A Lesson Learned The Hard Way: The Story of Meridian’s Teeth
The above photo is of Meridian’s teeth. Meridian was my first dog, and she is 10 years old now. We’ve been a team since she was just 6 weeks old. As a dog owner I have learned a LOT in the last decade. One of the things I wish had learned earlier is that tennis balls are not actually suitable toys and over time they can cause damage to a dog’s teeth!
Tennis ball fuzz is abrasive. The texture of the fuzz is actually a part of the game of tennis, as the structure of the fuzz affects how the ball comes off the racket and moves through the air. This may be fine and good for tennis players, but it means tooth damage for dogs who chew on tennis balls.
Meridian was one of those dogs who took to the game “fetch” as a natural, and tennis balls have always been her very favorite toy. There were always tennis balls around the house, and I never stopped her when she decided to “de-fuzz” one of her tennis balls. I thought it was cute!
I don’t know exactly when I started to notice that Meridian’s teeth were wearing unnaturally fast, but by the time she was 4 or 5 it was very obvious. It was also about this time that I learned how bad tennis balls are for a dog’s teeth — especially when they chew the fuzz off and destroy the ball.
You may look at the photo and think, “I don’t know, her teeth look pretty good to me – especially for a 10 year old dog”, but I ask you to look closer. Her bottom incisors have been worn down so that the pulp on the inside of the tooth is exposed — that’s the brown spots. That’s tennis ball damage. You’ll also notice that her canines are all flat. There’s less evidence that this is from tennis ball chewing, but it’s almost certainly due to me letting her chew on inappropriate items over the years — items that are generally recognized as safe and are even promoted by veterinarians! Likely it was damage sustained before I learned that bones like beef shank bones — and any bone that isn’t covered in raw meat — are NOT good for dogs, either.
They say “live and learn” and unfortunately that’s they way we’ve learned this lesson. Luckily she is not in pain thus far and since we’ve switched to “dog friendly” tennis ball toys like the ones made by the Kong company and limited exposure to “regular” tennis balls she has not sustained any further damage.*
The switch to a raw diet with LOTS of raw meaty bones has also greatly improved Meridian’s dental outlook. Raw meaty bones (with an emphasis on RAW and MEATY) are a fantastic tool for keeping teeth and gums healthy and plaque-free. Hopefully this combined with the other elements of an all-over approach to health and wellness will mean many many more years of fetch games and fun healthy living!
Epilogue: Meridian passed away in the fall of 2010 at the age of 12 and a half without prolonged suffering. One might call it “old age”. Though that was a very sad time in general and the loss of her presence is still felt greatly these years later, I am happy to report within the context of this article that she never required veterinary dental work and her teeth and gums remained healthy due to the benefits of a raw diet and plenty of appropriate chewing activities thru to the end.
*Update, May 2012: I have just been informed by a friend and fellow dog lover, long time owner of several Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and a pit bull, that the Kong tennis balls she believes have contributed to the same type of tooth damage as “regular” tennis balls.
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