Just like you, your dog needs their teeth in top shape. Unfortunately, because they don’t have opposable thumbs, they can’t brush after every meal. On the bright side, there are many things you can do to help maintain your pet’s oral health, and one of the best ways is to feed them the right kinds of foods.
The Best Foods for Your Dog’s Mouth
Raw bones have been called “nature’s toothbrushes.” Although humans should never consume raw meats, dogs with access to raw food, and particularly cuts of meat still on the bone, have less tartar buildup and better breath. In addition to scraping away plaque and tartar, chewing on bones can help remove leftover food particles between the teeth.
When you’re dealing with raw meat, safety should always come first. Only feed your pet fresh cuts, never the ones you would not prepare for yourself. Further, stick with whole bones; pork ribs, turkey necks, and duck wings are great choices. Meat that has been machine cut may splinter in your dog’s gums, which can lead to an infection. Most importantly, never feed your dog bones that have been cooked. The heating process can leave bones brittle, which means they are prone to splintering.
Antioxidants are compounds that can protect against internal cellular damage, fight free radicals, and help reduce chronic inflammation. A diet with plenty of antioxidants can also help reduce oxidative stress and stimulate certain internal pathways, which in turn, can lessen your pet’s chances of suffering from periodontal disease. You can find many over-the-counter and prescription dog foods that have been enriched with antioxidants. If you prefer to prepare your pet’s fare yourself, make sure their bowls are filled with antioxidant-rich foods, like cooked potatoes, broccoli, pecans, apples, and beans.
Fatty acids can help protect your pet’s overall health. Like with antioxidants, you can find many commercially-processed dog foods that have been supplemented with fatty acids. A few other sources that you might consider are cooked eggs and salmon, the latter of which is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce the inflammation that may lead to oral diseases.
The guts of dogs and humans alike are inhabited by billions of tiny bacteria. These organisms make up the microbiota. Like any life form, they must be fed well and given a hospitable environment to thrive, which is where probiotics come into play. Probiotics and prebiotics help your dog’s gastrointestinal flora flourish. When your pet’s internal microbiome is healthy, the bacteria in their mouth is healthy as well.
As a pet owner, you can smell the effects of an imbalanced gastrointestinal system. Dogs with bad breath have lots of potentially harmful bacteria in their mouths, which can cause gum disease and cavities. Alarmingly, there is a strong connection between poor oral health and heart disease in humans and pets alike.
Yogurt — especially plain Greek yogurt — is a great snack choice for dogs. Not only is it delicious and easy to digest, but it also contains a high concentration of probiotics.
What to Look for in Commercial Dog Food
Many of the nutrients listed above are derived from whole foods. If you do not plan to make your own dog food at home, there are still many commercial brands that support a healthy mouth. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal. Further, look at the ingredients. Many dog foods contain sugar and fillers that do not bolster overall health.
Is Dry Dog Food Best for Oral Health?
You have likely always heard that dry kibble is best for your dog’s teeth. Proponents claim that chewing dry food scrapes away plaque and tartar. While this is true to a small degree, if you plan to give your dog dry food, choose a high-quality brand that prioritizes nutrition, and brush your dog’s teeth! Even the best dog foods are barely a fraction as effective when compared to cleaning.
Here is a partial list of food, rawhides, and treats accepted by the VOHC:
- Nestle Purina PPVD, Small Bites, Dry, RX only
- IAMS Eukanuba, Adult Maintenance Diet For Dogs, Consumer
- Hill’s Science Diet, Oral Care For Dogs, Consumer
- Nestle Purina, PPVD Dental Chewz, RX only
- Nestle Purina, HeartyHide Chew Treats, Consumer
- Therametric Technology, Tartar Shield, Soft, RX only
- Greenies, Canine Greenies, all sizes and flavors, Consumer
- Sam’s, Member’s Mark Dental Treats
No matter what type of diet you choose to feed your dog, your best bet is to focus on quality. By providing your dog with healthy food and snack choices, they will have fewer cavities, enjoy healthier gums, and be less likely to succumb to the adverse effects of gum disease. All of this can result in a healthier and happier life for your beloved pet.