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Dental Health and Raw Food Feeding

By Sue Armstrong MA VetMB VETMFHom CertlAVH MRCVS RSHom 2 years ago 18617 Views
The total give away about the type of food that a dog is designed through their evolutionary history to eat, is their teeth.  A dog has four main types of teeth: canines, incisors, premolars and molars, each with a specific job to do:

• Canines (Carnassial Teeth)
     Grasping and puncturing

• Incisors
     Nibbling and grooming

• Premolars

• Molars
     Crushing and macerating

The jaws of the dog do not allow lateral movement and the molars are sharp and pointed and arranged in a scissor bite that do not provide any flat grinding surface such as we see in herbivores that are designed to grind down large volumes of fibrous plant material.   Whilst our pet dogs have adapted to eat various food types over the many years of their association with humans and the head shape of many modern breeds have changed from the longer nosed types, the dentistry has remained largely the same.  The dog is designed by nature to deal with meat and bone and as with any design with a purpose, teeth and jaws (and the rest of the animal for that matter) are at their best when they are used for the purpose they are designed for.
Some Do’s and Don’ts:
When dogs are first introduced to raw diet, particularly bone, they often have to be taught how to use their teeth properly which sounds strange but is often true.  Dogs that have been kibble fed and who have had little access to different textural toys or that are not interested in playing with toys, may have learnt to swallow their kibble whole and may not use their premolars and molars hardly at all, which is one of the reasons we see a lot of tartar buildup particularly on the upper molars in kibble fed dogs regardless of the composition of the diet.  If your dog has ever been sick after eating a kibble meal you may have seen evidence of this for yourself!
Like any muscles in the body, the muscles of mastication can be underdeveloped in kibble fed dogs and dogs can quite literally get tired and sore if they are introduced to carcass and bone too quickly, so we recommend slow transition and using only small amounts of whole food bone material initially.  The same goes for holding bone in the paws and using the limbs if they are not used to it!  You also need to encourage your dog to use the correct teeth until it becomes second nature.  To help them, choose a food bone larger than they can swallow and hold one end of the bone to encourage them to place the bone to the side of the mouth for crushing and shearing.  Do remember to feed bone and carcass that is an appropriate size for the size of your dog – a Chihuahua and a Rottweiler have very different teeth and jaw sizes!
Always use food bones that have sinew and other tissue still on them to encourage use of all the different teeth types.  You might have the image of a lovely clean white bone in your head as ideal but that is not the perfect bone for your dog either for their dental health or for the wonderful nutrients found in cartilage, tendon and connective tissue! Natural Instinct offers a variety of raw bones.
As your dog gets better and better at using the teeth properly they will get more adventurous.  One treat to avoid at all cost is the stag antler.  Dogs that try to bite down on these can and do split their molar teeth.  Antlers are not a food source and more to the point are not designed by nature to break, so please don’t buy them for your dog.  One of the frequent comments I get is ‘antlers are wonderful as they last so long’; that is quite simply because your dog cannot do anything useful with them!
The best treats are dried animal based proteins such as Natural Instinct Beef Jerky, Lamb Lites, Liver Treats and Whitebait etc.  Just like us, avoid sugary treats that contain colourants and preservatives.
Dental Tartar:
Dental plaque forms from a build up of bacteria, food, saliva and other particles that sticks to the teeth and ultimately becomes mineralized to form the hard substance called tartar.  This is recognised by the body as foreign and sets off an immune based inflammatory response leading to gum disease and eventually if it is left, loss of bone in the jaws and loss of teeth.
Using the teeth for the purposes that they are designed for is one of the best ways to keep the teeth and gums healthy.  Even on raw food, some dogs are particularly prone to producing plaque and ultimately tartar on their teeth and it is essential that your dog’s teeth are regularly checked by your veterinary surgeon and you may need to resort to teeth cleaning to help prevent tartar buildup and ultimately gum disease and loss of teeth.
The old saying of ‘use it or lose it’ is a good one to remember when it comes to your dog’s teeth and keeping them healthy!

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