What is Tartar and How to Prevent It

Posted by Belinda Bird on

Commonly referred to as... 'The gross brown stuff that has accumulated on my dog or cats teeth', is a growing concern for pet owners, and is the cause of gum disease, bad breath, and rotten teeth. With up to 80% of dogs and cats having dental problems by middle age. 


Tartar is Plaque that has hardened on the teeth. Its accumulation irritates the gums, causing them to become inflamed and the encouragement of a disease called gingivitis. 


Tarter can not only build up under the gums causing them to pull away, but it also creates little pockets around the teeth in the gum tissue that promote bacteria. The damage to the gums and teeth is irreversible and can lead to pain, abscesses, infections, loose teeth and even some jaw bone loss. 


Everyone knows that dogs LOVE to chew! But unfortunately for some owners, the chewing is not contained to just bones or sticks, but chewing none the less helps to promote healthy teeth and gums. 


There are varying degrees of gingivitis, and each come with their own unique problems. Below displays the four stages of dental disease. 


What aids in increasing Tartar Build-up

  • Soft food such as tin dog food or cooked leftovers. This is not to say that you can not feed soft foods, but that you need to counteract it with a food or activity that will help in reducing tartar. Soft and mushy food offer no scratching or scraping of the teeth while eating. Raw diets tend to have a beneficial effect on the teeth and gums.


  • Genetic makeup and confirmation of teeth can create areas in the mouth that are difficult to reach while chewing. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) and toy breeds are particularly prone to build up due to poor conformation and often overcrowding. 


  • Lack of opportunities to chew. 


How to prevent Tartar Build-up

  • Daily brushing of their teeth is the gold standard, but for many pet owners, it is a timely exercise that is hard to fit into an everyday routine. But, if you can... this is the best thing you can do! It is important to note... NEVER use human toothpaste as fluoride is extremely poisonous to dogs.


  • Look at their diet. If you choose to feed a commercial dog food, the general rule is soft/wet food aids in building tartar and dry food/kibble can aid in removing tartar as they chew through the hard pieces. For optimal results, a raw and balanced diet that consists of ground bones creates a gentle dental abrasive, which acts like a fine sandpaper when chewed. This, in turn, helps to remove debris stuck on teeth. 


  • Feeding hard bones for larger dogs and small bones for smaller dogs, 2-3 times per week. For small, toy breeds, and cats, chicken necks, and chicken wings are often hard enough to provide cleaning. Be careful with large thigh bones that are often cut in half as even though the marrow is like liquid gold to a dog, the sharp edges have been known to crack and chip teeth. These are recommended as an occasional treat rather than every few days. 


  • Raw hard vegetable such as carrots can help to clean teeth. 


  • Sticks and toys that involve rigorous chewing help to scratch away at the edges of the teeth. 


  • A supplement to prevent tartar build up and reduce bad breath. Our recommendation is Plaque Away. 




It is important to note that if your dog or cat already has significant tartar build up, they may require a dental due to the strength of tartar to clean the teeth before gingivitis and dental disease become a problem. Everything explained above works as a prevention and can remove minor tartar build up.  


Dentals completed by a Veterinary Practice can be costly and involve a full general anesthetic. If you can prevent this by following our recommendations above it will not only prevent your pet from having a complex procedure but also reduce your worry. 


If you have a pet that has suffered from dental disease and have found natural ways to reduce tartar build-up, or if you have any questions, we would love to hear from you!


I would love to hear any feedback or experiences that you have!


 Belinda Bird 

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