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Pet Dental Health & Behaviour - there IS a connection!

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Aug 14th 2013 - By Gillian Shippen, Nurse Manager & Director of Pets Need a Life Too
Cat Dog Dental Chew Toys 2

There's more to pet dental care than check ups and dental food..

Environmental enrichment is my thing, so when I was invited to write a blog for Pet Dental Health Care Month from the viewpoint of my business Pets Need A Life Too!, my first thought was, “I don’t do dental”.

Then my brain started ticking over and the possibilities dawned on me…..of course I can do this from a behaviour and environmental enrichment perspective.

There are the obvious chew toys...

Aside from the glaringly obvious appropriate chew toys available of which I have on my website (the Petstages range, among others, offer some great dental chew toys for both cats and dogs) but also many of my products do require the use of the mouth, whether they are general chew toys, food dispensing or un-stuffing toys of some variety. Obviously having healthy teeth and gums is an important component with the enjoyment factor.

I remember not so many years ago a client had a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel that was in need of a dental. Being a typical CKCS, it had a bad heart murmur and the owner was most reluctant to agree to a general anaesthetic for the required dental. Eventually something else happened that required a GA and whilst under it was agreed the much needed dental would be done. The owner later reported to me how amazed she was with the change in her dog’s whole demeanour…….he was like a young puppy again, eating well, keen and bouncy for his walks and playing with his toys.

Dogs and cats tend to explore things with their mouths, which often means chewing but chewing can also serve as a stress release too. I am sure every vet clinic has seen the Australian Cattle Dog (AKA Heeler) or Staffy that has teeth worn down to the gum line…..usually the result of inappropriate chewing of rocks or something like that. One could possibly argue with these dogs, this can come down to stress chewing and boredom.

It is important for owners to provide appropriate chewing outlets……bones are always a good alternative, however not all dogs can have bones, so we need to offer something else.   It could also be argued that there is a good case for a behavioural consult for possible anxiety issues as well. But if it is a question of boredom then throwing away the food bowl and using food dispensing toys is an excellent way to go.

Then there are horses and their teeth...

It’s not just about dogs and cats either, horse’s “crib” and wood chew and this can be related to anxiety and boredom. The result of this action can be quite disastrous, at the very least it can inappropriately wear down the horses teeth but there are other issues related to gastric ulcers etc.

Horse’s teeth also need to be regularly maintained and filed down to ensure they can chew their food properly. Again there are some wonderful toys to help alleviate boredom in horses, including food dispensing ones.

And of course rabbits and their teeth...

And how about the pet rabbit (in some parts of Australia it is illegal to have a rabbit or ferrets as pets).  Proper nutrition and appropriate foods must be provided to assist with the proper mastication process required for the rabbit to naturally maintain their own teeth. So often we hear people acquiring rabbits as pets and they have no idea on how to feed them properly, generally using commercially available rabbit pellets. Rabbit teeth grow continuously throughout their life. They depend on their diet to help wear down their teeth & keep all their teeth in good shape as without healthy teeth a rabbit will not lead a happy & healthylife. Rabbit pellets are just bad news for rabbit dental health as they do not enable the rabbit to chew in the correct manner and can cause the ever-growing upper and lower incisors to suffer from malocclusion. So providing rabbits with other objects to chew on is also a good idea, and owners can try offering items such as wooden chew blocks, old telephone books, etc.

Not forgetting the ferret..

Not forgetting the humble ferret.  These interesting creatures should be fed as natural a diet as possible, such as raw rabbit or chicken carcasses.  The whole chicken carcass, including the stomach contents would also need to be fed for adequate nutrition, not just the meat. Failing this, dry kitten food or specific ferret diets are the closest to ideal. Raw fresh food i.e. beef chunks, rabbit, chicken necks or wings, should always be fed to help prevent the build up of tartar on the teeth – or a few biscuits of Hills Feline TD can be added daily to their food to aid dental hygiene.

With my lecturers words ringing in my ears…….most times an animal comes into the clinic it is generally because of a change in behaviour that has caused the owner concern and behaviour is linked to everything, including Pet Dental Health Care Month!



Gillian Shippen is not only a Nurse Manager, but she has also written a book: 'Pets Need a Life Too - A Guide to Enriching the Life of Your Pet - Series One: Dogs' AND she runs her online website 'Pets Need a Life Too' where she sells a range of enrichment toys for pets.

Gillian is passionate about the whole topic of behaviour and her aim is to "..not just to sell you products but to ensure you are purchasing the right item for you and your pet."





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