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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Dental Care for Pets: A Q & A with Dr. Anne Luther

Mar 29, 2015 01:17AM ● By Suzi Harkola

Natural Awakenings: Is it true that dry food can remove plaque and debris from teeth, thus eliminating the need for professional cleaning?


Dr. Luther: This is a common belief, but it is not true. In fact, dry food sticks to the teeth and provides a breeding ground for bacteria. The only dry food which may have some benefit is Hill’s TD, but the ingredients are so unhealthy that I would not recommend it. Feeding a good natural diet, preferably raw, will keep your pet’s entire body, including the teeth and gums, healthy.


NA: How do most pets that you see tolerate dental work, and do you use sedation? 

Dr. Luther: Most pets must be anesthetized for a proper dental cleaning. While many pet guardians do not like the thought of having their pet anesthetized to clean the teeth, it is really the only way to properly and thoroughly clean them. Many veterinary dentists consider it malpractice to clean a pet’s teeth without using anesthesia because it is impossible to perform a thorough dental scaling above and below the gums in an animal who is awake. 

The good news is that, with the use of a more holistic approach to anesthesia, it is very safe to anesthetize virtually all pets, including our seniors. It’s been my experience that all pets, regardless of age, benefit from a dental cleaning. Most pets feel much better after a dental cleaning, and I’ve had many clients tell me how much more energetic their pets acted following a dental cleaning. This is no surprise when you consider that a pet with a chronic, painfully infected mouth is not going to feel very well.

NA: What do you think about anesthesia-free dental cleanings?

Dr. Luther: Many clients are now requesting anesthesia-free dental cleanings because of the perceived risk of general anesthesia. While it is generally well accepted that a veterinarian or a well-trained veterinary technician should perform all dental procedures, there is some debate as to whether a thorough cleaning can be performed without the use of general anesthesia. 

There are pros and cons to both types of procedures. The pros for anesthesia-free dentistry are obvious – less cost and no anesthetic risk. The cons are multiple. Often, only the exterior surface of the teeth can be cleaned without anesthesia, and it is difficult to clean under the gums. Extractions are painful and cannot be performed without the use of anesthesia.

The American Veterinary Dental College recommends dentals only be performed by veterinarians with the use of anesthesia. However, many clients are pleased with the results of anesthesia-free dentistry. The key to success is having a calm, tolerant patient with relatively healthy teeth and gums. Once a pet has developed periodontal disease, a deeper cleaning is required to properly clean the teeth. 


NA: What’s the effect of commercially-produced treats on dental care? 

Dr. Luther: Many of the dental treats that are supposed to be good for dental care are far from it. They often contain wheat and sugar which are very bad for the gums and teeth. Many contain colors and preservatives which are unhealthy for your pet. Stay away from milk bones and similar treats!


NA: What about rawhide? 

Dr. Luther: I don’t usually recommend rawhide, pig ears or cow hooves. Rawhide is not digested by the pet, and there have been a few reports of GI obstruction from ingesting a large quantity of rawhide. While extremely rare, it could pose a problem if an obstruction in the intestinal tract results. Also, there have been reports of both rawhide and pig ear products being contaminated with bacteria. Cow hooves are too tough and can easily cause broken teeth when chewed by the pet.

There is one brand of rawhide treats that I have observed to be successful in helping prevent tartar buildup. These are the C.E.T. brand of rawhide chews which contain medication to decrease tartar accumulation on the teeth. Due to processing, bacterial contamination is unlikely to cause a problem. Using small amounts of the chews is also unlikely to cause GI obstruction. 


NA: Are there natural remedies for cleaning teeth of dogs and/or cats? 

Dr. Luther: Yes, there are various dental products on the market that can minimize the build-up of the bacterial plaque on a pet’s teeth. My favorite is Plaque Off which is seaweed that is added to the food daily. It is completely natural and works very well. Other natural products include the dental solution and dental gel made by Oxyfresh. The gel can be applied with a brush or your finger, and the dental solution is added to your pet’s water daily. 

Despite the success of these products, they should be considered supplemental to brushing the teeth. Daily brushing with a natural toothpaste is the best prevention for periodontal disease. Just make sure to avoid the use of fluoride in the toothpaste, since this is toxic to pets.


NA: What is the biggest consequence, in your experience, of avoiding dental care for pets? 

Dr. Luther: There are many. Of course, abscessed teeth are quite severe and can cause a systemic infection (infection throughout the body). This can lead to heart valve infection or disease of other organs, such as the liver and kidneys. Even the presence of periodontal disease can lead to organ dysfunction and infection, and this can lead to premature death.

Periodontal disease is the most common infectious medical problem affecting dogs and cats today, and most pets three years of age and older have some degree of periodontal disease. That’s why early prevention is imperative.


NA: How frequently should dental care be provided? 

Dr. Luther: This depends on the pet. If the guardians brush the teeth and feed a raw diet, a dental cleaning may not be required very frequently. Most pets will eventually need annual cleanings. Pets with advanced periodontal disease may need cleanings every three to six months.

NA: Is it expensive to have your pet’s teeth cleaned? 

Dr. Luther: Yes, I have seen bills from veterinary dentists that go up to over $2000. Of course, it is not that much with your family veterinarian. The average cost is under $400, including anesthesia. If there are extractions, of course, it will be more. It is important to choose a veterinarian who uses the best, safest forms of anesthesia and who has monitoring systems in place to insure your pet’s safety. The cheapest veterinarian is not necessarily the best choice for your beloved friend.

It is also important that your veterinarian runs a pre-anesthetic blood workup to make sure there are no underlying issues prior to anesthesia.


NA: Have you dealt with a pet who actually likes to have his teeth cleaned? 

Dr. Luther: Generally, no. A few clients do report that their pets like the taste of the toothpaste, so they do not mind brushing. 


NA: Are there times when dental work can be provided along with other preventative or curative procedures? 

Dr. Luther: I certainly encourage clients to have a dental performed whenever their pet is anesthetized for any reason.

NA: What do think about giving your pet bones? 

Dr. Luther: If you plan to give your pet bones, it is important to match the proper size bone to your pet’s teeth. Also, keep in mind that no matter how safe you are, bones occasionally splinter and get lodged in the mouth or throat, or result in fractured teeth. Bones should always be provided raw, not cooked. You should follow your veterinarian’s guidelines when it comes to offering your pet fresh bones.


NA: What are the alternative costs if you leave the teeth to nature? 

Dr. Luther: Given the percentage of pets that develop periodontal disease, even at a young age, the chance that your pet will have some sort of medical condition related to dental disease is very high if the teeth are not cared for. Aside from the unsightly appearance and the malodorous breath, they are slowly developing deep-seated health problems related to the periodontal disease. If a pet develops severe dental disease and periodontitis, the health effects can be devastating and can certainly lead to premature death. Obviously, the premature death of your friend is the highest price to pay.


Anne Luther, DVM, MS, BA, CVA, is the owner of Sarasota Animal Medical Center, located at 3646 Birky Street in Sarasota. In addition to office appointments, Sarasota Animal Medical Center also offers veterinary house call services. To schedule an appointment, call 941-954-4771. For more information, visit

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