Dental issues definition:

Dental problems can be a serious threat to a pet’s health, if left untreated. While dogs and cats are not susceptible to dental decay and cavities as humans are, they do suffer from periodontal disease. Plaque allowed to build up on the teeth eventually hardens into tartar, resulting in bad breath, and a buildup of bacteria at the gum-line. This, in turn, releases toxins into the oral tissue, leading to periodontal disease. Pockets are created between the gum tissue and tooth where more bacteria can accumulate.

How it affects pets:

Infection along the gum-line can result in loss of teeth (extraction/ falling out), difficulty eating, painful abscesses, and if left untreated, systemic infections affecting the kidneys, lungs, liver, the heart and the entire immune system.


Some breeds (especially smaller dogs) appear to be more susceptible to dental problems than others. Their teeth tend to be more crowded in their tiny mouths, which makes keeping them clean more difficult. Also, many tiny dogs are more finicky in nature, so are often provided “sticky” canned foods, treats and diets containing higher amounts of sugar. This tendency toward dental issues may also be partly genetic. A dry mouth caused by excessive panting and breathing with open mouth, allows more plaque to build. The pH of an individual dog’s saliva also seems to contribute to issues, as well. The saliva combines with bacteria present in the mouth and the more acid the slobber, the more quickly tartar builds.

What types of foods do holistic vets recommend?

Since most kibble is laden with processed simple carbohydrates, any of the few pellets that are actually ‘chewed’ tend to pack these starches and sugars into the gum-line, increasing the likelihood of dental disease. Most home-prepared and whole food diets do not contribute to tartar buildup to the same extent as dry foods. And fresh, minimally-processed pet foods cause almost no tartar build up in most cases.

A grain-free diet is recommended for pets with colitis or a sensitive GI tract. Grains may cause many adverse reactions especially when there is an excessively high grain content in the diet, or if the grains are highly processed such as with corn gluten meal or wheat middlings. GM grains may be more likely to cause inflammatory reactions in the GI tract than conventional or organic whole grains. A limited-ingredient diet can be helpful for some dogs, as well.

Other modalities to consider:

A canine toothbrush, baby toothbrush, or finger-toothbrush are great for dogs that are especially prone to plaque and tartar buildup, and regular in-home cleaning can help delay or avoid the need for professional dental cleanings. You can help your dog enjoy the process by using meat-flavored toothpaste and make sure to offer lots of calm praise and a high-value treat for their patience with the brushing routine.

Natural teeth-cleaning is provided by the occasional raw meaty bone such as a beef marrow bone, ‘soup’ bone, chicken neck or back. Providing hours of gnawing enjoyment, the abrasive action of the bone against the teeth and stripping of any scraps of meat, reduce plaque buildup and developing tartar, and even clean between the teeth as sinew is pulled off. Be sure to monitor your pet until you know that they have a safe chewing style.

To find holistic help with your pet's dental issues, see our list of integrative veterinarians and holistic practitioners.

Diets that meet some of the parameters vets suggest:

For dogs:

For cats: