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Oral Care for Dogs With Liver Shunts

Updated on November 13, 2013
Tess at Rest
Tess at Rest | Source

What a Liver Shunt is

Tess was born with what veterinarians call a congenital liver shunt. Shunts are present in every fetal mammal. This is what carries the blood to and from vital organs. Upon the arrival of being born, these shunts begin to shut down in order for the liver, which is now fully formed, to begin to take over the processing food, making clotting elements and helps with sugar storage and other necessary functions.

When these shunts do not close properly pollutants normally removed by the liver, gather in the blood and weaken the function of brain cells. The weakening of brain cells can cause many issues such as seizures, depression, lethargy and tremors. A buildup of excess ammonia can be detected through blood work and is one of the signs a shunt is present. Controlled diet, very low protein, and some medications to keep ammonia from building up can help this condition immensely.

Importance of Dental Care

To prevent further issues with the function of Tess’ liver, I began to find out what may cause damage to the liver that I could help control in some way. One of the leading damage causes to the liver is recurring infections. Most veterinarians can trace this type of repeat infection back to poor oral hygiene. Dental disease in dogs, as in humans, can also cause harm in the heart and kidneys. A bacterium from food plaque is the root cause for dental disease. It can trick white blood cells to attack the gums instead of the plaque itself thus causing infections.

Concerned about the ways I could keep Tess’ teeth clean and prevent any liver damage from this type of repetitive infection, I checked into methods of dental care for dogs. The biggest one is brushing the dogs’ teeth. Tess is not the kind of dog that is going to let me brush her teeth. She will however chew on anything I let her. Dental bones and treats were recommended by many vets as a great method of daily oral care. I set out to buy a dental bone of some sort that would meet Tess’ diet and oral needs.

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Crude Protien and By-Products in Dog Oral Care Products

As I reached the aisle with all of the dog and puppy chew bone items, I grabbed the first dental bone I saw that was small enough for a pug. I quickly read the list of ingredients and was surprised that Tess could not have it due to the amount of protein in it. I began looking closer at all the options the shelves were offering and there was not one dental bone that did not have some amount of crude protein on the list of ingredients.

Then I noticed that all of the dental bones were chicken, beef, peanut butter or bacon flavored. Tess was already receiving her maximum daily amount of protein in her home prepared meals. This type of crude protein is the worst kind of protein for a liver shunt. It is considered manufactured protein. I did not want a dental stick that was flavored and filled with crude protein, but that is all that was offered to me. I went off in search of option B.

I had heard of dog dental chew treats that are supposed to help with bad breath along with cleaning teeth. So I went to find a sales clerk that could help me find this specific variety of chew treats. While on my search for a sales clerk, I passed by a demonstrator giving out samples of a new chew treat made just for oral care. She explained all of the great things this chew treat would do for my dog.

I took the sample bag she offered me, turned it over and was shocked to read that the protein these contained was over 50% per treat. I asked the demonstrator if she happened to know if this treat was also made low in protein. She looked at the bit of literature she had with her and replied, “No. They do not appear to make such a dog chew treat.” I placed the sample back down on the table, and followed a sales clerk to the dental chew treat area.

I arrived at the aisle with all of the dog dental chew treats and began to see if by chance there were any Tess could have. Curiosity was getting the better of me by now. Every single dog chew dental treat had a protein count. The range was from 6 to 45% protein in every single serving of a dental care treat. After a half hour in this big box store, I discovered that for some reason manufacturers of chew bones and dental chew treats for dogs think chicken, bacon, beef, smoke taste, peanut butter or liver is the flavor to use and that each one must have a good amount of crude protein. I was once again looking for a sales clerk to help me with Option C.

  • Upon further research at home, I discovered that crude protein is not beneficial to any animal. This type of protein does not contain any muscle mass. It is a by-product only. It could be a beak,a hoof, manure, blood, bone, an internal organ or any combination of these. A by-product of any sort is basically inedible waste.

Getting Clean
Getting Clean | Source

A Solution that Works

Option C consisted of two parts. Part one was a chew toy that had knobs on it, dental floss rope and hopefully would not be chewed apart in 15 minutes. The second part of option c was an oral rinse or powder I could add to her food.

I found a variety of chew toys that had knobs on them to help remove plaque, even some had a “hide a treat” hole that I could insert a piece of carrot in to get Tess attracted to the toy. Tess would not need to be coaxed into chewing anything, so I chose one that had knobs in the top, a middle that had ridges to help clean her tongue and a bit of dental rope tied to the end.

I found the oral rinses and had to check exactly what each brand did. Some were more of a breath wash while others had the oral care I was looking for. The one that I chose came in a squeeze bottle with a tube that had a 45 degree angle. This would make squirting Tess’ teeth a heck of a lot easier. After one and a half hours of shopping, comparing and walking what seemed miles, I came home with a dental care plan that would not harm Tess, but benefit her dental health.

© 2013 Susan McLeish


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I highly recommend Dr Dobias' supplements and livton, any questions just write them. High quality and you can also measure what you need. The cost may seem a little more than the store but it usually lasts longer and is of human quality although not designed for humans. There are not chemicals here. I have 3 senior dogs and they have all done fine despite their different situations. Dr Pitcairn also has books on dogs that may be helpful. Theses vets are on-linein in the USA and Canada and take a more holistic simple approach like this article.

    • StoneCircle profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan McLeish 

      5 years ago from Rindge, NH

      I do give the lactulose and low protein dog chow especially made for this condition that your vet is talking about and supplement in the natural food instead of vitamins. Tessa seems to do better with this method Vanessa.

    • profile image

      Vanessa moody 

      5 years ago

      My 7th old York is has got a liver shunt, my vet has recommended long term antibiotics, lactose, supplements, low protein food. If I give her natural food will she still need the other items? Any help greatly appreciated

    • StoneCircle profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan McLeish 

      7 years ago from Rindge, NH

      Thanks picklesandrufus for your comment. My family all have dogs and I think there is only one of them that will allow his teeth brushed. Most of my family goes for the dental rinse.

    • picklesandrufus profile image


      7 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

      good hub. I have always had dogs and most did not go for the brushing. Like you, I tried the dental chews and found they work pretty well. Informative hub. thank you


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