Non-Anesthetic Dental Treatments: More Harm Than Good?

by Timothy Hodge, DVM

Dental disease in dogs is one of, if not the most, common disorders affecting our canine friends. By the age of three, 80% of all dogs have sufficient dental disease that warrants professional dental cleaning.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t occur with enough regularity to maintain good oral health. Many dogs suffer in silence as a result dental disease. Dental disorders, including plaque, tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, infections, cavities, and tooth trauma, all affect the oral cavity. Dental disease also has significant implications for the rest of the body. The heart, kidney, respiratory system and brain are all impacted by diseases of the teeth and oral cavity. Professional dental treatments not only provide for a healthy oral cavity, but also the health of the body as a whole. So, the benefits of proper dental care far outweigh the risks.

All major veterinary organizations that provide treatment guidelines and recommendations have established that professional anesthetic dental cleanings are considered standards of care. To not use anesthesia with dental treatments is considered to be below the minimum appropriate level of care. Anesthesia is the only way a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment can be performed.

Many dog owners are aware of the importance of proper oral health and the need for dental treatments, but acceptance and compliance is low. Why is this?
In my experience, the fear of anesthesia is the number one reason why dogs, especially older ones, do not have proper dental treatments performed. While it does affect all dogs and all breeds, dental disease is prevalent primarily in older toy breeds. Costs and fees are generally less of a concern as most pet parents know how important this treatment is and plan accordingly. The key to preventing tooth loss is assessment and treatment. This is greatly limited with non-anesthetic dental treatments.

Non-anesthetic dental cleanings give pet owners a false sense of security into believing that they are doing what is best for their pet. However, in many cases, disease is left undetected and untreated. The pet suffers in silence until they can no longer tolerate the pain. By this point, the disease has progressed to where extraction of teeth is the only alternative. Other organs may now also be affected.

If disease is found early enough, treatments other than extractions are among available options. Tooth loss can be avoided with early, proper assessment and treatment, only achieveable if the pet is under anesthesia.

For non-anesthetic dental procedures, pets have to be restrained. This increases the risks that the pet may be injured by the restraint. Dental instruments can also cause mouth, head trauma or injury. It is most important to realize that the majority of dental disease lies below the gum line. This cannot be addressed effectively with non-anesthetic cleanings.

Cleaning only the surface of the tooth crown is a cosmetic procedure that offers no health benefits for the pet. Non-anesthetic dental cleanings are not in the best interest of your pet’s health and well-being.

Age Is Not A Disease
Many pet parents become more concerned with anesthesia in their older dogs. This is especially true of small breed dogs. The time under anesthesia can be longer for older pets due to the level of disease and the necessity for more dental work. Treatment, early and often, is the key. Repeated anesthesia over the life of the pet does not impact longevity as was once the case with older anesthetic medications. Dental disease is not curable with a one-time
treatment. The disease is recurrent and progressive. Regular anesthetic dental treatments and cleanings can manage and stall dental disease.

Ensuring a safe and effective anesthetic dental cleaning and reducing the fear of pet parents, requires screening pets and providing individualized care. This allows us to ensure the safety of the pet and limit the time under anesthesia. We start with pre-anesthesia testing. At a minimum, a physical exam and lab testing to assess organ function are required. Pets with possible or known heart/lung disease may also need an EKG, chest radiographs and echocardiogram.

The anesthetic protocol is tailored to meet the needs of the individual pet. This will mean choosing the pre-anesthesia medications, drugs to induce anesthesia and maintenance gas that meet the needs of the pet. Each pet is an individual and needs to be treated as such.

Light Plane Of Anesthesia
The depth or level of anesthesia is kept to a minimum. The pet should be in a shallow plane of anesthesia as opposed to a deep plane of anesthesia. Local nerve blocs, just like with humans, can allow for better pain control, but still allow the pet to be as minimally sedated as possible. Light planes of anesthesia improve heart and lung function and blood pressure. Effective pain management, nerve blocks, injectable and oral pain medication allow for a lighter plane of anesthesia, reducing the risk of complications and speeding the recovery period. These are major factors in minimizing anesthesia concerns.

The concerns with anesthesia are greatly reduced with today’s modern ability to monitor the pet. Monitoring by an experienced and attentive technician or veterinary nurse is paramount. Monitoring machines are also very helpful. All pets will have pulse oximetry (oxygen levels in the blood), EKG, respiratory monitor, temperature monitor and blood pressure assessed during their entire time of anesthesia.

An IV catheter is always in place for fluid administration, helping maintain proper blood pressure, but also to flush drugs, medications and toxins via the kidneys, which also supports proper kidney function. As previously mentioned, anesthesia, by nature, can lower blood pressure. It can also lower body temperature. To address this, the pet must be warmed while under anesthesia. This requires external warmers such as blankets and warmed IV fluids. When the body temperature is kept as close to normal as possible, the rest of the body functions better, and recovery is quicker. An endotracheal tube with cuff is used on every patient to maintain an open airway and prevent water and debris from entering the trachea and lungs.

Recovery from anesthesia is one of the most important times of the entire procedure and is critical to a successful outcome. The pet is to be monitored until able to sit upright and breathe without the need for the endotracheal tube and swallow appropriately. Body temperature is monitored and the pet is warmed to maintain normalcy. While the pet is being monitored, any additional support is provided, if needed, such as additional pain medication, warming support, and nausea control.

The Big Take Home Message
First, talk to your veterinarian and veterinary team about their protocol for pre-anesthesia evaluation, lab testing, and treatment. Ask them how your pet will be monitored, what steps will be taken to adequately monitor your pet, and control pain and discomfort. Ask how your pet will be supported to limit
anesthetic complications and allow for safe, effective and proper dental care.

Timothy Hodge, DVM is the owner/practioner of Harbourside Animal Hospital and Cross Creek Animal Medical Center. Having completed his training at the Chi Institute, he provides acupuncture and herbal therapies in addition to traditional medical care.

Treat Me Right.

Rawhide is a dangerous treat, given unknowingly by pet parents to their dogs. It is not, as many folks believe, the by-product of the beef industry nor is it made of dehydrated meat. It is actually the by-product of the leather industry. Producing rawhide begins with the splitting of an animal hide, usually from cattle. The top grain is generally tanned and made into leather products, while the inner portion, in its “raw” state, goes to the dogs. Harmful chemicals, glue and paint are added to the product. A brief 4-step explanation below this illustration describes how the actual process transforms the hide to the dangerous chew stick. And, below the explanation, we’ve included some safer, healthier treat option suggestions (vegetarian option as well).


STEP 1: Normally, cattle hides are shipped to tanneries for processing. The hides are treated with a chemical bath to help “preserve” the product during transport to help prevent spoilage.

Once at the tannery, the hides are soaked and treated with either an ash-lye solution or a highly toxic recipe of sodium sulphide liming. This process will help strip the hair and fat that maybe attached to the hides themselves.

The hides are then treated with chemicals that help “puff” the hide, making it easier to split into layers. The outer layer of the hide is used for goods like car seats, clothing, shoes, purses, etc. But, it’s the inner layer that is needed to make the rawhide, and other things like gelatin, cosmetics, and glue.

STEP 2: The post-tannery stage: Hides are washed and whitened using a solution of hydrogen peroxide and/or bleach; this will also help remove the smell of the rotten or putrid leather. (Research also shows that other chemicals maybe used to help the whitening process if the bleach isn’t strong enough.)

STEP 3: Now it’s time to make these whitened sheets of this “leathery by-product” look delicious. So, here is where the artistic painting process comes in.

Basted, smoked, and decoratively tinted products might be any color (or odor) underneath the coating of (often artificial) dyes and flavors. They can even be painted with a coating of titanium oxide to make them appear white and pretty on the pet store shelves.

The Material Safety Data Sheet reveals a toxic confection containing the carcinogen FD&C Red 40, along with preservatives like sodium benzoate. Tracking the effects of chemical exposure is nearly impossible when it’s a matter of slow, low-dose poisoning.

STEP 4: How does it last forever? Because the FDA does not consider these chews to be food, it’s a free for all when it comes to the manufacturers of these leather strips, and the products they may want to add to these chews, to get them to last forever. Any sort of glue may be added here to help ensure they never come apart.

When tested: Lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium salts, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals have been detected in raw hides.

Finally, it’s time to package and attach all the glorious marketing labels to the product. The fine print warning is attached with some rawhide products:  “Choking or blockages. If your dog swallows large pieces of rawhide, the rawhide can get stuck in the esophagus or other parts of the digestive tract. Sometimes, abdominal surgery is needed to remove them from the stomach or intestines. If it isn’t resolved, a blockage can lead to death.“

How do proactive veterinarians feel about these chews? This is what world-renowned veterinarian Doctor Karen Becker has to say on the matter:

“The name ‘rawhide’ is technically incorrect. A more accurate name would be processed-hide, because the skin isn’t raw at all. But the term “rawhide” has stuck. Rawhide chews start out hard, but as your dog works the chew it becomes softer, and eventually he can unknot the knots on each end and the chew takes on the consistency of a slimy piece of taffy or bubble gum. And by that time your dog cannot stop working it — it becomes almost addictive.At this point, there’s no longer any dental benefit to the chew because it has turned soft and gooey, and, in fact, it has become a choking and intestinal obstruction hazard.“

An investigation by Humane Society International stated in their report, “In a particularly grisly twist, the skins of brutally slaughtered dogs in Thailand are mixed with other bits of skin to produce rawhide chew toys for pet dogs. Manufacturers told investigators that these chew toys are regularly exported to and sold in U.S. stores.”

Healthy, Safer & Delicious Treat Alternatives, as Suggested by THE NEW BARKER dog magazine.


  1. Atticus’ Own Pet Products – a variety of delicious treats, chock full of all things healthy, like glucosamine and chondroitin. A super treat to keep you dog’s hips and joints healthy. The jerky is made from USDA-certified, all-natural chicken breast from family farms right here in the USA. In fact, Atticus’ Own Pet Products is headquartered right here in Florida. Grain free. No wheat, corn, soy or additives. In addition to the chicken jerky, Atticus’ Own offers Fish Jerky treats “like heaven in a bag…” A great source of omega-3’s. For dogs and cats. Follow the adventures of Atticus’ Own Gibbs and Sunshine at Atticus’ Own Pet Products. Better yet, order up some treats at
  2. Earth Animal No-Hide Chicken Chews – 100% USA-sourced chicken, made in the USA.  The chicken has been carefully rolled, cooked and uniquely dried for a one-of-a-kind chew. No hormones or additives. Also available: Beef and Salmon. You’ll find these delicious dog treats at fine Florida dog stores such as Dog Mania & Cats in Dade City.
  3. Al CaBONES – We’ve watched customers load up on these treats, as their dogs just love them. The treats are actually beef marrow bones wrapped in chicken. No additives, preservatives or fillers. All goodness, sourced and made in the USA. Bada bing, bada boom. Trust us. This is a treat your dog can’t refuse. Available at fine independent pet retail stores including Fluffy Puppies in Clearwater and Pet Food Warehouse in St. Petersburg. einsteinpets_ilovelucy
  4. Einstein Pets – What about an alternative for the vegetarian lover?  Einstein Pets uses only ingredients that matter. Ingredients like oats, rich in nutrients. Veggie Time dog treats are made with real carrots, turmeric and chia which promotes heart and liver health. This Sarasota, FL company is turning heads in the pet treat industry with awards from Pet Product News and the Best Brand award from American Choice Awards. You’ll find them at fine independent pet retail stores including Wet Noses, Sarasota; Bark Life, Seminole; Downtown Dogs, Tampa’s Hyde Park; The Modern Paws, Tampa; Wag Natural Pet Market, Tampa’s Davis Island; Earthwise Pet Supply in Gainesville, Valrico, Naples and Jacksonville Beach.

Finally – always supervise your pet when giving any chew treats. It’s also a good idea to check with your veterinarian, especially if your dog is on a special diet.

Sources: Pet nutrition blogger Rodney Habib, Planet Paws, The Whole Dog Journal and The Bark.

THE NEW BARKER dog magazine, established in 2006, publishes quarterly. Each cover of THE NEW BARKER dog magazine features an original work of art by a different Florida artist. For more information, visit


Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding: Part 2 in a Series.

Focus on the fact that food is food. Whether you’re human, dog, cat, horse or parrot, we all eat food.  What matters is how much protein, fats and carbohydrates you put together, and the vitamins and minerals added depending on the species, i.e. dog vs. cat.

In the modern world, with its many carcinogens, one in three dogs will contract cancer. Just as with people, the addition of highly colored fruits and vegetables to a diet can cut the rate of cancer in dogs by 30%.

Is it safe to feed my pet a raw diet? Safety issues are probably the biggest concern for pet parents when considering a raw diet for their pets. This is not a surprise considering how much contradictory and flat out misinformation exists on the subject. You’ll find an equal amount of information that supports raw feeding as well as discourages raw feeding.

Meet Kato and Drake, two Cane Corsos both on a raw diet with products found at Groovy Cats & Dogs.

The risk involved in feeding a raw diet to your pet is minimal provided you understand what they are and how to manage them. Many veterinarians are not advocates of the raw diet. Their concern, understandably, is that pet parents may not be fully informed about just what a raw diet consists of, and how to properly prepare a raw diet. Throwing down a chunk of raw chicken or beef with some rice in a dog’s bowl is not a raw diet. Veterinarians are also rightfully concerned with the fact that if not properly prepared, a raw diet will lack in certain nutrients, and those deficiencies may eventually make the dog ill.

You’ll want to be aware of the following risks when feeding your dog a raw diet:

Concern #1: Potential for contamination by various bacteria (same risks to humans as when cooking your family a chicken or meatloaf dinner); when feeding a commercially prepared raw diet, your risk is likely lower than when handling meat from your grocer or butcher.

Solution: Any safety concerns regarding bacteria such as salmonella, E-coli or other types of bacteria when handling raw meat are mostly aimed at the humans handling the raw meat, not the family pets. As far as the risks to humans, take the same precautions as handling raw meat to prepare a chicken dinner for the family. Avoid cross-contamination, wash all surfaces and hands thoroughly, for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm soapy water. When it comes to pork, there are additional safety precautions due to potential of trichinosis, so it requires extra care by either freezing it for a longer period of time, or cooking it thoroughly. To read more on safety issues when handling raw meats, visit this link, Safe Food Handling: What You Need to Know.  

Concern #2: Your pet and the type of chewer he is will dictate the types of raw meaty bones, if any, you give to your pet.

Solution: Most do-it-yourself raw diets call for a certain percentage of raw meaty bones to be fed as part of  the diet. Bones and cartilage contain good nutrients for pets such as fats, calcium and phosphorous. Bones also provide a wonderful recreational exercise for pets that is hard to beat. Additionally, bones help keep a dog’s teeth sparkly clean. Dogs were designed to chew, tear and shred. So when buying bones, it is essential to make the right choices based on what kind of chewer the dog is in order to minimize any risks. Is the dog a chomper or a gulper when eating food? Has the dog displayed tendencies to swallow large objects whole? Dogs displaying these tendencies are not good candidates for bones.

Dogs can be trained to chew properly, but plan on committing enough time to train the dog and gain the confidence to add bones to the dog’s diet. Another area of concern: some dogs become very food aggressive over bones. They become fixated on them. Many a dog fight has broken out over a bone. The best way to deal with this issue is to separate the dogs in a multiple dog family and/or place them in their own crate. Never leave a dog and a child alone together while the dog is eating. An alterative to feeding bones is to add bone meal (bones ground up into a fine powder) as a supplement. There are several options on the market today which have the meat, bone and cartilage all ground up together.

Concern #3: Does your pet have a compromised immune system? Take that into consideration and monitor carefully when starting out on a raw diet; consider raw diet alternatives such as dehydrated raw and freeze dried raw.

Solution: The current health of the dog must be taken into consideration before going on a raw diet. If the dog has a compromised immune system (meaning the body does not have the ability to defend against illness or medical challenges such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer) precautions should be taken. This doesn’t mean that a raw diet is totally out of the question. It may require a little longer time to transition the dog onto a raw diet. Another consideration may be to utilize one of the raw alternatives available at holistic pet stores to make it easier for the dog to handle and digest. Another option may be to cook the dog’s food to help him transition off commercial kibble and then ease into raw. Consider easy-to-prepare meals by Dr. Harvey’s, The Honest Kitchen, Grandma Lucy’s, Stella & Chewy’s or SOJOS.

It’s always a good idea to seek guidance from a holistic veterinarian, homeopathic veterinarian or a holistic nutritionist experienced in nutrition for companion animals. Adjustments may be required throughout the process, and a supportive professional will assist to achieve the desired goals.

Cats and dogs have different digestive systems than humans.

Things that we eat safely can make our pets sick and vice versa. Generally speaking, dogs and cats have a much shorter digestive tract than humans. A pet’s digestive system is able to handle raw meat better and food is processed in their digestive systems much more quickly than humans. Also, cats and dogs have a higher level of acidity in their systems, making it harder for the bacteria to grow and multiply.

Many commercially prepared raw food diets available today pose even less risk for bacteria because more care is taken to remove potential pathogens. Follow the same safety precautions as suggested by the Food & Drug Administration for handling raw meat in the kitchen when preparing a family meal.

Is a raw diet balanced and complete? Most commercially prepared raw diets are already completely balanced with the right levels of protein, fats, carbs, vitamins and minerals. Certain brands or formulas  are called “prey model.” These typically only include meat, ground bone and offal, or organ meats. When starting out, stick to the complete diets that include fruits, vegetables and vitamins. (We’ll revisit prey model and some different approaches to raw feeding, as well as preparing home cooked meals for pets in Part 3 of this series).

Proteins and fats will vary based on the different formulas. Different meats have different protein and fat levels, so based on what kind of meat is in the formula, these levels will vary. Most people start out with chicken, turkey or beef. If the pet has a known food allergy he may need a unique or novel protein like rabbit, goat or pheasant. Novel proteins are becoming increasingly more available in commercial raw pet foods for pet parents whose pets have severe allergies.

Some popular commercial raw frozen diets include: BARF World (stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), BRAVO, Northwest Naturals, O.C. Raw, Oma’s Pride, Primal Pet Foods, Stella & Chewy’s and Vital Essentials. Another consideration would be to start off with a dehydrated or freeze-dried formulation. I recommend Dr. Harvey’s, Grandma Lucy’s, The Honest Kitchen, Stella & Chewy’s, Primal Pet Foods and SOJOS. The main difference between raw frozen and dehydrated or freeze-dried foods is the packaging process. Raw frozen has never been cooked. The foods are chopped, mixed and frozen. Just thaw and feed. Freeze-dried foods have never been cooked. The foods are chopped, mixed, and then forced into a hard freeze. Simply rehydrate by adding water and allowing the mixture to soak for about 30 minutes (for easier digestion) before feeding. Dehydrated has been “gently” cooked with a very low temperature, which removes the moisture and leaves many of the natural enzymes intact. Any of these options are easy to handle. The dehydrated/freeze-dried formulas are great for traveling with the family pet as they are lightweight and can be prepared easily with minimal space and utensils.

How do I transition my pet to a raw diet? Many people make the mistake of switching their pet to a new diet too fast, resulting in gastrointestinal (GI) upset and/or diarrhea. Whether you are switching your pet to a raw food diet, or just a new brand of dry food kibble, you should always ease them into their new food to minimize GI upset. Raw food is processed differently than kibble, so avoid feeding raw and kibble together. It will confuse the body and likely result in excess gas. The best way to transition your pet to any new diet, is to feed the new food as a treat at first. On day one, try giving the new food as a treat a few times throughout the day. Watch the poop. If the poop remains normal, then continue using the new food as a treat throughout the day for the next several days. After a few days with the poop remaining normal, replace one meal with the new raw frozen diet. I recommend feeding the raw meal in the morning, and a kibble meal in the evening. If your pet handles the one raw meal per day for several days, then it is safe to switch completely to the new raw diet. Now, if your pet has only eaten one kind of food for their entire life, or for a number of years, you will need to slow the process down and transition over a longer period of time. Allow your pet’s gut to learn to manage this new food type. It may need some additional support, such as probiotics and/or digestive enzymes. We’ll talk more about these and other supplements in Part 4 of our series Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding.

So, what is the difference between commercially prepared raw diet and do-it-yourself raw diets? Most commercially prepared raw diets are already balanced with the proper ratio of protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. When you do-it-yourself at home, you buy the meat, add the proper ratio of fats, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. In the beginning it can be overwhelming for some people. It is not a question of what is better for your pet — it is a question of what are you most comfortable feeding. Most pet parents just starting out feeding raw, start with a commercially prepared raw diet. Be sure to select a “complete and balanced” diet. There are some products available that do not include anything but meat and bone, so that is not considered a complete diet. If you buy a complete diet, there is no guesswork involved. You just determine how much your pet needs to eat on a daily basis and you feed the proper portions. I encourage my customers to start by feeding just one meal of raw per day, feeding the raw meal in the morning and the kibble in the evening. When you become a little more comfortable feeding raw and see your pet thriving on their new diet, you will probably feel more comfortable putting it together yourself. Most of my customers come back eager to learn more after a few short weeks of observing their pet on a raw diet. They see their pet(s) more eager to eat, with shinier coats, brighter eyes and generally renewed healthy, vibrant demeanor.

When should a raw diet be avoided? If your pet has cancer, a suppressed immune system, advanced liver or kidney failure, pancreatitis or serious digestive issues, then it is probably best to avoid a raw diet. Start with home-cooked or a dehydrated or freeze-dried alternative raw option that will be easier for your pet’s digestive system to handle. If your pet has any of the conditions mentioned, I strongly suggest you seek the advice of a holistic or homeopathic veterinarian.

In Part 3 of our series, we’ll discuss how to prepare meals from scratch for your pet. In other words we’ll cover how to make do-it-yourself meals in your own kitchen. We’ll cover raw and home-cooked meals. The series, Taking the Mystery Out of Raw Feeding is a contribution by Yvonne Guibert, written exclusively for The New Barker dog magazine. Yvonne is the owner ofGroovy Cats & Dogs, an all-natural pet boutique located in Tampa, Florida. Their focus has always been on all natural food and treats for cats and dogs.

To find the products listed within this article, call or visit your local, independent pet retailer: Animal House Pet Center, St. Petersburg/727.328.0503; Dog Mania & Cats, Dade City/352.457.9616; Fluffy Puppies, Clearwater/727.446.7999; Groovy Cats & Dogs, Tampa/813.265.1333; One Lucky Dog, St. Petersburg/727.527.5825; Paw Paws Pet Boutique, Madeira Beach/727.329.8789; Pawsitively Posh Pooch, St. Petersburg/727.892.9303; Pet Food Warehouse, St. Petersburg/727.521.6191; Pet Supplies Plus, Pinellas Park/727.541.1199; Pet Supplies Plus, Clearwater/727.726.5544; Royal Pets, Tampa/813.448.6744; The Doggie Door, Winter Park/407.644.2969; The Green K9, Mount Dora/352.729.6172; Wet Noses Boutique, Sarasota/941.388.3647.