How To Take Care Of Your Dog's Teeth
Or Why Your Dog Should Be Paleo
Dogs are in the midst of a crisis right now. They have skyrocketing rates of modern diseases they never had. The same diseases that humans get in fact. Gum disease, cavities, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Why? The same reason we do; eating a diet and living a lifestyle incompatible with their genetic heritage.
Dogs are very closely related to wolves, as evidenced by the fact that they can breed together and have viable, fertile pups. This actually makes them members of the same species (Canis Lupis Familiaris and Canis Lupis). By studying wolves in the wild, we see them in their optimal environment and can compare them to dogs today to gain useful knowledge about natural environments and health. This is ancestral health and no different than observing the differences in hunter gatherer lifestyles compared to modern human lifestyles to understand how genetic mismatches to the environment can lead to disease.
Wolves and dogs are much more similar than you think. The majority of differences between them are superficial. The major differences are in size, color and shape. The teeth, digestive systems and enzymes are about the same. Dogs have spent over ten thousand years eating some human food, hence they have a better ability to digest carbohydrates than wolves. For this reason, many classify dogs as omnivores. But to what extent? The graph I made below illustrates the continuum between the extremes. It assumes the less meat consumed, the more vegetation consumed calorically. The extreme left represents 100% carnivory and the extreme right 100% herbivory. The bulk of the graph represents omnivory in all of its forms.
Scale Of Omnivory
If I eat a 100% vegetable diet but accidentally eat one aphid per year, does that make me an omnivore? Not really. There are animals that need to be strictly adherent to either extreme in order to survive and they are called obligate carnivores and herbivores. The animals that appear to be carnivores, prefer to be carnivores, but can survive on with some omnivorous eating as needed are called facultative carnivores. Wolves and dogs are in this category. The bottom line is that wolves consume about 1% carbohydrate to dogs 7%. Not a huge difference, and it is obvious that they prefer to be carnivores. Due to the obvious similarities between wolves and dogs, there is value in comparing their diet and lifestyles.
Most Dogs Are Not Paleo
On average, today’s dry dog foods contain somewhere between 46 and 74 percent carbohydrates. This is not good. For the same reasons that a diet high in processed fermentible carbohydrates is bad for you and me, it is bad for your dog. If you are familiar with this site, you already know that we see almost a complete absence of Gum disease, cavities, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and cancer in hunter gatherer populations, and the same applies to wild wolf populations. See my post for more on the subject here.
Since dogs are facultative carnivores, you should feed your dog accordingly. This means that raw meat should constitute the bulk of their diet. There are many raw food options on the market today that contain all of the nutrients your dog needs to be healthy. They generally contain bones and raw meat. For this reason the diet is called the BARF diet for “bones and raw food”. Most of them come frozen. The recommended serving amounts based on the size and activity level of your dog will be on the package.
In the photo below you can see that a dog has mostly conical teeth and spacing between the teeth, making their teeth naturally more resistant to cavities. They have an average decay rate of less than 6%. Their main issue is gingivitis and gum disease which has an 85% prevalence. Hard chew sticks help to remove plaque, are enjoyable to your pet and should be offered. Some dogs will not chew, especially older dogs. For that reason, I recommend brushing your dog’s teeth once daily.
I have had quite a bit of experience taking care of my dogs teeth over the years. Since I am a dentist, I even scale their teeth twice each year. I don’t recommend that you try doing this, even though it is probably easy to buy dental scalers these days on the internet. I think the risk of injuring your dog is too great. You can use a regular toothbrush. If you have a small breed, then use a small one. I use an end tufted brush since my dogs are really small.
Follow the link below for a quick video tutorial on the correct way to brush your dog’s teeth
The video above features a very cooperative subject. Many dogs will squirm when you attempt to brush their teeth. I recommend taking several weeks time to let your dog accommodate to the new routine. Get assistance from someone your dog likes if you can. Toothpaste is optional, and never use the human variety. I do recommend the kind specifically made for dogs, mostly because it is a treat and will encourage them to want the brush touching their mouth. Start slowly by letting them lick the brush and get used to a bit of motion. I don’t recommend letting them chew the brush, as this will become their strategy to avoid brushing. Do this for only a few seconds initially and build up slowly over several days and weeks. Always use positive training methods and rewards. Do not scold or yell at your dog ever. Dogs want to please their owners. Don’t use their favorite location, as they may start avoiding it and you when you approach. Choose a unique location where they don’t normally spend time.
Sometimes your dog just won’t stay still enough to let you brush their teeth ever. If you don’t make any progress after several weeks, there is a solution. You can swaddle your dog. They may fuss while you are trying to swaddle them, but once they are wrapped up, they calm down just like a baby. You may need some help initially. Check out the video below to see how to do this.
Just because you brush your dog’s teeth, does not mean that they don’t need to see a vet for a dental checkup. Just like you still need to see a dentist regularly, even when you brush and floss like a pro. If you are overdue, call your dentist to make sure you are problem free.