Are bones good for keeping our dog and cat’s teeth clean?

Bones are not all they cracked up to be. Over the years I have seen many dogs with damaged teeth from chewing on bones. Some of these teeth have required complete extraction which while an acceptable treatment, is not a desirable outcome.

More recently in my travels as a mobile vet I have seen a number of badly cracked teeth and I had to do some major dental surgery last week to remove one of these.

You would think that eating bones is natural for dogs and cats and you would be right. However the problem is that the bones we feed them aren’t so natural. They have generally been chopped or cut up by the butcher and more often than not have very little meat on them.

In the wild a dog or a cat would be eating the whole animal carcass, taking the meat off the bone, eating some of the other parts and chewing through some of the softer bones leaving the remains behind. In our suburban lifestyles these chopped up bones with little meat are very hazardous for our loving companions as the pieces can wedge between the teeth and the force of the bite then causes nasty fractures and cracks.

If there were an ideal bone for our pets it would be a whole bone not cut up, an appropriate size for the pet with plenty of meat on it and not so much fat. This bone would then be a meal for the pet eg. a lamb shank for a dog and a chicken leg for a cat. Once the lamb shank has been stripped of the meat by the dog, it should then be thrown out. Chicken bones aren’t so much of a problem for teeth because they are much softer.

The other major problem bones can cause in our pets is foreign body obstruction. These can be very serious and even cause death. Neck bones (vertebrae) can lodge in the oesophagus and if these can’t be removed with an endoscope then they have to be retrieved by opening up the chest.

This is major surgery with significant complications that also can cause death. Other bones, especially cooked ones, get stuck in the intestine and often also require surgery to retrieve them. There is no doubt preventing this scenario is far more desirable.

So what can you do to keep your dog and cat’s teeth clean? It is actually a very good question that has been stumping people for a very long time. Firstly I think it is important to note that dental health has a large genetic component as does really everything as we are quickly beginning to discover. Even dogs within the same litter can have very different dental health despite the same management.

The best way to keep our pets teeth clean and minimise possible dental problems is to brush them every day!

Is this realistic? Certainly not for every owner or every pet, but in many cases it is possible and does in fact help. For the rest of us, we need to concentrate on diets. A natural meaty diet for adult cats will help to maintain dental hygiene. Feeding chunky pieces of meat is helpful as is a chicken leg or wing. These can be fed daily as meals to adult cats but be careful to monitor your cats weight closely.

For dogs there are many types of dental treats available such as Greenies and other dental chews and for both dogs and cats there are dental hygiene diets available in the premium range of foods from vets and pet shops.

Regardless of the type of dental hygiene that you choose to implement for your pet, many will still need regular dental cleans in hospital, similar to us visiting our dentist (and we brush our teeth twice a day!).

With dogs and cats and other species for example ferrets, this involves giving an anaesthetic since it is very uncommon for a pet to sit in our dentist’s chair and hold their mouth open! Fortunately these days anaesthetics are very safe in healthy pets and the procedure only requires a short day stay in hospital.

Don’t hesitate to give me a call if you wish to discuss anything further. I am more than happy to call to your house and give your pet a general physical examination and dental assessment.

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