December 1991; Control and Therapy
Series No. 3128; Mailing No. 163
Post Graduate Committee in Veterinary Science of the University of Sydney
PO Box A 561, Sydney South NSW 2000 , Australia; Tel: 02 9264 2122
The stench of
stale blood, dung and pus emanating from the mouths of so many of my patients
has finally provoked this eruption of dissent.
The sheer numbers passing through the practice, when extrapolated to the world
situation, tells me that oral disease is the source of the greatest intractable
pain and discomfort experienced by our companion animals.
This is a great and mindless cruelty we visit upon our animals from the whelping
box to the grave. Just imagine having a mouth ulcer or toothache for a lifetime.
The internal factors are these:
Puppies and kittens cut their deciduous teeth between
2 and 6 weeks of age. An inevitable consequence of this is gingivitis. A diet
of processed food ensures lack of gum massage and the gingivitis persists. The
growing animal develops grooming behaviour and adds hair and faecal materials
to the accumulated food scraps clogging the interdental spaces.
Between four and six months of age the permanent teeth erupt into a soup of blood,
pus and saliva. The gingivitis is now well established and not infrequently one
finds a young kitten or puppy with a complete set of deciduous teeth hanging from
inflamed gingival shreds.
Even on a diet of processed food the deciduous teeth must eventually fall out.
The permanent teeth come to occupy a diseased mouth and by this time the animal
has learned not to chew on anything because of the pain involved.
The exquisite mechanism of teeth and gums, designed by nature to be cleaned, massage
and stressed daily, is left to rot. Compare mining machinery properly maintained
which can excavate a mountain but by disuse can be rendered useless.
A lifetime of inescapable pain is bad enough. The sequelae of endocarditis, iliac
thrombosis, nephritis and all those other entities attributable to a permanent
septic focus finally condemn this situation as being intolerable.
The external factors are these:
Foremost are the pet foods which are promoted as "complete
diets only water needed". Along with petroleum and coffee, pet food is one
of the biggest industries world wide.
Reacting to the now universal dental needs of our animals the dental instrument,
the dental machine and even the imitation bone industries have flourished.
I believe many veterinary practitioners have reacted passively, perhaps providing
some dental care as an after thought and virtually no advice. Since cats and dogs
don't complain, owners don't realize and don't seek advice. Many vets just don't
seem to be pro-active in this vital area.
As vets we need to provide more than palliative care. Brushing teeth and regular
prophys are not enough when advice on diet and food to massage the gums is so
What's to be done?
a. The internal system
Help them to control their two bouts of physiological gingivitis before it becomes
pathological. Older larger dogs need raw bones and cats need raw meat on the bone.
b. The external system
The external commerce driven system did not exist before
the 50's and now it seems such an inescapable part of life. It may take a while
to alter course.
The profession can do much to re-educate itself and in turn the public. A few
practice surveys and university based research projects would set the tone.
The pet food manufacturers will need advice on the problems caused by processed
food. One pet food company gives bi-annual "prophys" to its research
animals. (personal communication)
However, they may be persuaded to voluntarily print cautionary advice on their
What benefits can we expect?
Innumerable. Pets will be fed on cheap
unprocessed bi-products some of the time. The environment will benefit, clients
will be an average $1000 per animal/per lifetime better off. Certainly the pets
can be expected to live longer as they enjoy their lives seeking to "steal
bones out of the freezer".
As vets we will be happy to see more pain free, healthier pets and grateful owners.