My Dog Doesn’t Chew Food—Is That Bad?

My Dog Doesn’t Chew Food—Is That Bad?

The answer to this question is yes and no.


What Are Your Dog’s Teeth Used For?

There are a lot of factors that determine whether your dog is having a dental issue based on how they eat. First, it’s important to understand that dogs have a different dentition, or set of teeth, compared to people. Of the 42 teeth in a dog’s mouth, 36 of those teeth are used only for shearing and only 4 of those teeth are used for crushing or grinding. The 2 mandibular first molars are the largest molars in the dog’s mouth, and they are capable of both crushing and shearing.

Second, we need two understand what our dogs are eating. Before dog kibble was invented our dogs used to eat table scraps. Once we understood that dogs were not getting proper nutrition, kibble became more and more popular. Now there is a wide variety of kibble and soft food meals that help keep our dogs nutritionally balanced. Due to the fact dogs are fed a prepared meal, the use of their dentition is not as important as a wild dog species that needs to catch prey to eat.


Kibble vs. Soft Food

Dog kibble and soft food do not require our dogs to chew their food. Some dogs will chew kibble and others will swallow the kibble whole. Some dogs will not eat kibble and will only eat soft food. Some dogs will not eat soft food and will only eat kibble. Like us, dogs have their preferences for texture when eating.

The dogs that eat kibble either crunch their food or just swallow the kibble whole. This is because kibble is already cut into small enough pieces to swallow immediately. The dogs that do chew kibble more than likely enjoy the crunchy texture—a fun speculation.


When is Not Chewing Food a Problem?

The questions we have to ask ourselves are, “When did my dog stop chewing food? Is my dog dropping food? Or is my dog eating slower than normal?”

If you have a 3-year-old dog that has never chewed its food and there are no signs of bad breath, plaque, or gingivitis, then that dog prefers to just swallow the kibble whole. In this example, it is not an issue if your dog does not chew its food.

However, if your 3-year-old dog used to always chew its food and never missed a meal where you couldn’t hear the kibble crunch. Now the crunching has stopped, and your dog will only swallow. This can be bad, and your dog needs to have an oral exam with your veterinarian. The main reason why your dog stopped crunching the kibble is most likely due to pain and your dog is uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if you have a dog that has never chewed its kibble or has only eaten soft food, identifying dental-related problems can be difficult. People often say, “My dog has never had an issue eating and loves the food we provide. The only things I have noticed are the teeth are discolored and the breath is horrible.”

Both discolored teeth and bad breath are areas of concern. Bad breath, or halitosis, is consistent with periodontal disease. When an owner is noticing discolored teeth, it is usually due to significant calculus accumulation. Significant periodontal disease includes gingivitis, calculus accumulation, and severe plaque accumulation. Left untreated will lead to gum recession, jawbone recession, and consistent oral pain due to chronic infection.

We know some dogs chew while other dogs just swallow their food. Some dogs eat fast while other dogs eat slowly. Some dogs finish the entire meal at once while other dogs eat small amounts at a time. No matter how your dog eats, the important observation to pay attention to is if your dog’s eating behavior changes.

A change in your dog’s eating behavior can be a sign of pain. We already stated that a dog who used to chew but suddenly stopped chewing can be a sign of pain.  Other significant signs of pain when eating are dropping food, turning their head to one side or the other, eating slower, or refusing to eat. All of these changes in eating behavior warrant an oral exam by your veterinarian.


What Causes A Change in Eating Behavior?

Painful eating behavior can be caused by multiple dental and oral diseases. The main diseases or causes include:

  • Periodontal disease
  • Endodontic disease
  • Oral inflammation
  • Oral tumors
  • Oral trauma

All of these diseases or causes can range from mild to severe. The sooner these diseases or causes are identified the better it is for your dog. The longer they are allowed to manifest, the longer your dog will be in pain and the severity of the pain will only increase.


1. Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease is active inflammation of the gums, tooth socket, and jaw bone. Periodontal disease can progress from periodontal disease stage 1 (gingivitis) to periodontal disease stage 4 (gum loss, bone loss, tooth mobility). Periodontal disease stage 1 or stage 2 typically occurs within the first few years of your dog’s life whereas periodontal disease stage 3 to stage 4 typically affects middle to elderly-aged dogs.

However, younger dogs can be diagnosed with periodontal disease stage 3 or 4. The only option for treating periodontal disease stage 4 is extraction of the tooth affected and treatment for periodontal disease stage 3 is either extraction or periodontal surgery. These are the reasons why yearly professional dental cleanings under anesthesia and routine daily tooth brushing is recommended by your veterinarian.


2. Endodontic Disease

Endodontic disease refers to infection or inflammation of the tooth pulp. This includes fractured teeth, dead teeth, and abscessed teeth. In these cases, there has been an invasion of bacteria into the pulp of the tooth causing the tooth to die and then causing an infection to the surrounding bone of the jaw.

The treatment options for endodontic diseases are typically root canal therapy or extraction of the tooth. Root canal therapy preserves the structure and function of the tooth and a crown can also be placed to help strengthen the tooth.


3. Oral Inflammation

Oral inflammation is another source of pain and reason for halitosis that occurs from hypersensitivity to plaque (also called canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis), severe calculus irritation to the insides of the lips, and severe calculus irritation to the tongue.

These types of inflammation are associated with periodontal disease and can be controlled with proper dental care. Limiting the calculus accumulation with yearly cleanings and routine brushing will prevent ulcers from occurring inside the mouth.


4. Oral Tumors

Oral tumors range from benign tumors, benign locally destructive tumors, to metastatic tumors that can all cause pain and oral bleeding. The mouth is a common area of the dog’s anatomy where tumors can occur. Any growth or displacement of teeth noticed by owners should be shown immediately to their veterinarian.

Benign tumors continue to grow in a certain location but do not spread to other areas of the body. Benign locally aggressive tumors continue to grow while destroying other types of tissue surrounding the tumor.

Metastatic tumors are tumors that continue to grow and can spread to other areas of the body. These metastatic tumors usually spread to the lymph nodes and other major organs through the bloodstream and lymphatics.

All of these types of tumors can not only cause pain at the site of the tumor but can also continue to grow and cause a dog to bite into the tumor. When dogs can bite into a tumor bleeding occurs and the tumor will begin to swell. As soon as an oral tumor is suspected an exam with your veterinarian is recommended.


5. Oral Trauma

Oral trauma is another cause of oral pain that requires immediate treatment. Types of oral trauma include facial trauma, oral lacerations, facial lacerations, fractured teeth, and fractured jaws. These types of traumas usually occur from dog fights, being hit by a car, being hit by an object (baseball, baseball bat, golf club), or chewing on a crate due to anxiety.

Depending on the trauma that is observed multiple options of treatment may be recommended from fracture repair, tooth extractions, or root canal therapy. Oral trauma left untreated will not only be a source of chronic pain but can also prevent proper closure of your dog’s jaw.


Veterinary Dentists in Colorado Springs

Now that the major sources of oral pain are identified you should be able to identify why your dog is not chewing food. Did your dog always chew food and suddenly stop chewing at some point? Or did your dog always refuse to chew and preferred to swallow the food whole?

Bad breath, red gums, dental calculus, fractured teeth, discolored teeth, oral tumors, or oral trauma are all major sources of pain. If you notice any of these signs in your dog’s mouth, they could be the reason why your dog is not chewing food anymore or displaying odd eating behavior. A complete oral exam should always be included in your dog’s yearly exam and routine dental home care will help you identify concerns before your dog shows signs of pain.

If you would like to discuss your pet’s oral health care with a board-certified veterinary dentist or dental resident, please contact us at our Colorado Springs office at (719)536-9949.


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