Dogs and cats are carnivores and their teeth were designed to stay clean and healthy thanks to their steady diets of prey animals with sinew and bones. Unfortunately, our dogs and cats develop tartar, decay, and bad breath thanks to eating processed pet foods devoid of enzymes and often loaded with sugars from grains and even too much fruit. Vets recommend having your companion's teeth professionally cleaned every three years and delight in selling us expensive tooth pastes that are often filled with artificial flavorings and unnecessary additives including fluoride which can be toxic.
Nature Knows Best
That's my motto. I always return to a carnivore's anatomy, including the way their teeth are shaped, to figure out what Nature gave them to keep their mouths healthy.
It's pretty simple; bones.
Our dogs and cats have the same anatomy and teeth their wild cousins have. However, finding truly safe and helpful bones can often be an obstacle course.
Raw meaty bones/necks are an important part of a raw meat diet and the BEST toothbrush ever! There is a myth that will not die that states, "Kibble and hard flour-based dog biscuits clean your dog's (or cat's) teeth and remove tartar." This is simply as true as if you ate crackers and toast to clean your teeth. Please stop falling for that lie!
Dogs and cats must have the appropriate gut microbiota to handle eating bones. A dry food based diet and no fresh food, will NOT provide the ideal gut microbiota for digesting. Dr. Karen Backer writes,
"It's very important to prepare your dog's gut for bones. Never give a dog who has been on antibiotics bones until you've helped rebuild the microbiota. Probiotics, digestive enzymes, yogurt are all helpful in doing this. Using these to help your dog transition to digesting RAW meat and bones is critical.." (This is of course, true for cats as well. KS)
Dr. Becker points out that there are edible bones: bird necks and wings, providing important nutrients and valuable tooth and gum cleaning, and recreational bones, big bones like marrow and knuckle bones which clean, strengthen and protect teeth and gums. She sites a recent study where raw bones reduced tartar by a whopping 87% in 20 days!*
Drs. Jean Hofve and Celeste Yarnall, offer some excellent guidelines in their fabulous book, Paleo Dog.
1) All bones should be RAW. Cooked or processed bones can splinter and crack teeth Be careful with bones left outside as they will harden quickly, especially in dry climates. They recommend discarding them at the end of the day.
2) Dogs and cats should have food in their bellies before eating bones or necks (Just as in Nature, the prey animal's bones would be eaten last by wild canines and felines.)
3) Appropriately sized. Your dog needs to be able to chew them, but not choke on them. Dr. Becker suggests matching the bone with the size of your dog's head.
4) Bones should be spongy. Knuckle bones, necks, and vertebrae are best. Long bones, like leg and ribs are not good choices. Chicken necks are a great way to start both dogs and cats. If your dog is large or a "gulper" hold the chicken neck in your fist to show her she has to chew it.
For cats, cut the chicken neck into tater tot sized chunks and give him a "rug-less" place or place mat where he can work at it and enjoy it. (Unfortunately, my cat, Flora, would take it under the bed, so I haven't found a good way to introduce her to chicken necks yet...) Cats may not eat the whole piece at first, but they will try hard and get an excellent teeth cleaning in the process.
If you're anxious about bacteria on the surface of the bone or neck, drop it into boiling water for a few seconds. Let it get back to room temperature before giving it to your companion.
5) Supervised. Always watch your dog or cat when she's chewing her bone or chicken neck so you can act quickly if she chokes or gets a piece of bone stuck in her teeth.
Toy dogs and short-nosed dogs often suffer with abnormal teeth, so gnawing bones can be painful. Dr Jean recommends pounding a chicken neck to break up the small bones and offering that. (Again, once they have eaten their raw meal first.)
Rawhide Chews, "Greenies," "Nylabones," Animal Parts?
Drs. Hofve and Yarnall site numerous problems with these popular substitutes. According to their research, "Raw hide chews are usually processed with caustic lime and bleach, have artificial flavorings and can cause choking and scraping of a dog's throat."
"Greenies" do NOT clean your dog's teeth and they are full of "fractionated proteins," starches and synthetic vitamins. "Nylabones" can break apart, can damage teeth and cause blockages.
Animal parts; skin, hooves, hide and jerky may not be cooked enough to kill bacteria, which can make you sick, and, like the others, can be a choking hazard.
In conclusion, we recommend that you avoid "bone substitutes" and never feed cooked bones. Carefully choose the best raw bones and chicken necks for your companions. Doing so can provide them with fantastic health benefits and lots of pleasure!
With Love, Your Voice for Animals,
* For more info from Dr. Becker on the problems with kibble and the importance of raw bones, see her in-depth article here.