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How Do Dogs’ Diets Affect Dental Health?

Andrew Dickens

By Andrew Dickens

Updated: February 23, 2024

Among the whirlwind of a dog’s daily adventures, it’s no surprise just about anything can find its way into their lovable mouth. While pet parents can’t always control the questionable food choices their furry friends make, it’s important to take charge of what you can when it comes to their diet.

It’s commonly known that a dog’s diet influences its weight and overall bodily health. But what your dog eats also plays an essential role in protecting their teeth.

That’s why we’ve put together this article to answer the question: How do dogs’ diets affect dental health?

Why is dog dental hygiene important?

Your dog’s dental health has significant implications for their overall well-being and if neglected, can cause serious health issues.

If you sense bad breath (worse than usual), it could be something quite serious. Canine Periodontal Disease (PD) often starts with this common sign. Other indicators include excessive drooling, loss of appetite, and chewing difficulties.

PD develops as food and bacteria gather along the gumline, leading to plaque formation that hardens into tartar. Left unattended, tartar accumulation beneath the gum line results in PD. Dogs might endure pain, infections, abscesses, and even tooth loss as the condition worsens. Alarmingly, untreated PD can adversely impact crucial organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys.1

Taking your dog to the vet for PD symptoms is crucial, but prevention is a better option. Brushing your dog’s teeth should be a daily routine but, just like humans, you should incorporate dental health into your dog’s diet considerations too.

The food they consume, its composition, and its quality all influence their dental wellness. This affects mouth tissue health, plaque build-up, and saliva production.2

There are a few pet insurance plans, such as Paw Protect, that cover dental illness, but the majority don’t — which means poor dental hygiene can be painful for your purse as well as your pup.

What Foods Should Your Dog Avoid?

Similar to humans, some foods are like magnets for tartar and plaque build-up in dogs. While you’d hope dogs aren’t snacking on candy and drinking fizzy cola on a Friday night, sugary treats are still prime culprits in the dog world. Additionally, certain starchy foods can cling to teeth, providing a feast for unwanted visitors in your dog’s mouth.

Certain treats might be delicious for your dog but, it’s important to be vigilant and remember to control all treat intake. Instead of sharing sugary snacks with your dog, eat the ice cream yourself and give your four-legged friend dog treats with natural ingredients and limited fillers.

Dog owners can also introduce occasional treats like carrots or incorporate certain fruits such as frozen berries. These options are not only a refreshing, delicious treat for your furry friend but also contribute to dental hygiene by discouraging plaque buildup and minimizing the risk of tooth decay.3

However, it’s important to remember that there are numerous human foods like garlic, onions, and raisins that dogs should avoid, not only for dental reasons but also due to various health concerns.4 Therefore, opting for dog-specific food and treats is the best way to ensure your pet maintains a radiant smile while safeguarding its overall well-being.

Dry Food Vs. Wet Food: Which is Better for Your Dog’s Teeth?

The debate over dry food and wet food is always a hot topic. Just like nutritional content, both options have their pros and cons when it comes to dental health. Wet dog food sometimes gets a bad rap and isn’t always associated with good dental health.

However, wet food isn’t inherently harmful to dogs’ teeth — with proper dental care, including regular check-ups, dental chews, and teeth cleanings, wet food shouldn’t negatively impact your pet’s teeth. In fact, it can be more comfortable for dogs with dental issues and is more hydrating, a plus for dental hygiene.

People often opt for dry kibble under the mistaken assumption that the crunchiness is better for their dog’s teeth but unless it is a specific dental kibble, dry food has little impact on dental health. Some kibbles actually contain more refined carbohydrates, potentially increasing plaque and tartar levels.5

Choosing between wet and dry dog food shouldn’t solely be based on which is better for dental health. It’s about finding a balance that meets your individual dog’s nutritional needs while considering their dental well-being.

(Read more about the best wet dog foods and best dry dog foods.)

Natural Chewing and Dental Health

Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs and it’s also vital for maintaining their dental health. Chewing helps break down food into smaller particles, which can reduce the risk of plaque buildup.

Additionally, the mechanical action of chewing can help massage gums and clean teeth to some extent — although best not to encourage carpet or furniture chewing! Dental chews are a much better (and cheaper) option.6

Dental chews, specifically designed to promote oral health, can be a valuable addition to your dog’s routine. Look for options that are not only delicious to your dog but also help in scraping away plaque and massaging gums as they chew. There are some great options here:

Raw bones can be another great asset for good dental hygiene. They have a gritty texture and can flex around the teeth which means raw meaty bones can help remove dental plaque. However, while raw bones are great for keeping teeth clean, they do come with certain risks such as broken teeth, or swallowed or splintered bones. It’s important to seek advice from an expert when choosing raw bones for your dog and never feed bones unsupervised.

Ultimately, while key to reducing plaque and tatar lies in regular checks and daily brushing — much like how humans maintain dental hygiene — a dog’s diet is vitally important for their dental health.

So, as you navigate the world of dog treats and meals, don’t forget about their precious teeth. Whether they’re devouring dental chews, munching on their dinner, or avoiding potentially harmful foods, your attentiveness will keep those smiles shining.

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