The pet food industry resolutely fails to step up to the plate in tackling feline and canine oral health problems. They have a responsibility because poor oral health is one of the top health problems in cats and dogs. And you don’t have to look far to put the blame largely down to the food that they eat. Also, it’s a myth, if we are honest, that dry foods scrape away the plaque and calculus and keep the gums healthy. It’s more a selling point than reality.
And what is depressing for many people who are concerned about companion animal welfare is that veterinarians stock their shelves high with dry cat foods. They dress up the food with some fancy terminology and sprinkle it with the fairy dust of veterinary care to convince customers that it will prevent that horrible visit to a veterinarian for teeth cleaning which requires a general anaesthetic and which, in turn, carries the risk of brain damage or even death, albeit rarely.
One website tells me that 80% of dogs and 70% of cats will have some evidence of dental disease by the age of three! I know that poor oral health is in the top 10 of feline health problems. It is a quiet catastrophe like the feline kidney disease crisis that is hardly discussed.
In 1994, 27 years ago, a study1 reviewed other studies on the relationship of cat foods and the development of periodontal disease. They concluded that although modern pet foods can improve overall health compared to the ad hoc kitchen scrap method of feeding, gum disease remained a serious “diet-related problem”. In other words, they put the blame at the feet of pet food manufacturers for periodontal disease.
They stated that there was “reasonable evidence that soft diets are associated with increased frequency and severity of periodontal disease”. My reference books on veterinary care support the view that sticky, wet cat food may have a detrimental effect on gum health. Add to that what I’ve previously stated namely that dry cat food doesn’t help anyway and we have a problem which should be resolved by the pet food manufacturers.
Perhaps they introduced dry cat food to try and get rid of the problem that they had created with wet cat food. And poor oral health can affect other parts of the body. There is a connection, for example, between gum and kidney disease.
The vets consistently try and stop cat and dog guardians from making home-made cat and dog food. They say that they are unable to do it to a sufficiently high standard to avoid either missing out vital ingredients or allowing their food to become contaminated with bacteria because of poor storage and handling. Is this a cynical ploy to boost their sales of dry cat food?
Raw food advocates claim that both the animal’s teeth and their poo improve when they are placed on a raw diet. The Times journalist, Deborah Ross, advocates in the newspaper today that dog owners should ditch tinned food and go for the raw variety. She did this herself after a eureka moment some years ago because she was impressed by the teeth of a dog that she saw and who was on a raw diet.
She said as soon as she switched to a raw diet her dog’s ‘Pedigree Chum poos’ disappeared and his stool improved dramatically. I think that she is implying that he had mild diarrhoea because of the commercial food he was on.
Commercial pet foods were introduced around the 1950s. It would be nice but impossible to know whether cats and dogs had better teeth before the 1950s compared to today. I suspect they did but overall, their health would have been worse because of a lack of the nutrients and ingredients added to modern foods.
But this is about gums and teeth and I think you will find that all veterinarians would agree that raw foods including bones, which replicate the wild diet, maintain far better oral health and dramatically help to prevent gum disease. Dr Fogle advises allowing cats to eat bones with say chicken. The benefits outweigh the risks.
I know that you can buy raw cat food. In America it is relatively popular compared to the UK where it is all but impossible to purchase. Is it not possible for the UK pet food manufacturers to make a balanced raw cat food including bones, packaged suitably conveniently the UK market? It doesn’t have to be frozen. People by fresh food for themselves so why can’t we buy fresh raw foods for our cat companions? Is that a simplistic solution? Or are the pet food manufacturers being too cynical?
They work hand-in-hand with veterinarians. Someone like me who is sceptical might believe that they are happy for cats and dogs to develop poor oral health as it drives their owners to the veterinary clinic. More and more veterinary clinics are being bought up by big business and run like big businesses. It is competitive. The days of the independent, partnership-managed, veterinary clinic is dying.
This business model encourages me to believe that there is an element of cynicism in the relationship between vets and the pet food manufacturers. A lot of people don’t see it or don’t mind because they love the convenience of dry foods. They don’t even notice that their cat has poor old health. Convenience is all in the modern world but I’m not like that. I would like to see companion animal health been prioritised over customer convenience.
In September 2019 a study was published on the benefits of lactic acid supplementation of pet foods to inhibit dental plaque, calculus and tooth stain accumulation in cats. They concluded that “lactic acid supplemented at 1.2% in a feline maintenance food significantly inhibits oral substrate accumulation.”
Is lactic acid added to cat food nowadays? I couldn’t find out on the Internet but if it isn’t the pet food manufacturers have another question to answer.
1. Diet and periodontal disease in dogs and cats by ADJ WATSON.