Most of us are just learning how important dental care is for our dogs and cats. Along with regular oral exams and brushing our pet's teeth, most vets say offering tooth-friendly toys and treats can be a great way to help keep our pet's pearly whites shining.
But which treats, chews, and toys really work? To find out, WebMD went to the experts: practicing veterinary dentists. Here’s what they had to say about oral health products – which ones are keepers, and which ones should probably be buried out in the backyard for good.
5 Tips for Healthy Dental Foods and Treats for Dogs
- First, talk to your veterinarian. Your vet knows your canine pal well, and hopefully knows the state of your dog's mouth. If not, it's time your dog had an oral exam, dental X-rays, and a good cleaning done under general anesthesia (the only way to fully clean out infection and disease below the gum line). Once your dog's mouth is in good shape, ask your vet for their recommendations on which treats and chews can help you keep it that way.
- Look for the VOHC seal. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) is an independent veterinary dental group that tests claims manufacturers make about their dental preventative products. It's "very similar to the American Dental Association, with regard to reviewing dental products," says Sharon Hoffman, DVM, DAVDC, a veterinary dentist in Jacksonville, Fla. After review, if a product is proven to help slow plaque and calculus formation, it's awarded the VOHC seal. While there are certainly good oral health products available that don't have the VOHC seal, says Tony M. Woodward, a veterinary dentist in Colorado and diplomate of the American Veterinary Dental College, the seal can be a reassuring place to start.
- Think dental diet-approved kibble and treats. Some dried foods and treats help keep your dog’s mouth in good form by scrubbing the teeth as your pet chews, while another group of foods includes additives that help keep plaque soft so it doesn’t form tartar. Check with your vet to see if a dental diet should be part of your dog’s oral health maintenance.
- Say yes to chew toys. Good chew toys can help slow dental disease by their abrasive action. A good toy is bendable, softer than teeth, and not so small it can be swallowed whole. Look for rubbery Kongs and balls, bendable bones, and chew toys you can hide treats inside. Some vets also give the thumbs up to thin, bendable rawhide. However, vets advise against thick, heavy rawhide "bones," which can break or fracture a dog's teeth, and may cause gastrointestinal problems if a dog swallows a large piece.
- Look for approved mouth rinses. You can also slow the progression of gum disease in your pet's mouth with dental rinses. These liquids contain chlorhexidine or other additives that help kill bacteria in your dog’s mouth. They’re available at most pet stores. Your vet can tell you if a rinse could help your dog's dental health.
Dog Toys and Treats to Avoid
Sold right beside tooth-friendly toys and treats, you'll find a host of goodies that are not so good for your dog’s teeth. Veterinary dentists recommend:
Avoid hard chews, such as hooves, nylon bones, and hard rawhide. Hard treats available in most pet supply stores can break or fracture teeth. This may lead to bloody, pus-filled abscesses – and expensive vet bills. If you bang it on a tabletop and it sounds like a rock, that's too hard for a dog, says Woodward.
Avoid animal bones of any kind. For the same reasons you should avoid hard chews -- fractured, broken, abscessed teeth -- you'll want to steer clear of all the animal bones you'll find at pet stores or butcher shops. Not only are bones too hard -- raw or cooked -- but they can also splinter, tearing into your dog's tender gums.
Don't wild dogs eat bones? Yes, but studies have shown these wild dogs also have a lot of broken teeth, says Hoffman.
Avoid fuzzy tennis balls. You know the scratchy side of your kitchen sponge, the one you use to scrub grunge from pots and pans? Well the fuzz on your dog’s favorite tennis ball is doing the same scrubbing, wearing down your dog’s teeth over time. Fuzzy tennis balls are also great at trapping sand and dirt, which makes them even more abrasive. If your canine pal loves to fetch or carry balls, look into buying smooth rubber ones.
Good Oral Health for Your Dog: It's Up to You
Your dog has probably taught you a lot: How to take joy in the little things, and how to play no matter how old you are. You can thank your dog for this joie de vivre by taking care of the things your pooch can't manage alone, and that includes dental care.
"What a pet owner needs to realize is, if you're not going to look after oral health now, you're going to be looking at costly procedures down the road," says Colleen O'Morrow, BA, DVM, a veterinary dentist in Manitoba, Canada, and fellow of the Academy of Veterinary Dentistry. "And in the mean time you've caused a terrible health burden on your pet, and perhaps caused your pet pain and a reduced quality of life."
While dental diets, rinses, and chew toys won't take care of everything on their own, they can play a vital part in your pet's overall oral care. "With dental disease there's multiple things that help a little bit," Woodward tells WebMD. "Add all those little things together and pretty soon you have a significant impact."