probably have an impact just on their own so please, keep on reading!
Chewing is a really important part of dog behaviour and comes with many benefits, especially when they are chewing on something other than your slippers.
Chewing in dogs not only releases endorphins which promote calmness and soothe anxiety, they can also provide mental stimulation AND be a great way to clean your dog's teeth. Not a bad three in one combo.
There are many types of chews that you can get - Toy chews, natural chews that aren't to be consumed and foodie chews too.
Winston isn't a huge toy chewer, but I know some dogs that will gnaw on a toy bone all day! What you are looking for is a toy that can provide friction against the teeth - something with texture preferably.
Chew Roots are a great option as a kind of chew / toy hybrid. They are generally made from specific woods that don't splinter such as coffee wood, or olive wood.
We have included these gorgeous chews boy Urze portugal in the subscription box before, and they went down a treat!
Raw bones often raise lots of controversy, but they, like all toys, can be safe for dogs when fed correctly, and are size appropriate.
The bones that you see in most pet stores labelled as "smoked" or "stuffed" in my opinion, are terribly dangerous. Bones with these types of labels have been heat treated which changes the chemical structure of the bones, making them harder than raw bones and prone to splintering. They also can cause blockages as they are extremely hard to digest.
Raw bones in contrast, are safe, and a great addition to a dogs diet to aid their dental health. A good rule of thumb is to choose bones that are non weight bearing such as neck or rib bones. These are not only smaller, but much less dense and therefore digestible. Plus, the mixture of sinew, tendons and tasty meats that are left act as natural doggy floss!
If you prefer to give your dog an edible chew, make sure that you take a peek at the ingredients. Big name brand dental treats... I wont name and shame.. but you know who you are! Pooch and Mutt released an interesting report in 2017 that highlights some of the damning data behind these chews.
SUPPLEMENTS & OTHER IDEAS
This final section covers the extras... the other ideas that you can do to help your dog's dental hygiene.
My personal favourite is Coconut Oil. I have talked about the benefits of coconut oil in several of my other blogs, mainly about its anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties in cuts and scrapes - but it can help heal in pooch's mouths too!
I add some shapes to Winston's dinner. I generally make these myself by melting coconut oil, and adding what I fancy (turmeric is a fave!) but sometimes it's nice to have these ready prepped and use some made by the gorgeous Harley Bear's Coco Bites.
Caroline Hearn from Hedgerow Hounds, a qualified holistic therapist and nutritionist recommends using a "lint cloth finger mit with a dog friendly paste for those tricky bits at the top of the canine teeth."
Last but not least, we also use a Seaweed Supplement which gets added to Winson's dinner. It contains only a couple of natural ingredients, and this blog from Nutra Vet explains how it works.
"Ascophyllum nodosum is commonly used in dental care for dogs and cats. Seaweed is good for the teeth due to an enzyme known as Bacillus licheniformis. The enzyme works to protect against tooth decay by stripping bacteria away from plaque."
I hope that this blog gives you a few ideas of what you can do to help your dog's hygiene without too much brushing time!