Friday, January 20, 2012

An Uphill Battle: Tarter in a Kibble-fed Dog

Ebon's current diet
One of the biggest claims that the major dry dog food manufacturers make is that their foods are beneficial to the dog's teeth. The crunch helps clean the teeth..we've all heard it before. However, that isn't really the case. Dogs in the United States tend to have rather bad teeth, and most dogs in the country are guessed it: kibble. On top of that, countless products are manufactured, and purchased, to fight tartar. If those claims that kibble promoted good teeth were true, why is the pet dental industry booming? Why do dogs continue to end up with terrible tartar buildup if an owner does not invest a great deal of money in chews, bones, tooth paste, and teeth cleanings? If those claims were true just feeding a dog a regular diet of kibble would produce nice, shiny white teeth. However, that isn't the case at all. Despite this, one of the first suggestions made when a dog has bad teeth is to feed them a certain kind of dry food.

As those of you who are regular readers already know, Ebon is a kibble-fed dog. He's seven now, and for his age his teeth are in fairly good shape for being on kibble. He has been on fairly high quality kibble for several years now, before which he was being fed Iams or Purina. He is currently eating Simply Nourish Lamb & Oatmeal, and is doing even better than he did on Blue Buffalo. Simply Nourish is rated four out of five on my favorite dog food analysis website, where foods below a three out of five are considered to be of poor quality (Iams Proactive Health and Purina One are both two out of five). Despite the fact that Ebon gets daily chews to help keep his teeth clean, they still show fairly significant amounts of tartar. For one thing, he tends to only like to chew on one side of his mouth, so one side (his left) is always cleaner than the other (his right). I do brush his teeth, but I have increased my brushing schedule to try and get his teeth pearly white. He'll also be getting a teeth cleaning quite soon. Fighting tartar when your dog is on a kibble diet is definitely an uphill battle.

Right canine
Right carnassials

Left canine
Left carnassials

As many of you probably already know, tartar is caused by plaque, that film of bacteria that naturally occurs in your mouth. Sugars feed that bacteria, and the more sugar you eat, the happier the bacteria is and the more likely that it will damage your teeth or gums. If plaque stays on the teeth for too long, it turns into hard tartar buildup. This is true for you, and for every other creature out there who has teeth. Kibble had sugar. For the most part it is complex sugar, however it is still is a food source for that bacteria. As such, dogs and other animals fed kibble are as much at risk for dental problems as we are. Like us, some animals will have better teeth than other naturally. However, it will take more than just chewing your food to prevent tartar, which is exactly what kibble manufacturers claim their product will do. You have to take steps to keep your dog's teeth healthy.

As those out there who feed raw already know: raw diets lead to far cleaner teeth than kibble. The foods are extremely low in sugars, especially when compared to dry foods. In addition, bone is definitely known to clean teeth. Unlike kibble, bone really is incredibly hard and will flake much of the tartar that may be on the teeth. It is true that bone may potentially cause other problems, but the risk is fairly minimal. Countless dogs are fed a proper raw diet today and have no issues. Countless dogs are also fed kibble with no issues, but those kibble-fed dogs have worse teeth than the raw fed.


  1. Juneau busted her left carnassial tooth on something, and when we had it extracted we also had her teeth cleaned. Juneau's teeth looked very similar to Ebon's and she's also been fed kibble her whole life but I don't think she really needed that cleaning.
    Sasha though, she's the one who needs a teeth cleaning. Her teeth were very very nasty when I moved back in but I was able to get rid of more than half of the tartar buildup with weekly rib bones or turkey backs and adding something called PlaqueOff to her food every day.
    Since I doubt she's going to go in for a cleaning anytime this year, I'm probably going to go back to that routine and add in some brushing to see how good I can get her teeth.

    Conker's one of them rawfed dogs (mainly, right now I've got some Honest Kitchen he gets) and his teeth look pretty nice. He's definitely biased towards chewing on one side of his mouth though, since there is a bit of plaque on a couple of his teeth but not on the same teeth on the other side.

  2. A very sensible and informative post! Thanks for your perspective.

    To be honest, while I never believed that harder food *alone* would wipe out tartar completely, I still want to think there's a difference between a dog that is fed predominantly wet food, and never had their teeth brushed (as Bowpi was before), versus a dog that is fed a variety of harder foods. But now I'm realizing that there are many other factors at play here too.

    Both my dogs have equivalent diets in terms of raw, kibble, and soft foods. While the Shiba handles harder bones with greater expertise, the Basenji gets her fair share of raw poultry bones as well (which she gnaws quite thoroughly, so it sure seems like they're doing their job). I barely do any maintenance on Bowdu's teeth and they look *great*. Bowpi gets her teeth brushed, and she also got a full dental last February... but the tartar is back. It's a little disheartening. I blame her sighthoundly mouth shape and my own slack for not keeping up with her toothbrushing regimen. She sure is squirmy though.

  3. Losech, I actually forgot to mention that Ebon's "bad side" had over twice as much tartar before I gave him that ham bone around Christmas time. Over the course of several days of his eating the thing, it flaked off nearly all that was there. He's only had his teeth cleaned once before, and is definitely due for another cleaning. I want to make sure he has big, strong teeth for as long as possible. It is a bit frustrating to have a dog that prefers one side over the other. Ironically, before Ebon's last cleaning he preferred to chew on the other side. Silly dog.

    M.C, that's quite interesting. I just read your post on Bowpi's experiences with raw. I'm of course no expert, but I wonder if the reason she has more issues with tartar is partly due to her refusal to eat anything other than poultry and fish. Poultry, being birds of course, have very light bone due to the modifications needed for flight. There's a lot of empty space where mammals have far denser bone, so it's possible that's why there hasn't been as much tartar reduction as in Bowdu. It is also quite possible that Bowdu just naturaly has better teeth. My mom's cats are about the same age and are both fed the same diet and one (Ginny) has brilliant teeth and the other (Albus) has had dental issues for years. However, yes I agree that canned food is even worse for teeth than kibble. There's really no chewing involved at all!

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