If you’ve ever felt the pain of a cavity or unrelenting hell that is a broken tooth, you’d probably swim through a lake of lava to shield your loved ones from the same pain – including your dog.
But unlike your human children, who you constantly remind to brush their teeth, or your spouse (who hopefully does so without prompting), owners often neglect their dog’s dental care needs.
This is unfortunate, as oral hygiene is a critical aspect of dog care. Our four-footed best friends can and do suffer from many of the same ailments humans fall victim to, including plaque buildup, gum disease and – perhaps most obviously, given their predilection for licking their owner’s faces – halitosis, or bad breath.
The Importance of Dental Hygiene for Dogs
Some people are simply unaware that dogs require oral hygiene measures to protect their teeth and remain healthy, but others deliberately abstain from the practice, often citing the absence of tooth-brushing behaviors among wild animals, including wolves, coyotes and other canines.
If wolves and other wild animals don’t have to brush their teeth, why should your dog? After all, your dog isn’t hunting elk and stripping carcass flesh with his teeth – he probably eats kibble or homecooked meals of rice and chicken.
It is true that wild dogs and the wolf-ancestors of our modern, domestic pets do not employ oral hygiene measures in the wild; but it is also true that many of these canines lose or break their canines (and incisors and molars) because they do not brush their chompers. This can lead to pain, inappetence and, potentially, starvation.
Additionally, it is important to realize that our domestic pets live much longer lives than their wild-roaming counterparts do.
Whereas the average wolf only lives for 4 or 5 years, dogs often live for a decade or more. This elongated lifespan means that your dog’s teeth may need to last 2x or 3x as long as those of wild canids.
Accordingly, your dog’s teeth demand proper care and attention.
Oral Health Basics: Brush Those Teeth!
To fight some of the common dental problems dogs suffer, most veterinarians recommend that owners brush their dog’s teeth and visit the vet for regular periodontal examinations. It’s a pretty simple procedure that most owners accomplish without much effort – some dogs even enjoy it.
However, other dogs hate having their teeth brushed. Particularly resistant pups may even bare their teeth or nip at their owner’s hand, despite normally having an easygoing disposition.
This forces many owners to bring their dog to the vet for regular cleanings. In many cases, such dogs require sedation or even general anesthesia for the procedure. This is not only risky – it is expensive, time-consuming and stressful for all parties involved.
Dental Dog Chews: Helping Your Pup’s Pearly Whites!
Enter the dental dog chew – a product designed to remove plaque and tartar through the regular chewing process. Many veterinarians recommend that owners of resistant dogs feed their pup these tooth-cleaning chews, to help reduce the need for in-office dental care. Your dog will still need to have his teeth cleaned – just less often.
Even owners of dogs who don’t mind having their teeth brushed may offer dental chews to the pet, as a complimentary strategy. You should always work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive oral-hygiene plan, but plaque-removing treats are usually a good component of such a plan.
Potential Risks of Dog Dental Chews
While dental chews are a readily available and commonly used class of products, some owners and veterinarians question their safety.
While many dogs consume dental chews without suffering any ill effects, some dogs have suffered health problems associated with the use of teeth-cleaning treats. In a handful of cases, these results have proven fatal.
Harmful Ingredients: Look For US-Sourced Treats, Rather Than Overseas Ingredients
Some of the health problems associated with dental chews are similar to those that occasionally occur with other pet foods and treats: They may contain ingredients that are harmful to dogs. This occurred on a frighteningly large scale in 2007, when more than 300 dogs and cats died from eating tainted food.
Similar, if less widespread, reports have emerged, which blame ingredients in various dental chews for causing illness or death. However, the cause of many such problems has yet to be determined, and it is not yet clear that tainted dental chews are to blame.
Regardless of whether these fears are well-founded or not, it makes sense to limit these types of risks. One way that dog owners can do so is by purchasing products made exclusively in North America, where quality-control and oversight are stricter than in some Asian markets.
Still, even many US-made products source ingredients from Asia, so keep a keen eye on brand labeling and do your research to find products that use ingredients exclusively from North America.
The other potential source of harm occasionally associated with dental chews (and other edible treats) relates to intestinal obstructions and the resulting trauma. Sometimes this occurs when dogs swallow an excessively large piece, but it also occurs when they simply consume a significant amount of a dental chew.
In either case, the swallowed portion may fail to breakdown quickly. This can block the contents of your dog’s digestive tract from progressing as they should, which can lead to a host of serious health problems. Intestinal blockages represent a medical emergency, and it is imperative to bring your dog to the veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately if he exhibits such symptoms, including:
To help avoid intestinal obstructions, select the proper size chew for your pooch and try to ensure your dog chews the treat thoroughly. This is not always easy with dogs that gulp their food down – you may have to offer such dogs the treats after breaking them into small pieces. Alternatively, it may be better to hold the chew in your hand and let your dog nibble at the other end.
It is also wise to select a dental chew comprised of easily digested ingredients, such as rice. Such items are less likely to bind up in your pup’s intestines and are easier on your dog’s stomach.
How to Choose Dental Chews for Your Pup
Like most other consumer products, the relative quality of dog dental chews varies widely from one product to the next. Accordingly, it is important for owners to carefully consider the various products on the market and make a smart decision.
Some dental treats have been submitted to the Veterinary Oral Hygiene Council (VOHC) for review and testing. Those products that meet the VOHC’s criteria are awarded the VOHC seal of acceptance. Products bearing this seal are likely to provide effective plaque and tarter reduction.
While many different dental chews are available over-the-counter, some are only available from your veterinarian. While these vet-supplied chews may not be better than those you’d buy at the supermarket, your vet is likely to be very familiar with prescription-caliber products, thereby allowing him or her to provide important insight.
5 Best Dog Dental Chews
Consider the following five dental chews to help keep your dog’s teeth clean and breath fresh!
1. Blue Buffalo Dental Chews for Dogs
About: Blue Buffalo Dental Chews for dogs are designed to keep your pup’s teeth clean, but they also feature other natural ingredients that may provide additional health benefits for your dog.
- Made from an all-natural blend of ingredients
- Blue Buffalo Dental Chews contain no corn, wheat or soybeans, and no poultry byproducts
- Made with Glucosamine and Chondroitin for improving joint health
- Blue Buffalo Dental Chews are made in the USA
Virbac C.E.T. VeggieDent Dental Chews
- Designed to reduce plaque, freshen breath and help remove tartar from the teeth
- Virbac dental chews are made in the shape of a “Z” for easy handling
- Packaging contains 30 chews
Greenies Original Dental Dog Treats
About: Greenies Original Dental Dog Treats are one of the leading dental chews on the market, and they are beloved by many owners and dogs who try them.
- Manufactured in the United States, although some of the ingredients may be sourced from other countries
- Low in fat, which is important for overweight pups
- Feature added vitamins and minerals for greater nutritional value
- Flexible chew design, which allows them better contact with the surface of the teeth
Pedigree Dentastix Large Dog Treats
About: Pedigree Dentastix Large Dog Treats are treats designed with larger breeds and individuals in mind; in fact, they are not suitable for dogs under 30 pounds. Unlike some other dental treats, Pedigree Dentastix Large Dog Treats are not especially hard – they have a somewhat chewy texture.
- Constructed in a patented “X” shape to allow your pup to get the best possible grip
- Made with a chicken flavor and meaty smell dogs love
- Wheat- and rice-based recipe, with no soy
Milk-Bone Brushing Chews
About: Milk-Bone Brushing Chews are chicken-flavored oral health treats designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, as well as freshen your dog’s breath. The rice-based formula contains no soy products.
- Recipe contains 16 essential vitamins and minerals
- Milk-Bone Brushing Chews are manufactured in the USA
- Each bone contains 63 Calories
As you can see, most of the leading dental chews for dogs have been well-received by both dogs and their owners, and it is difficult to recognize any particular product as superior to the others. Each possesses its own set of strengths and weaknesses, so be sure to consider your pet’s preferences and unique needs before making your selection.
We’d love to hear your experiences – both good and bad – with various dental chews. Have you encountered a winner we missed, or have you experienced problems with any of the ones we mentioned? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or in the comment section below!