It's a common belief that dry food (or kibble) is necessary in our pets diets to keep their teeth clean and gums healthy - to avoid dental disease. But, guess what?
Dry food is not a necessary part of your pet's diet... because...
Dry food does not keep your pet's teeth clean and gums healthy.
I know, your vet tells you it does, and so does the pet food industry, but unfortunately what they're telling you is not accurate. It boils down to one crucial factor....
Dry food does not have the mechanical characteristics for adequate dental cleansing.
For a food to provide adequate dental cleansing, it should promote chewing and maximise contact with the tooth surface. When a dog or cat eats dry food, the kibble shatters and crumbles. It provides no abrasive teeth-cleaning action. In fact, the kibble only makes contact with the tip of the tooth.
Here's what Dr. Fraser Hale, DVM, a veterinary dental specialist, has to say about the dental benefits associated with dry food:
"It has long been felt that feeding a cat or a dog a dry kibble diet is better for the teeth than feeding them a processed, canned diet. The logic goes that dry food leaves less residue in the mouth for oral bacteria to feed on and so plaque would accumulate at a slower rate. Despite that, many animals fed on commercial dry diets still have heavy plaque and calculus accumulations and periodontal disease. This is because most dry pet foods are hard but brittle so that the kibble shatters without much resistance and so there is little or no abrasive effect from chewing."
According to Logan, Wiggs, Scherl and Cleland, "a typical dry food does not possess the mechanical characteristics for adequate dental cleansing. Simply enlarging the kibble or varying the shape of the product is likewise inadequate" (Logan, et al. 2010, 'Periodontal Disease', in Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, Fifth Edition, Mark Morris Institute, p.988).
Speaking of larger kibble, Hill's Pet Nutrition produce a larger kibble food, Prescription Diet t/d Canine and t/d Feline, which claims to "reduce plaque, stain, & tartar buildup" due to its "unique kibble shape & size" and "special fiber matrix technology".
Logan et al seem to support the claims made by Hill's but when compared to a regular supermarket food, Purina Dog Chow, the differences didn't seem that significant. What do you think?
Australian Vet, Dr Tom Lonsdale, did an experiment with four dogs in his clinic, taking them off their usual raw meaty bones diet and feeding them Hill's Science Diet for 14 days. Watch to see what happened after just 17 days...
Now, getting back to the larger kibble with its "special fibre matrix technology", it may have shown in studies that it is superior to your standard dry cat and dog food with respect to supporting your pet's dental health, but at what cost?
The t/d food is still a very processed food that contains pet grade aka low quality ingredients. It is dehydrating. It contains chemicals and preservatives. It is supplemented with synthetic vitamins and minerals.
Feeding this diet may reduce your pet's chance of getting dental disease, but it may produce other disease states similar to any other dry food, such as diabetes, obesity, liver disease, kidney disease, urinary tract conditions, allergies and much more.
It's important to note that diet is not the only contributing factor of periodontal disease - breed, age, immune response, chewing behavior and systemic health are also relevant.
But isn't dry food better than wet food?
The claim that dry food is better for healthy teeth and gums than wet / canned / moist food is another commonly held view put forward in support of feeding your pet dry food.
Moist food can leave more residue on your pet's teeth, resulting in the accumulation of plaque. But studies show that a moist food may perform similarly to dry food with respect to plaque, stain and calculus accumulation (Logan et al 2010).
From a nutritional perspective, moist or canned food is superior because of the increased moisture content and reduced carbohydrate content compared to dry food. Your pets are less likely to suffer from conditions such as kidney disease, obesity and diabetes if you include moist or canned food in their diet.
What about dental toys and treats?
There are a number of toys and treats on the market today that claim dental benefits for your pets, claims like "removes/reduces tartar", "massages gums and flosses teeth".
Do they actually work?
In most cases there are no scientific studies substantiating the claims made by manufacturers. Rather, studies show that there is no significant difference in plaque or calculus accumulation with the addition of treats (Logan et al 2010).
Then there are the nutritional factors - most of these treats are made with low quality ingredients and contain additives, preservatives and colours.
As for toys, they may cause gum lacerations and fractured teeth, for example if the wrong size toy is chosen and if the toys are considerably hard.
How to keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy
The best way to keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy is to brush their teeth daily. This is all good in theory but practically it can be a challenge. Toothbrushes can certainly be a challenge, so I recommend finger brushes - they slip on your finger like a thimble and allow you to feel the teeth that require more attention. They're also a lot less scary for your pet!
As for toothpaste, there are some great natural pet toothpaste recipes online, but even using coconut oil alone with its antimicrobial benefits will help and at least you know your cat or dog will love the taste!
If you're not able to brush your pet's teeth, I recommend having their teeth regularly checked and cleaned using anaesthetic-free methods. In Australia, Healthy Pet Dentals and Australian Animal Oral Care offer anaesthetic-free teeth cleaning. There are a number of others around the country (and the globe) that a quick google search will reveal.
In addition to cleaning your pet's teeth, feed your pet a good quality diet that includes chunks of raw meat and raw meaty bones.These foods will provide your pet with the characteristics necessary for adequate dental cleansing ie food that promotes chewing and maximises contact with the tooth surface, as well as providing high levels of nutrition.
Want to know more about how to feed your cat the right diet for optimum health, come along to my cat nutrition webinar on 6 March. Find out more and purchase your ticket here.