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Much Ado About Brushing: How to Keep Our Pets' Teeth Clean When We Don't Brush Them Regularly

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Did you know that we're supposed to brush our dog and cats' teeth daily? Me neither! And it turns out, most pet owners, including vets, haven't been the best at keeping up with our pets' oral health.

Don't fret, all is not lost. On today's show, Dr. J shares tips and recommendations for better oral health. And as he shares, the best solution, is the one you will actually put into action.

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Transcript below

Mia: Alright, welcome back to another episode of Paws and Play with Dr. J. I'm your cohost, Mia, Dr. J, how you doing?

Dr. J: I'm doing very well today, Mia. Thanks. How are you?

Mia: I am doing great. Although, I'm not doing great at taking care of my animals' teeth, apparently.

Dr. J: And you wouldn't be alone.

Mia: Well, I'm learning that because I actually thought I was doing really great by brushing Marshall's teeth once a week. I thought, "Oh yeah, I'm a great owner." And then I found out that we're actually supposed to be brushing their teeth at least once a day.

Dr. J: Yeah, I mean once a day is the ideal to be sure. Well, I guess twice a day would be ideal, but once a day would be pretty epic and you'd probably be in the top point one of one percent of one percent of pet owners out there if you're doing it daily, including vets. I'll throw most of us under the bus. We also — veterinary confidential — we don't, most of us don't tend to brush our pets' teeth daily.

A — we tend to have a lot of pets and B — we tend to be really busy and pretty tired when we get home from a shift. So yeah, daily is fantastic if you could do it, and people should aim for that if possible. At least a couple, few times a week, tends to perhaps be a bit more practical for people.

You know, honestly, even weekly is okay. I mean, it's not going to do phenomenal work at kind of keeping their teeth and their gums healthy, but it's going to be better than never doing it at all. And there's other things you can do other than brushing. And brushing is definitely the gold standard, but there's some other things that people could be doing to kind of maintain at home, oral care for their pets.

Mia: Well, great. That is a big focus, I hope, for this episode, because brushing Marshall's teeth, and I am incredibly embarrassed to say I have never brushed Mazel's teeth. He does have some treats that are supposed to help with that. But uh, you know, it's kinda like going to the gym for myself, if I feel like I can't do a great job, I'm just like, eh.

Dr. J: We know what we should do for better health, for ourselves and for our pets. But whether or not we do it is a whole other matter and I totally get that.

periodontal disease in pets

Mia: Yeah. So finding some kind of workarounds is going to be really important. So, you've been looking into animal mouths for a long time. In general, how would you say we owners are doing?

Dr. J: Well, we owners, including myself, are not doing particularly well when it comes to taking care of our pets' teeth at home. We definitely could be doing a better job and I think that if we, again toothbrushing is the gold standard but there are other things that we can do that I think can maybe give people a little bit more leeway to be doing some stuff that'll help protect their pets’ oral health, which can also protect their systemic health, the health of the rest of their body as well.

Mia: Okay. So obviously getting our pets started early with the brushing, like when they're puppies or kittens is the ideal and it's going to make everything easier moving forward. But let's just say that you're new to all of this, where should you start if you're just kind of getting on board with all of this.

Dr. J: I think the first thing is to look at your pet's mouth. You know, you can do this at home. Look and see do the gums look healthy and pink or do they look really red? Do they look inflamed? Do they look swollen? Are there any obvious broken teeth? Is there a lot of tartar on the teeth? So the really hard calculus tartar on the teeth.

And also having an oral exam done by your veterinarian because if those things are going on, so if their gums are red and inflamed, maybe if the gums have receded and we're starting to see some of the more advanced signs of periodontal disease.

If you've got tooth fractures, you don't want to jump in with trying to brush their teeth or even like doing a wipe on their teeth or anything that because those teeth are painful and so aside from the fact that you might get your finger bit and or your face caught off if it's a cat, you're also going to start having your pet associate, the tooth brushing, or the tooth rubbing, or whatever it might be, with pain.

And you don't want to do that because then that's going to be much more difficult to then retrain them later to accept and actually enjoy having their teeth brushed and cared for at home because a lot of pets when they are acclimated to it correctly and when it's done well, actually really enjoy it I think.

I think at some point didn't we see a video? Wasn't there a video of a cat or a dog that would like wait every day to have his tooth brush? Teeth brushed?

Mia: I haven't seen it, but please forward it to me.

 

 

Dr. J: You know, there are plenty of pets that really enjoy it. And when I do do it for my dog, she really loves it. I just don't do it frequently enough.

Mia: Yeah. Marshall actually doesn't mind getting his teeth brushed and he likes — well I should rephrase that. He doesn't mind getting certain teeth brushed. And he enjoys the taste of the enzymatic toothpaste, but it's just trying to get to the back of his mouth is really difficult.

Dr. J: Well that's really difficult, based on the dog and you know, their temperament and also the breed, the confirmation of the dog. If you've got a, say a Rough Collie or something like that or you know, Border Collies, something with a nice long snout, that is used to it and really enjoys it, you're probably gonna have much better luck getting to a lot of those back teeth, those big molars and everything.

But if you've got a dog like Marshall, you know, a Frenchie with a slightly more squishy face and therefore shorter snout, it's going to be more difficult to get in there because they've got the same number of teeth. All adult dogs for the most part, have 42 teeth. They've got the same number of teeth but crammed into a smaller space. And then also as you're holding his mouth open to get to his teeth, you're kind of taking away his main way of breathing, because brachycephalic dogs can't breathe through their noses very well.

rough collie vs frenchie mouths

Mia: Oh, that's an interesting point, yeah.

Dr. J: So, you know, a lot of people will probably report having more difficulty with brachycephalic dogs and cats just because we're kind of making it more difficult for them to breathe in the process of brushing their teeth.

Mia: Well, I can't get him to open his mouth very far at all. So I'm a uh, I've never noticed the struggle for breath. He just wants to get on that toothpaste. Um, but I just kinda let him, you know, like bite the toothbrush, and I figured that's doing some of the brushing.

Dr. J: I mean just getting some of the — I mean obviously if he bites off a chunk and then eats it, that's not good, but most dogs aren't going to do that. But you know, that degree of even just sort of like, kinda gnawing on the brush and getting that toothpaste in there and having a little bit of mechanical scraping action with the bristles can be helpful on the teeth that he's chewing on.

So most dogs tend to chew on their back, on their back teeth. So their big molars and stuff. So that may be getting you a little bit of protection and benefit there. But, we're still then missing those front teeth, the little incisors and the canines, the big fangs and stuff like that. So yeah.

But, getting the toothpaste in there, even if it's not with the brush, even just on your finger — they have those little finger brushes or even like a piece of a gauze square, like a three by three or four by four gauze square that you get at a pharmacy, wrap that well around your finger and put on some of the toothpaste.

And I would, you know, people really do need to know, get a pet-specific toothpaste. One, because it's going to typically be flavored, whether it be beef or chicken or tuna or malt or whatever, and their pet is more likely to like that flavor and that smell and be more accepting of it.

But also because they've typically got enzymes that can help break things down, break down some of the proteins that could be causing problems on their teeth.

But also because a lot of the human toothpaste have fluoride and we don't want pets, we can't really tell our pets to spit it out and they're more likely to swallow the fluoride, which could be a problem long term.

And then a lot of them have the foaming agents which can kind of make them nauseous, especially when swallowed. And then more and more toothpastes have xylitol in them, which can be a very significant problem for dogs. So just stick with the pet specific toothpastes.

Mia: Okay. So what are, you mentioned a couple of different cleaning devices besides using a pet specific toothbrush. Um, and I guess you don't even necessarily have to use a pet specific toothbrush, although some of them are curved a little, right? In order to...

Dr. J: Yeah. And some of them have like the, you know, the kind of two sides so you can sort of snuggle the tooth, if you will. No, I mean honestly, one of the things that I really like to use for dogs is, and I learned this when we had our first daughter, is the little toddler toothbrushes that are a little bit smaller. They've got a smaller head and they come in like extra soft bristles. Those can be really nice because you've got a little bit of a handle, not too much that you're that far away and they tend to be a little bit sturdier.

So it just depends on your dog or your cat and the size of them and the size of their mouth and how tolerant they are to it.

As far as what works. What I will say, is just like the case with people is you don't want to use extremely hard bristles and you don't want to push too hard. I mean, it's not a matter of trying to, you know, wear down the teeth, scrub absolutely everything off of there.

You're really just trying to break up the plaque that's on there, and remove the plaque before it becomes tartar, before it hardens and becomes tartar, or some people call it calculus — which I guess is easy to remember because calculus is fairly hard.

Mia: Fairly?

Dr. J: Yeah. Well, everyone's different. I will say I was in the very hard camp, but I'm sure there's people out there listening for which it was a breeze.

Mia: Well, to be honest, I'm not even sure how I passed it. I had some kind of calculus angels sitting by me when was taking my tests in college. Thank God for multiple choice. So. Okay. So. But besides the toothbrush, I've used wipes, I guess that, that they say that you don't have to put anything on them.

Dr. J: Yeah. They're typically come pre-medicated. So they've either got like, you know, an enzymatic base or like a Chlorhexidine, you know, some sort of antiseptic base on them. And then it's a slightly rough pad so you are getting some mechanical cleaning action there.

And for some people, those can be much easier than going through, getting the toothbrush, getting the toothpaste, dealing with that. So for some people that's their daily oral home care for their pets, is using one of those medicated wipes wrapped around your finger. And again, you just want to make sure your pet doesn't get it in their mouth and grab it and swallow it because then that can cause a problem.

Mia: Of course. Well I've, I've just found that it was easier for me to feel around in there. The thimble thing was a bit much for my dainty little fingers. But you know, so there's also, there's also these treats and chews.

Dr. J: There's diets.

Mia: There’s diets. So there's all these different things. But I have to imagine that, you know, the ability for them to actually do something is, you know, very, I don't know, spread out in terms of efficiency.

Dr. J: So I'll tell you, that the thing that's the most effective is the thing that you could do on a regular, ideally daily basis.

VOHC-Seal-of-AprovalSo toothbrushing gold standard, but if you're only able to do it once a month or once a year, it's not going to be that great. Let me say this first thing first. If you're gonna to get a product for dental health for your pets, whether it be a treat or a toothpaste or a diet or something like that, you really want to look for the VOHC seal of approval.

So VOHC stands for Veterinary Oral Health Council, and that is a group that now, they don't do their own testing on products, but let's say that you're making a dog treat or a cat tree and you want to say that it helps scrape plaque off teeth or prevent against the formation of tartar.

You would ideally then do studies, clinical studies and research studies to prove that it actually does what it says on the tin, like that it actually does help prevent plaque and/or tartar. And then you would take those studies to the Veterinary Oral Health Council, it's a voluntary thing.

You would take your studies there and say, we want to have a claim on our label that says prevents plaque. And they would look at your studies and say, okay, this was, either this was a well designed study and you got the results that show that it prevents plaque, or it's not a well designed study, or it didn't show conclusively that it prevents plaque and based on their assessment of your research, they would then either grant you or deny you the use of the VOHC seal of approval. So it's a nice thing.

It's kind of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. You know, as a consumer you can look at the VOHC seal of approval and say that product has a VOHC seal of approval for plaque, or tartar control, or both, or what have you. I at least can rest a little bit more comfortably knowing that the money I'm spending on this is going to actually give me some dental benefit for my pets.

So look for the VOHC seal of approval and they have it on, you know, it's on water additives, toothpastes. I think even toothbrushes, dental chews, dental diets. Just keep an eye out for that.

Mia: Well, you know, it's interesting because I went to the VOHC website and was looking around and right now there are like, literally as of July 26th, 2018, there are only 37 dog and 14 cat products that have actually gotten the seal. It sounds. That sounds incredibly small to me considering how many products are available.

Dr. J: Well that's not to say, again, it's a voluntary thing for a company to go to get that seal. So that's not to say that there aren't other products out there that actually helped prevent plaque and tartar. But it just means that they've either not voluntarily sought out the VOHC seal of approval, or they did, and their testing didn't pass muster.

So. But really, I mean, as a consumer, you want to have the best in most peace of mind possible. If you're gonna be spending your money on something that's saying it's going to help the oral health of your pet, why not get something that someone else has looked at and said, yep, you've done the research, they've done the research and it does what it says on the tin.

Mia: Also on the VOHC site, in regards to all of the products that were listed, it says regular use of products carrying the VOHC seal will reduce the severity of periodontal disease in pets. And, a lot of the times, I think on like the greenies thing and stuff like that, a lot of it says regular use. What, what does that mean? What does that even mean?

Because I'm also assuming that, like with everything else, you can overdo it.

Dr. J: You can, you know, typically the problem is that people under-do it. And you don't have to pick one thing and just do that, right? You know, you could feed a VOHC seal of approval dental diet, right, and maybe not even like, I mean, I think that they guarantee them where they're testing is done if it's fed exclusively, right?

So if you're just feeding that diet to your pet, they're, you know, they're going to get some significant dental benefit, but you know, every pet is different in terms of what they eat.

I personally am a huge fan of wet food for cats and there aren't any VOHC seal of approval wet canned food diets for cats.

So you know, even if you're using a good dental diet, you know as like a treat or as like a little bit or as some of their dry food component, whether it be dog or cat, that's at least giving you some benefit right there.

Now are you going to get the full benefit? Probably not, but if you combine that with toothbrushing, again, ideally daily, but maybe like a couple, few times a week, and then maybe you give them other dental treats that like throughout the day because people give their pets things, you know, either for training treats or just because, or you know, like a long acting something to kind of keep them occupied as they're sitting in their kennel.

So all these things in conjunction can help their overall oral health. You know, the sad reality is, even with good dental care at home, most pets need under anesthesia, proper oral evaluation and cleaning, and potentially extractions depending, semi-regularly.

It just depends on what you're doing at home. The genetics of your pet, how big they are and their overall health. And so the recommendation for frequency of dentals could be anywhere from six months for a really small dog that's got really bad dental disease, to, you know, maybe every couple of years. But it should always be evaluated at least annually by your vet with a thorough oral exam.

Mia: Okay. So you mentioned that anesthesia would be important for this and I guess x rays as well.

Dr. J: Anesthesia really is critical for this because I mean if you think about it, if, if somebody could safely and effectively hold your pet's mouth open long enough to do like a, a cleaning then you could probably hold it open long enough to do a toothbrushing at home. And most people struggle to do that.

So the probability of an awake animal actually holding their mouth open and allowing a good thorough cleaning is pretty slim. There are definitely pets that can do it, but you know, those are oftentimes the exception rather than the rule.

And even if they will hold their mouth open, you really can't get as thorough of a look, and looking at all the surfaces. I mean, when we anesthetize a pet to do a dental, we are looking at the back part of the teeth, what we would call the lingual surface. So back where, the surface that kind of faces the tongue.

We're looking at the top, the occlusal surface. We're looking at the front. So the buccal surface by the cheeks. We're evaluating the gums, we're evaluating the gum line, we're evaluating the teeth.

We're also looking for oral masses like things that could potentially be tumors or ulcers. And sometimes, you know, ulceration could be indicative of another problem within the body, like with the kidneys.

We're looking for all kinds of things, all kinds of problems to hopefully find that they're not there. But unfortunately frequently we get in there and we find that they are. And that could be a fractured tooth.

You know, cats have this unfortunate predisposition for forming what are called resorptive lesions where basically the body, the body's immune system turns on its own enamel. So it starts attacking the enamel on the teeth and starts breaking it down.

And then these cats basically have weakened enameled denuded parts of their teeth, which are really quite painful. And unfortunately a lot of them kind of rest right at the gum line. And partially below the gum line, so you really can't see them externally initially, and certainly typically not in an awake cat.

But once you get them under anesthesia, you can find these things. When you take dental x rays, you find resorptive lesions, you can even find retained roots from previous extractions.

Or if a pet had a crown, like a top of their tooth fracture off, maybe the roots have been left behind and that can cause problems. You can find the early signs of a brewing tooth root abscess. So the dental x rays really help you get a complete picture of your pet's mouth.

So if you're just going in for like a, you know, a non anesthetized cleaning, even if your pet behaves well and there's no risk of damage with the sharp instruments to their gums or their tongue, which does unfortunately happen, but even if they behave well, no pet is going to allow somebody with an ultrasonic scaler to get up under their gum line.

That's just horrible and awkward for them. And even if they would, we're also using water just like dentists do for us, we're also using water to flush those things out. If you're doing it on an awake animal, they...

Mia: Traumatizing.

Dr. J: Not just traumatizing but they're also at risk of aspirating that water and the bacteria in the plaque that you've just broken off, or have the tartar rather, that you've just broken off and getting into their lungs and now you potentially have a pneumonia setup.

So when they're under anesthesia, we've got an endotracheal tube in to deliver the gas anesthesia but also to protect their airway so that risk is greatly decreased.

So for some pets, for the right pets, a non anesthetized dental cleaning evaluation sort of in between, anesthetized dentals for maintenance if your pet is good, going to be well behaved for it, you know, and likes it, and if the person doing it is well trained and knows what they're looking for, and you also appreciate that it is not a replacement for an anesthetized dental cleaning, then that can be part of your, in between cleanings. You know, quote unquote "home care".

But really the anesthetized dental cleaning is gold standard and really is very important for cats and dogs. Okay.

Mia: Well, again, not something that I have been great at doing throughout Marshall and Mazel's lives so far.

Dr. J: And again, you're not alone there, and I get it. I mean these dental cleanings under anesthesia can be expensive, sometimes on the order of, 500 to even potentially $1,500 or more depending on how many extractions are needed, if any, how long it takes, how big your, in this case typically dogs are, and how much anesthesia they're going through, with the preoperative blood work, with the IV catheter, with the monitoring.

But it's amazing the value you actually get for that, and the peace of mind and the overall dental and overall health benefit that your pet is getting from it.

So, I mean I get that they're expensive. I get that it's time consuming. I get that people are, maybe have anesthesia concerns and we do have an article on the site written by a board certified anesthesiologist about questions to ask your vet to minimize the risks of anesthesia.

But I will say generally anesthesia for cats and dogs is typically extremely safe.

You know, you take the precautions beforehand of doing the blood work and the urine testing to make sure their overall health is truly good.

You know, you have an IV catheter in so you're giving them fluids to maintain their blood pressure and make sure that you've got vascular access should a problem arise.

But I get that people have questions about and concerns about anesthesia. Those can be addressed. And also about the cost. Again, the more home care you do, the more regularly you do these anesthetized cleanings, typically the less often you need extractions, which can save money.

And I can tell you they're typically less expensive on an elective basis rather than waiting until you have a tooth abscess or there's a fracture that maybe then puts your pet off of their food. Those tend to be more expensive.

Mia: Yeah, I mean, so speaking of your dog or cat, you know, not uh, not eating as well as they used to, um, you know, what are some of the signs of some dental unhealth? Because I saw a staggering statistic that said something like 80 to 90 percent of dogs and cats in this survey ended up having over the age of three years old ended up having some kind of periodontal disease.

Dr. J: Yeah. And it's true. I mean over three years old, we start to really see some of those, some of those signs, some of those problems.

Think about if we didn't brush her own teeth for six months

Mia: Yeah, terrible.

Dr. J: I mean it's, and it doesn't take long for these problems to take hold and get up under the gum line. And that's where we really, that's what periodontal disease is. We start seeing breakdown of the periodontal ligaments that actually help to hold the teeth in place. Which goes back to your first question.

Mia: So, like what are the signs really?

Dr. J: So, I mean, most people think, all right, my dog or my cat's breath isn't good, it's their teeth and frequently it is. But there can be other issues that can lead to bad breath, like kidney disease, we can have foreign bodies.

I've seen plenty of dogs that go around chewing on sticks and then they wind up breaking off a part of this stick that gets lodged between their big molars up top and up against the hard palate and that just sits there and starts decaying and eroding the teeth.

Choose wisely, so your pup chews wisely

So, there's a number of things that can cause bad breath other than dental disease. But if you're noticing bad breath, it warrants a veterinary evaluation and your vet can help you get to the bottom of that.

Mia: Which is also kind of a reminder that just using breath spray or something on your pet — I mean, I get it, you want to like mask the smell. But it could be masking some serious problems as well.

Dr. J: Definitely. Definitely. You really want to have it addressed medically first. And then, you know, you can jump in with those things to kind of help as well. But as far as other signs of oral disease, if your pet goes off their food, they might be suffering from oral disease or oral pain.

If they're eating, but they're dropping food or they're slobbering water more than usual. I mean, if we're talking about a Bloodhound or a St. Bernard, it's kind of what they do professionally. They slobber. But if you're noticing that they're doing it more often, it could be dental disease. It could be neurologic dysfunction as well, but it could be dental disease.

If you notice that they're just kinda sitting there and their, and their jaw is kind of chattering— and that's pretty common as well. Well, I don't know how common, but you can often, you can see that perhaps in cats that have these resorptive lesions.

We can definitely see it even when we've got them under anesthesia. So they're completely anesthetized, completely unaware in terms of their mentation. You touch one of these resorptive lesions with your ultrasonic scaler and their teeth just start to chatter. Like it's just, those things are quite painful for them.

Even if they're just like pawing or scratching at their face or rubbing their face against the carpet regularly in one particular spot on their face, and that's a new development, that could be signs of dental disease.

If they get a tooth root abscess, you might get swelling above the nose, below the eye or on the bottom of the jaw. So we might be having a tooth abscess, developing.

If your dog is chewing on a toy and you notice little blood spots, that could be a sign of gingival inflammation, periodontal disease, dental disease.

And then again on a daily or even weekly basis, look at your pets teeth. If their gums are red, swollen, things of that nature, then that's a very clear sign of bad oral health.

Mia: Yeah. So I don't think we've, we've finished all of the different other solutions that we can give in the interim, in between brushing.

I think you had mentioned briefly some water additives. I don't know, I'm a little leery, but openminded.

Dr. J: No, I mean again, there are some that have the VOHC seal of approval, so, water additives can be useful.

I mean it depends on how much water your cat or your dog is drinking from their water bowl or if they're drinking it from, if you're putting it in their water bowl and they're drinking from a leaky faucet or the toilet, obviously it's not going to do very much.

But these things can help. There's one thing I will say, there used to be, and I think there might still be, some water additives that contain xylitol and they are typically in a small amount.

So when used appropriately, and we've just recently discovered, Xylitol is not toxic to cats in the way it's toxic to dogs. So as far as the water additive containing Xylitol for your cats should be perfectly fine. But of course a lot of people who have cats also have dogs. So you got to be careful.

Mia: Yeah, no sharing the water bowls for that.

Dr. J: So again, but you know, the Xylitol and there is typically in a small amount, but if you miss pour it or if it falls over or something like that, you just got to be aware of that potential danger.

But generally speaking, as far as water additives, they can be effective. Again,  I know of at least one that has the VOHC seal of approval. So they can be useful and an easy thing to do on a daily basis.

Again, we talked earlier about the most effective thing is the thing that you, you actually do, right? And so if that's part of your plan and you have a water additive and you're brushing a couple times a week and you're giving some dental treats and you're giving, maybe dental diet, that's a good plan.

Mia: It certainly seems like it's an easy thing to do. So okay. Obviously if there's Xylitol, just, I don't know, I would say just avoid it altogether. That's just me. Just to avoid the Xylitol in general.

Dr. J: I would suggest that.

Mia: But, but otherwise if, if your dog like Marshall and Mazel share each other's, you know, everything, I'm assuming. Well I guess I, I'm just unclear like how much of the additive needs to get in their mouths for it to be effective. Like, like could, could they share it? The serving size?

Dr. J: Well, I mean, you know, the labels talk about how much to put into a certain amount of water and then it depends on how much water your pets actually drinking. So it's a really difficult thing to gauge because every pet is going to be different.

But again, if it's got the seal of approval and it, they've done the studies to show that it can be effective. Again, you might not be getting the full benefit, but you may be getting a partial benefit.

Mia: Okay. Well, sure. And then they say, uh, the only bad question is the one that has never asked, but I would like to test that theory.

Dr. J: Alright, you've got me on my feet.

Mia: So I've got you know, the water fountain. Marshall and Mazel are the only two people in the house that drink filtered water. Would adding the dental additive or whatever...

Dr. J: Oh, like the water additive?

Mia: Yeah, to the filtered...

Dr. J: So, like, an actual, like, recirculating fountain. Yeah, that's a good question. It would depend on a couple of different factors.

One is the additive you're using and what the active ingredients are. So the most important ingredients in terms of preventing bad oral health are. And kind of how big they are in terms of molecular weight. Whether or not they're charged would have some impact because the second factor would be how that water recirculate or filters.

So does it filter with like an activated charcoal filter which works by absorption and therefore is depending on the charge of the molecules that would then stick to it?

Or does it filter by use of a physical filter that typically has little pores in the membrane that filters out things that are above a certain size. So all of those factors would go into whether or not it the additive, or active ingredients in the additive gets filtered out.

So it's tough to say blanket yes they're fine in recirculators, or no they're not. What I would suggest is the additive that you have may say on the label or on the website or if you call the company, can or cannot be used in water circulators.

But again, they may say it depends on the kind of circulator. So you might have to call that manufacturer.

Mia: So, ok, besides the water additives, what are some of the other treats. That's actually my go-to, are some of the ones that say, "You don't have to brush your pet's teeth, this does it for you!"

I'm assuming it's whatever it's filled with, it's probably got some enzymatic — like I don't know if it's filled with enzymatic toothpaste or what.

Dr. J: I mean a lot of these things have, they're a little bit more firm or malleable, that like the teeth kind of sink in and have a little bit of a scraping action.

Or they're coated with a kind of antiseptic solution. It just depends on the product. Again, I would look for VOHC seal of approval to see if it actually holds water as far as what they're claiming.

But importantly, you've got to watch your pet with any treat, to make sure they're using it correctly. One, to know that they're getting the dental benefit. And two, to make sure they're not at risk of a digestive obstruction.

Or even, I've seen dogs that are gnawing away on rawhides and just take a big chunk and try to swallow it. Or they take a big chunk and have it get stuck in their windpipe.

Actually speaking about those — and you know I always trend towards the problems.

Mia: Here we go everybody, buckle up!

Dr. J: No it's just a lot of people go towards the bones, and the big thing now is like deer antlers and elk antlers and stuff like that. Just run from those please.

Ask any veterinary dentist and most vets, we've all seen tooth fractures from deer antlers and elk antlers, and big marrow bones and knuckle bones and stuff like that.

Yes dogs in the wild perhaps ate bones. But dogs in the wild, the ancestors of these dogs that we have now, probably lived to about the ripe old age of 2 years old. Maybe 4, if they were lucky.

And plenty of them probably had problems from broken teeth, and infections, and pain, and went off their food. It's just, the risk.

Unless you're able and willing to go through all the dental care and have the teeth extracted if necessary, and you're watching very carefully. Just be really cautious about those.

These things are sold as like a great natural way to care for your dog's teeth. They're a great natural way to have fractured teeth and pain for your dog, and warrant potentially emergency dental extractions.

Mia: Well and that brings up a good question, you know. How do you know when a treat, or a chew, is too hard? Because it doesn't even have to be a bone. Some treats are super hard too.

Dr. J: I mean we talk about the thumbnail test for the most part. So if you can take your thumbnail and press it against the thing that you're going to be giving your dog, if it can make a little bit of an impression, then it's probably fine for them and their teeth.

If you can't indent that at all, then it's probably too hard for your dog's teeth. And yes, dogs, different breeds have different bite forces and stuff like that, but at the end of the day the teeth are only as hard as they are.

So if they're trying to gnaw on something that's harder than their tooth, in that battle, the tooth is almost certainly going to lose, at some point. Not every time, but at some point.

And I've seen, and most vets that you ask, or a lot of vets that you ask, will have seen dogs that have been sort of getting on, kind of quote unquote, but not very comfortably, with a slab fracture of one of their big molar teeth.

And you ask them, have they been chewing on bones or some of these harder chews, you know, that are sold as dental chews or treats, or the cure-all for dental problems.

Just be really aware of that.

Mia: We've gone over time, however, I have one more very important, semi- well, it's related, but definitely important. Is it, and please tell me that it's at least partially...I'm scared actually to ask this question.

Is it ok to have your pets kiss you on the mouth or on your face?

Dr. J: Ha! That's awesome. Let me preface this by saying that Wendy licks my face all the time.

Mia: Marshall doesn't lick mine, but Mazel does.

Dr. J: I mean, from a true public health and infectious disease standpoint, it's probably not the best idea. Cat and dog mouths do harbor all kinds of bacteria, yeast, viruses.

Especially dogs eat poop, they eat garbage. They lick themselves in places that we wouldn't necessarily want them licking ourselves afterwards. That are all typically concentrated around the back end.

And sometimes even other dogs, they lick other dogs in that way. So, there is a risk of catching pathogens, bacteria, yeasts, viruses.

Mia: It's a risk I'm willing to take, ok.

Dr. J: Yeah. But the one thing I would say is, for young children, or people who are immunocompromised, so people on cancer chemotherapy, things of that nature, you want to be extremely careful.

And if your pet's on a raw diet, I definitely would encourage you not to let them lick your face, especially, because there's documented risks of raw meat, and even in the human food chain, being contaminated with salmonella and other nasty bacteria.

Mia: Yeah, there's been a big thing recently with turkey.

Dr. J: Yeah, so if they're on a raw diet, if you choose to go that route, don't let them lick your face, or the face of children, or especially immunocompromised people, so elderly, people on cancer chemotherapy, or people with HIV, just don't let them do it, it's a big public health issue.

Mia: Alright, well. Thank you. I don't know if that made me happier or sadder. But we're gonna keep doing it anyway, right?

Dr. J: There you go.

Mia: Well, thank you so much Dr. J, this has really been informative, and I have a lot of work to do.

Dr. J: Yeah, don't we all.

Mia: But I appreciate your answers, as always.

Dr. J: You know honestly, Mia, as long as people are aware of, and trying to do the best they can, and then recognizing that pets need proper dental care with their vet, and that usually requires anesthesia and a good thorough cleaning and evaluation, that's what we can do. And you gotta do what you're able to do.

And your vet's not going to necessarily judge you for it, they just want to work with you to get the best oral, and overall health for your pets. So whatever is within your means, logistically, financially, and otherwise, that's what you gotta do.

Topics: Dog Tips, Cat Tips, paws and play, pet dental, feline dental health, canine dental health

Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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