What is the healthiest diet for my dog? - Veterinary Practice
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What is the healthiest diet for my dog?

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

I NOW have no doubt that the diet
we are feeding our dogs is having an
adverse affect on their teeth and
gums. I do not belong to the “raw
meaty bones” (RMB) lobby but I
read their letters and articles and if
you can wade through the rhetoric
and spleen there is some good,
common, scientific sense hidden

The supporters of commercial pet
food diets, presumably
feeling under some sort
of attack, deride the RMB enthusiasts as
being dinosaurs living
in the dark ages. That
derision extends almost
to classing them as 5th
columnists with some hidden political
agenda and perhaps just a little mental
unstability too.

The interesting thing, though, is
that the mainstream pet food advocates
don’t appear to have an answer as to
why such a high percentage of dogs
now need to have their teeth regularly
scaled. Their “solution” is to promote
ever more preventive dental hygiene in
the form of brushing by owners, a
time-consuming job and not one that I
am prepared to embark on in my own
dogs. Frankly, life is just too short for
that sort of carry on.

The point they seem to miss is that
the need to brush a dog’s teeth is
treating only the symptom, not the
cause. After all, teeth evolved to do the
job required by an animal’s lifestyle and
dietary preferences without the need for
human interference.

Most horses eating a natural diet of grass rarely need routine teeth rasping
because they spend hours and hours
grazing and grinding the grass into a
pulp. Put them in a stable and feed
them highly concentrated foods that
they consume in a few minutes and,
well, you know the result.

In the same way, dogs are designed
to work in a pack and pull down
relatively large prey that needs a
considerable degree of “butchering” before it can be eaten. That
butchering is done with their teeth and takes
quite a time, involving
tearing, chewing,
gnawing and

I don’t know the
mechanics and physics of all this but I do know that it has a
cleaning effect on the teeth and also
provides a lot of enjoyment for the
dogs concerned. They actually like lying
around gnawing RMB even if they are
well fed.

Now I am not a fundamentalist in
the RMB debate. I know and appreciate
how convenient complete dog foods
are and I also know that they are
nutritionally balanced in the sense that
they provide all the protein, carbs, fats,
vitamins and minerals needed for

Mitigating adverse effects

I feed my own dogs on them and will
continue to do so, but, that doesn’t
mean I can’t, by personal observation
and I believe reasoned scientific
thinking, conclude that they are awful
for my dog’s teeth. My solution now is
to provide sufficient access to RMB to
mitigate the adverse effects on their
teeth of the diet I choose to feed them.

I suspect that many of you are now
thinking that I have no justification for
saying what I do but I also suspect that
there has not been much peer-reviewed
research done on this subject to prove
things either way.

However, let me lay before you
some of the anecdotal evidence that I
believe exists.
• Thirty years ago, when many more dogs than now were fed
on household scraps
including RMB, I believe
the need to scale a dog’s
teeth was a far rarer
occurrence than it is today. I
would go so far as to say that
it was generally
brachycephalic and toy breeds
that were the main takers for
“dentals” with few mesocephalic and
dolichocephalic breeds needing the
attention. I believe that has now
changed so that all breeds are affected
in the modern era.

  • Tooth brushing for dogs was virtually
    unheard of 30 years ago but is now
    considered “normal” and a multi-
    million pound industry.
  • Thirty years ago it was commonplace
    to recommend giving a dog a raw
    meaty ox bone for them to gnaw on “to
    clean their teeth”: I remember recommending this
    myself at every puppy
  • Nowadays I would suggest that the majority
    of dogs over five years
    of age (and some much
    younger) have a problem with dental
    calculus unless a rigorous tooth
    brushing regime has been followed.

Take as an example my own five-
year-old lurcher. She is fed on an
expensive and high quality complete
food. The other week I looked at her
teeth and was quite literally shocked at
the amount of dental calculus on all the
canines, premolars and molars (I have
already said that I refuse to brush a
dog’s teeth!).

As an experiment I went to the
butchers and for the cost of a £4
donation to the shop’s charity box
secured four very meaty ends of ox
long bones. My lurcher’s eyes nearly
popped out of her head when she saw
them. She spent the next six hours on
the grass gnawing at them and I have to
say seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. She
did exactly the same thing the next day

Staggering difference

I took a photo of her teeth before I
gave her the bones and I took a photo
24 hours later and another after a week.
The difference in her teeth is quite
simply staggering – as the photos
reproduced here show.

I freely admit that this is not a
statistically significant experiment but I
think it is tremendous anecdotal evidence of the importance of chewing
and gnawing to dental health.

Yes I know the detractors will say
that there is a risk of fracturing teeth
and intestinal foreign body but being a
lurcher there is a risk of a broken leg or
a barbed wire-ripped belly every time
she goes for a walk. That doesn’t mean
I am only going to exercise her on the lead because the benefits of running free are far outweighed
by the risks.

I suggest the same
is true of her gnawing
on RMBs and I will
ensure that she has
this opportunity on a
regular basis from now
on. It will certainly remove the risk of several anaesthetics
in the next few years and give her a
huge amount of pleasure in being able
to follow what appears to be a positive
behavioural choice.

For all you doubters out there, I
challenge you to try this experiment
with your own dog and see the results
for yourself.

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