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Two weeks ago, I brought home a squirmy little puppy named Rudy. Rudy is a short, long, little mixed breed dog. She has a few adult teeth and lots of tiny sharp puppy teeth. Like every new puppy parent, I want to keep Rudy healthy for a long long time, and that definitely includes good dog dental hygiene.
After all, dental health can impact a dog’s overall health, including the health of their heart and digestive organs. Those of us who like doggy kisses know that plaque and tartar buildup can give even the cutest pooch bad breath.
What’s the best way to keep Rudy’s teeth clean and healthy? Many vets recommend that adult dogs have their teeth cleaned by a professional once a year. In between cleanings, tooth brushing and dental treats can do a lot of good, too.
To be honest, I’ve never enjoyed brushing my pets’ teeth, mostly because they don’t enjoy it much, either. Putting my best foot forward, and following my vet’s advice, I’m training Rudy to accept a toothbrush and some meaty flavor toothpaste. Will dental chews help in my quest to provide better dental hygiene—and have a fresh-mouthed pup?
How Do Dental Chews Work?
Most dental chews work by scraping the surface of a dog’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar. As the maker of tooth-cleaning Greenies treats explains, “As a dog chews the treat, its chewy texture allows the teeth to sink in for maximum tooth contact, causing a mechanical scraping and scrubbing of the tooth surface.”
Some chews also contain anti-plaque compounds or enzymes for better dental hygiene. These active ingredients reduce plaque in one of two ways. The anti-plaque compound delmopinol makes plaque less sticky, reducing the ability of plaque cells to attach to the tooth surface. Enzyme cleaners are believed to degrade plaque cells in other ways before plaque binds to the tooth surface.
Are All Dog Dental Chews the Same?
No. Dental chews vary in ingredients and flavors, and some are harder or chewier than others. Dental chews also vary in how well they remove plaque and tartar. A quick internet search reveals quite a few treats that claim to improve dog dental hygiene. How to choose the right one?
Fortunately, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) tests the effectiveness of dental treats, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and special dental health kibble. VOHC gives its seal of approval to those treats that are shown to reduce plaque and tartar buildup.
To receive the VOHC Seal of Approval, chews that work with friction alone, which includes nearly all the dental chews on the market, must reduce plaque or tartar by 15%. If chews contain a chemical anti-plaque agent, they must reduce plaque or tartar by 20%.
Dog toothpastes must meet a similar requirement: They must reduce plaque buildup by 15% without the help of a brush or other device that mechanically removes plaque. In other words, VOHC-approved toothpaste can be smeared on teeth without brushing. Using the product with a brush will improve the results.
So, Are Dental Treats as Good as Brushing for Dog Dental Hygiene?
Almost, according to VOHC. Dog dental treats reduce tartar and plaque by 15–20%. Tooth brushing with an approved toothpaste and brush can reduce tartar and plaque by as much as 25–30% if done frequently (two to three times a week) and thoroughly.
Buy the Right Size Dental Treat for Your Dog
Dental treats come in multiple sizes. I like to give my 12-pound puppy a big dental chew because it lasts a long time. But large dogs should not be given small treats, because swallowing them unchewed can cause intestinal problems.
Veterinary Oral Health Council-Recommended Chews for Your Dog’s Dental Hygiene
The tasty dental treats listed below have earned the VOHC Seal of Approval. The complete list of approved products is available on the Veterinary Oral Health Council website.
I love the playful shapes that Whimzees dental hygiene treats come in, including hedgehogs, alligators, and more. These treats have always been a favorite of my dogs for an after-vet indulgence.
Greenies are familiar as one of the first dog dental treats on the market. There are now many flavors available, including pumpkin spice, and formulas that include breath freshening enhancements and grain-free recipes.
Checkups are popular treats for oral hygiene that boast a 25% reduction in plaque and a 62% reduction in tartar. These dental chews use the dog’s own chewing power to scrape clean the surface of teeth.
These vegan dog dental chews are durable tooth-scrapers composed of cornstarch with tasty flavors mixed in for an excellent oral hygiene option.
These dental hygiene chews earned the VOHC Seal of Approval by doing exactly what they say: cleaning plaque off teeth and keeping your dog’s breath smelling better in the process.
Minties treats include breath-freshening peppermint, of course, along with alfalfa, parsley, fennel and dill to give your dog that herbal-fresh feel (in a chicken-flavored chew) while their plaque is scraped away. These are wheat-, corn-, and soy-free.
OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews are advertised as the only dog chews that contain delmopinol, a compound that prevents plaque from attaching to the surface of teeth and from binding together with other plaque particles to form tartar. It’s used in some mouthwashes for people, too. These are a great option for your dog’s dental hygiene, but remember that when you add a new ingredient to your pup’s diet, it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on how their belly responds.
DentaLife chews combine a dense, chewy structure with natural ingredients like honey and spirulina to improve dogs’ breath while cleaning their teeth.
Bonus: Chew Toys for Your Dog’s Dental Hygiene
Rope toys can be another tool to help keep up good dental hygiene habits—and they’re fun, too. Here are a few selections from our article on rope toys that will also floss your dog’s chompers as they chew and tug.
Durable, knotted, and made from 100% cotton, Flossy Chews come in a variety of lengths and styles, but all are made with threads that gently floss your dog’s teeth as they play and bite down on those satisfying textures.
Verified Review: “I love playing tug with this rope toy. It’s super strong and durable and when my doggo’s teeth get a little out of control due to excitement, there’s several feet of rope to keep him from accidentally munching my hand.”
Made with mint-scented floss and baking soda the wax-coated nylon and all-natural cotton materials are great for cleaning toofers, as well as standing up to a lively game of tug.
Long-lasting, this hybrid toy adds an antler chew to a knotted rope toy for the ultimate in tooth hygiene and fun. The naturally-shed odor-free and mineral-rich antler chunk cleans teeth and gums, while the natural rope offers more texture and a fun tug toy.
Emilie Bess is a Ph.D. biologist, community educator, and science writer based in Seattle. She’s an experienced caretaker of not only cats and dogs, but also guinea pigs, rabbits, chickens, and goats.
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