Holistic pet care refers to focusing on the “whole” pet. Instead of focusing on specific problems, it is best to care for all aspects of your pet simultaneously. So, holistic care includes diet, exercise, grooming, shoeing, parasite control, and teeth cleanliness. Holistic pet care also refers to using natural products to care for your pet.
Most people aren’t aware that animal dental care is just as important as other types of health prevention. Tooth care should be a large portion of the happy, long life of one’s pet. In fact, it is thought that eighty-five percent of all pets have periodontal disease by age three, even if they use a raw, natural diet.
Periodontal disease is a progressive disease of the supporting tissues surrounding teeth and the main cause of early tooth loss. It starts when bacteria combine with food particles to form plaque on the teeth. Within days, minerals in the saliva bond with the plaque to form tartar, a hard substance that adheres to the teeth. The bacteria work their way under the gums and cause gingivitis-inflammation of the gums. Once under the gums, bacteria destroy the supporting tissue around the tooth, leading to tooth loss. This condition is known as periodontitis. Gingivitis and periodontitis make up the changes that are referred to as periodontal disease. With regular dental care, gingivitis is reversible. Periodontal disease is thought not to be reversible, but diligent at-home dental care and regular cleanings can slow down the progression of the condition. Let’s look at this process closer, as it also applies to humans.
Animals consume well over a trillion bacteria every day. Some of these bacteria will move down to the gastrointestinal tract, where they’ll take up residence or be excreted by the body. Others will take up residence in the mouth and colonize in the plaque. But the bacteria that enters the mouth are continuously seeding the bacterial colonies that live in the gut, and this population of bacteria is critical to their health and immune system. So, if the bacterial colonies in the mouth aren’t healthy, the bacterial colonies in the gut won’t be, and the animal as a whole won’t be either.
The bacterial colonies found in plaque are extremely organized and this speaks to their importance in the mouth. Scrapings of dental plaque reveal an organized metropolis made up of tiny, organized microscopic bacteria colonies. Collectively, these communities of bacteria and other tiny microorganisms are called a microbiome. Microbiomes are found on most body surfaces. The microbiome in the mouth is the second largest microbiome, next to the one found in the gut. The microbiome in plaque isn’t a random population of bacteria-they all live together in organized communities. Researchers have discovered that Corynebacterium is the bacteria found right next to the tooth enamel and it grows outward from the teeth, where it networks with the next layer or colony of bacteria. Corynebacterium are packed closely together and adhere closely to the tooth and this makes them hard to remove with food or brushing.
The colonies living in the outermost layer of the microbiome are mainly made up of friendly strains of Streptococcus. These bacteria releases carbon dioxide, which helps the colonies of Streptococcus to grow. These bacteria all live harmoniously with the body. In fact, bacteria and other microorganisms outnumber the amount of one’s own cells by nearly 100 to 1.
When the bacteria in the microbiome are healthy, they deliver health benefits to the host animal. This is called ‘symbiosis’ (which means the relationship between the bacteria and the host is symbiotic or beneficial to both). These bacteria manufacture short chain fatty acids and vitamins. They form the bulk of the immune system and they even have a direct connection to the brain, called the gut-brain axis. These bacteria are essential to one’s health. But, not all of the bacteria living in the body are friendly. If the colonies of bacteria are disturbed, and some species die off while others take over, their influence on the body will change. Researchers are finding that when delicate bacterial populations in microbiomes are reduced or less diverse, the risk of disease rises. A study in cats with irritable bowel disease (IBD) showed that healthy cats had a much higher bacterial population in their gut compared to cats with IBD. Another study found that the skin of healthy dogs was inhabited by a much richer and diverse bacterial population than the skin of dogs with allergies.
Research is also showing that dysbiosis in the plaque, not plaque itself, is the real cause of periodontal disease. When the bacterial populations are balanced, the immune system won’t be alarmed and activated. But, if the balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced, some unwanted species of bacteria can grow out of control and initiate an immune response. When the sulcus is inflamed, the cells in the gums will be deprived of oxygen and this lack of oxygen favors the growth of harmful bacteria. And, once their
colonies grow, they can crowd out other friendly colonies of bacteria by competing for the same nutrients and dysbiosis will occur.
If this dysbiosis isn’t repaired and balance returned to the microbiome, colonies of harmful bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis will start to destroy the tissue of the gums. Once the gums become inflamed, the immune system delivers nutrients like iron to the infected area. But, these bacteria have adapted to feed on these nutrients and they start to rapidly grow out of control while the immune system continues to feed them by pumping more and more iron and other nutrients into the infected tissue.
How much damage is done depends on a few factors. Small breed dogs and brachycephalic breeds like pugs and boxers seem to be more prone to dental disease. It’s also more likely to occur in older animals, but the immune response is critical to how quickly and how severely periodontal disease develops. Diseases like diabetes or other health issues related to a compromised immune response (like allergies, arthritis, hypothyroidism, liver, bowel and kidney disease), can ultimately cause exaggerated
inflammation in the gums and further fuel the dysbiosis. Not only can diseases in other organs have an effect on oral health, periodontal disease can cause damage in the organs as well. When the populations of some strains grow out of control, the bacteria will find it harder to compete and will migrate out of the neighborhood. Bacteria can travel from the damaged gums to the lymphatic and blood vessel systems and migrate to the body’s organs. This is called bacteremia and it’s very similar to what happens with leaky gut. In fact, the colonies of bacteria in the mouth and gut are very similar. They share 45% of the same colonies and populations. So, if the bacteria in the mouth grow out of control, that dysbiosis will seed the same dysbiosis in the gut. The toxic by-products from the harmful bacteria will also cause inflammation and erosion of the cells lining the gut wall, and more bacteria and toxins will enter the body, creating a cascade of chronic inflammation that will eventually reach the organs and cause disease there. In humans, periodontal disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and stroke. Research in dogs also shows a link to heart, liver and kidney disease.
Several causes of dysbiosis in animals include:
• Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill all bacteria indiscriminately and will devastate the microbiome.
• Poor Diet: A processed diet that’s high in starch or sugar can fuel unfriendly bacterial colonies. Genetically modified foods or foods with pesticides can also kill bacteria and create dysbiosis.
• Drugs and Chemicals: Many drugs and chemicals will harm bacteria.
• Processed Diets: Most processed pet foods are completely free of bacteria. If there isn’t a stream of bacteria entering the body, the bacterial colonies will die off, causing dysbiosis. The same applies to raw foods that have undergone high pressure pasteurization.
Dogs can develop a cavity because:
• Teeth that have abnormally formed too close together
• A low salivary pH level
• Tooth enamel that is poorly minimized
• A poor diet that is high in fermented carbohydrates
• Gaps between the teeth and the gums
• Poor hygiene/health overall.
Poor dental health signs in a dog include:
• Swollen, red, bleeding, or painful looking gums
• Recent bursts of or full-fledged depression
• Pawing at the facial or mouth area
• Bad breath that is not mistaken with “kibble breath” or from eating anything that may cause it
• A change in the chewing and/or eating habits-such as difficulty chewing, not eating certain foods
• Missing or misaligned teeth
• Discoloration, breakage, or crooked teeth that may cause issues with proper chewing
• Excessive drool; Growths or bumps within the mouth or surrounding facial area
• Brownish yellow tartar crust within or along the dog’s gum line.
Dog breeds most prone to poor dental health include Bulldog; Shih Tzu; Brussels Griffon; Chihuahua; Lhasa Apso; Pomeranian; Pug; Poodle; Terrier and Dachshund.
Ways a cat can develop a cavity include:
• Lack of in-home or in-office cleaning routinely
• Poor diet
• Chemistry, too much bacteria and rotting, within the mouth
• Injury to the tooth
• Tooth alignment issues that have trapped plaque and tartar to an advanced degree
• Association with diabetes, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia, and other feline-related diseases
• Being a purebred breed or outcross breed that is more prone to developing diseases than others.
Typical signs of cavities or poor dental health in cats:
• Severely bad breath over a period of time
• Excessive or uncommon drooling
• Whole pieces of food in vomit or hairballs
• Pawing and scratching at the mouth
• Only eating on one side of the mouth
• Bleeding from the gums, or the mouth in general, or bloody areas around the area where a tooth meets with the gum line
• Food falling or being spit out from the mouth
• Discharge in and around the nasal area, whether it’s dry or wet
• Weight loss over a short period of time.
Cat breeds (pure breeds are at higher risk) most prone to poor dental health include Australian Mist; Burmese; Burmilla; Bombay; Cornish Rex; Devon Rex; Singapura; Sphynx; Tiffanie and Tonkinese.
Because most of the bacterial colonies are found in plaque, many veterinarians recommend brushing one’s pet’s teeth, or even a yearly veterinary dental cleaning (sometimes called a prophylaxis), where plaque and tartar are removed from a pet’s teeth, and the health of the entire mouth (tongue, gums, lips, and teeth) is assessed-all while under anesthesia. This will clear away most of the plaque, but the bacterial populations begin to colonize immediately after plaque is removed. Studies show that about a
million little organisms already cover the tooth within a minute of cleaning. And, if the populations are disrupted, harmful bacteria might take hold before the friendly populations grow and crowd them out.
Dog teeth cleaning is actually very easy to do. It’s the dogs that tend to have a problem with owners doing it; which is why it’s best to introduce the brushing of their teeth when they are a puppy so they can grow into it. However, if you’re starting a dog at an older age, ensure that they are comfortable and that you do not make the experience a traumatic one. Be patient, safe, and do a good job.
Finding a toothbrush for a pup is relatively easy. Remember that using toothpaste made for humans is extremely dangerous and should never be used on a dog. Fluoride is very toxic to animals, especially dogs, which is why there are specialty canine toothpaste available. Also, keep in mind that even some of these might contain ingredients that the dog may be allergic to.
Give the dog a good burst of exercise so they are more likely to sit or lay nicely for you. Be aware that they might make a go for the brush itself once it’s in their mouth. Start slow, brush gently, and look for signs of stress. If the dog becomes unresponsive, aggressive, agitated, or begins to cry, they are becoming too stressed out to move forward and you must stop. If you
don’t stop they will learn that when the toothbrush comes out, it’s time for them to hide, and that is the last thing you want. If this is the first time you are doing this focus on the teeth only or just below the gum line. The dog’s gums may be a little sensitive, especially if they are having certain dental problems already, and keep an eye on whether or not the gums begin to bleed. If the dog should emit a pain response for any reason, stop what you are doing and take them to a vet. Continuing could worsen whatever is going on in their mouth and that is the last thing you want.
If you don’t end up getting the entire mouth the first time around that’s perfectly fine. Breaking this type of activity in is new for the dog, considering it’s just like getting a child to get used to it, so be patient. After it’s been done a few times you can increase the amount you do it and for how long. Tell the dog how good they are being. Leave a treat that they will be able to see for after the teeth are done, and try your best to make this a positive experience.
Finding a toothbrush and toothpaste for a cat is slightly harder than for a dog. Unlike dogs, a cat is more than likely going to fight you more than a dog would do so. Getting the cat into the routine when they are as young as possible is the best way to avoid difficulty as they age, but it’s never too late to start. Start by playing with the cat and getting their energy levels down a bit. If the cat is naturally calm and relaxed you may not need to do this, but it’s best to try and get as much energy out of them as you can.
Bring the cat onto your lap, pet them into relaxation, then gently raise the lip on either side of the mouth and begin to brush the outer areas of the teeth. Brush away from the gum line to ensure that any food particles that may be embedded are pushed out and away. If this is the cat’s first time with a toothbrush, then no doubt it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. You will probably need to open the mouth more, but do not pry. Like dogs, cats need to be coaxed into home dental procedures properly and gently, and not be made to do things.
If the cat becomes stressed out, signs include being unresponsive or limp in general, for example, then they will need to be given a break before the experience becomes a traumatic one. Like a dog, if the cat becomes aggressive and tries to attack you to get away, immediately stop the brushing and consider having a vet do a regular cleaning instead. Should the cat become aggressive and you decide to keep going, you endanger yourself and the cat by pushing forward, and that is not worth the risk to the well-being of yourself and the cat. If the cat is fighting and trying to close their mouth, gently pinch the cheeks in between two of your fingers and begin to brush again. Work your way through your cat’s mouth fully, give them a treat when you’re done even if they were a nightmare to deal with. Let the cat be alone for a while if they choose to run away. After doing this a couple of times one will find that the cat will get used to it, tolerate it, absolutely hate it, or maybe even like it. Keeping a treat handy and in view will give the cat the sense that, even if they are being bad and fighting you over this, they will learn that a few minutes of enduring such a procedure will at least have some happy ending.
However, the act of brushing the teeth can cause bacteremia, especially if the gums are bleeding. The bacteria will move from the mouth to the bloodstream. In a healthy animal, the immune system can handle and clear the surge of bacteria. But, if the animal is already struggling with inflammation, dysbiosis, or other chronic disease, the immune system can reach the tipping point with brushing or cleaning because it introduces so much bacteria into the bloodstream.
Thus, dental care isn’t as simple as getting rid of plaque with brushings and regular cleanings because there are bacteria living there that keep unwanted bugs at bay. The first step in preventing or treating dental disease is to protect the microbiome from damage. Sprays and gels that contain natural properties which cleanse and coats the teeth can protect the microbiome. These include:
• Grapefruit seed extract: anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
• Neem oil: anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
• Thyme oil (Thymus vulgaris): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
• Peppermint oil (Mentha piperita): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, sedative
• Aloe Vera (used also or as a base in gels): tissue healing
• Colloidal silver (used alone or as a base in sprays and gels): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
• Grain alcohol (used as a base in many sprays)–anti-bacterial
A commonly-used maintenance schedule for these sprays and gels are one application every 3 to 4 days on small animals-under 30 pounds. On larger ones-over 30 pounds-one application per week is enough to keep the mouth
healthy and free from tartar build-up. Even with large tartar build-up an application every other day will still have benefits; though, it will just take more time to remove. Several dental diets and treats can also help keep plaque and tartar to a minimum. The diets tend to have larger kibbles to provide abrasive action against the tooth surface when chewed. These kibbles may contain ingredients that help prevent tartar mineralization. Dental treats act as toothbrushes and are often used when one has an animal that fights the brushing.
Probiotics were effective in treating and preventing dental disease as found in a 2009 study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. Probiotics are friendly populations of bacteria that compete with harmful
organisms for places to live and for food. They also help to balance the immune response.
Probiotics will easily colonize in plaque and compete for colonization sites and food with harmful bacteria. They produce anti-bacterial by-products that discourage the colonization of harmful bacteria. They can change the pH of the mouth and the amount of oxygen and they can support the immune system. But, not all strains of probiotics are able to colonize in the mouth. The study found that Lactobacillusspecies of probiotics were much more likely to colonize on the teeth and in plaque than Bificobacterium species. And other studies show that the populations of some species of Lactobacillus were larger in healthy people compared to those with dental disease. Other research found that Lactobacillus species in the mouth are capable of reducing the damaging inflammation that can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease. You can add probiotics to your pet’s food daily. This can be in the form of probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables or kefir or you can give them a probiotic supplement (or both). Because it’s so critical to protect from dysbiosis, these should be added daily.
If you are adding a commercial probiotic product, make sure there are more than four strains of bacteria and make sure there are at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units). Remember, animals already have a trillion bacteria entering their mouths every day so you want as many probiotics as possible to maintain or restore the balance. You will also want to be sure your pet’s food contains plenty of prebiotics, which are insoluble fiber ingredients that feed probiotics. This will prevent the probiotics from just dying off. And finally, dairy-based probiotics may trigger allergies in many animals, especially cats.
Dogs tend to be not all that great at chewing their food, so many of the bugs will just get passed right to the gut. To introduce healthy bacteria into the mouth, you can put a probiotic powder in a small spray bottle with some
filtered water (chlorine will kill the bugs so don’t use unfiltered tap water) and spray it in the dog’s mouth. Then you can put the rest in their food where they’ll help seed the gut too. Note: If you put probiotics in water, make sure that it’s not stored. Make a new batch right at meal time because the bacteria won’t survive long in the water. If brushing their teeth, make sure to spritz their mouths with this mixture afterward to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria populations.
As researchers look into the microbiome as the true source of health and immunity, they are finding that some old treatments just aren’t the best course of treatment as previously thought.
Jolene Griffiths, ND
The Health Patch 1024 Midwest Blvd., Midwest City, OK Ph: 405-736-1030
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.