While the dental health of our pets is a serious concern, and one that shouldn't be ignored, taking the time to brush your dog's teeth or drop hundreds of dollars on your cat's annual cleaning isn't something many pet owners can or will do. Enter: dental chews. Rising in popularity in recent years, these tasty treats designed to do our dog's dental work for us seems to be a convenient answer to cleaning. But what are dental chews, and do they really work?
What are dental chews?
Dental chews are supplemental food products for pets that are designed to improve the health of their teeth, gums, and overall dental hygiene. Marketed to do everything from freshening breath to controlling tartar, dental chews have become a popular purchase among many pet owners, and a high-value treat of choice for various canines and cats. According to WebMD, some dental chews and special diets can reduce plaque up to 70%, which is just one reason pet owners have been quick to receive these type of treats when shopping for their companion animals.
Why do dogs and cats like them so much?
The answer to that will depend on your pet, but it's fairly safe to say that, across the board, most dogs and cats love receiving treats, even if they are intended to improve their teeth.
The ASPCA explains that chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, and is done for fun, to quell boredom, to relieve anxiety, and to clean their teeth and exercise their jaws. Because most dental chews are made of a soft or flexible material, the sensation may be soothing for pets, who do look for ways to stimulate their teeth and gums naturally (hence, stick chewing.) Many pets also like dental chews for their taste, and likely, because they are just an extra, special thing handed to them by their favorite person.
Do dental chews for cats and dogs actually work?
The short answer: yes, to a point. ABC News states that dental chews can "have a positive impact" on the dental health of your dog or cat, especially if that's the only thing you are able to do for them on a regular basis. Because some pets don't prefer having their mouths manhandled with a toothbrush, chews do offer a convenient solution for tough cases and are designed to remove debris, plaque, and tartar from their teeth. As Greenie's explains, the chewy texture of their treats allows a dog's teeth to sink in, which causes "scraping and scrubbing of the tooth surface" to remove harmful plaque, which carries bacteria that can lead to tooth loss.
They do add, however, that regular brushing is ultimately ideal for maintaining optimum health, as are annual visits to your veterinarian, which may include formal teeth cleaning if need be. As these treats are available at most grocery and pets stores and do not require a prescription from a doctor, they aren't technically considered a medical treatment, and are intended to be used as a supplemental aid to keep your pet's teeth clean in between dental exams.
If you're going to introduce dental chews to your dog or cat's diet or hygiene routine, there are a few precautions to keep in mind to ensure the best result, and a healthy pet. First things first: make sure whatever chew you decide on is the right size for your pet. Cats won't run into these issues so much as most dental treats are one-size fits all, but chews for dogs come in a variety of sizes intended to reflect your pet's weight. A too-small chew could get swallowed whole, while one too big can result in extra calories, which can add up over time.
Dental chews for dogs should be a firm yet flexible consistency, which will allow for cleaner breaks should your pet snap a piece off with her teeth. For this reason, you should always keep an eye on your pet while they are enjoying a dental chew in case a broken piece could lead to complications, like becoming lodged in her throat. When choosing a dental chew treat for your companion, they go on to suggest shopping for one made with high-quality ingredients (and not many of them — the shorter the list, the better,) and that is made in a variety of shapes, which can keep your pet interested in the long run.
Finally, be sure to check your treats for the VOHC registered seal, which is given to products that meet testing standards for safety and efficacy approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. You can view the full list of VOHC-approved products for dogs and cats here.
And, as we mentioned above, dental chews, though delicious, are not a substitute for regular brushing and cleanings. Make sure you brush your pet's teeth as often as possible, and take them to the vet at least yearly for dental cleanings.