Dental Chews for Dogs

Dogs in the Wild Didn’t Eat Dental Chews

Domesticated dogs are prone to gum disease and tooth decay just like people are.  Their ancestors of course didn’t eat dental chews.  But they didn’t eat kibble, milk bones or any other processed foods either.  Dogs in the wild subsisted on a diet of raw, whole prey that in order to consume had to be chewed and pulverized. The combination of not only eating raw meaty tissue rich in enzymes, with a pH that naturally helps to retard plaque, but also by necessity chewing through sometimes fur and stringy, sinewy tissue (like flossing) or cartilage and bone (providing mechanical abrasion), amounted to a more than adequate natural oral care routine.  And that is true for cats in the wild as well.

Domesticated pets need an approximation of that wild brushing and flossing effect to keep their gums and teeth healthy.  Bacterial infections in the mouth can also easily travel to other parts of the body via the many blood vessels that are part of the gums, so the health of teeth and gums are important not just for clean breath, but for the overall health, and longevity, of our pets.Whimzee Toothbrush Chew

Do Dental Chews Really Work?

Honestly, we’re not really sure.  There just isn’t a lot of data out there on dental chews.  Many of our customers are loyal to them, but is it because they really reduce tartar or because dogs love them so much?  Given the size of the pet oral care industry (estimated at $775 million for 2015), we really hope they work.  Clearly a lot of research has gone into their design.  There’s no doubt about the taste and chew appeal.  As a part of the oral care solution, palatability does count.  Because dogs love them, they will participate enthusiastically…which isn’t something you can count on for other elements of your oral care plan.  Dental chews are designed for maximum exposure to teeth and gums, and for longest possible chew time.  While your dog happily licks and chews, all variety of bristles, bumps and grooves provide gum stimulation and scraping action against the teeth.  Dental chews are intentionally ‘tacky’, grabbing onto and hopefully dislodging film on the surface of teeth.  Depending on which you ‘chewse’, ingredients like chlorophyll, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves and parsley may help minimize bacteria & inflammation, and stimulate fresh breath.  

Whether they are effective, or not… don’t rely on dental chews alone to keep teeth clean.  Why?  For one, just like people, dogs often favor chewing on one side of the mouth or the other, which means only half the mouth is receiving full benefit.  Two, even with all-natural ingredients, they are highly processed.  But the most important reason is that your oral care routine will have exponentially greater impact if you approach the problem with from 360 degrees.  Provide dental chews to tap into the natural desire to chew, put water additives in their water bowls daily to inhibit plaque and bio-film growth, brush to thoroughly clean the teeth and gum line, and use “brushless” gels and sprays to minimize bacteria between brushing and chewing.  And please don’t forget raw recreational and edible meaty bones.  They are whole, un-processed ‘dental chews’ rich in enzymes, collagen, and minerals.

Ark Naturals Brushless Toothpaste Dental Chews Greenies Dental ChewAre dental chews safe and digestible?

Dental chews have evolved since the early 2000’s when first generation Greenies were causing blockages and other digestive problems.  For healthy dogs, if provided with the appropriately-sized chew, plenty of fresh water, and monitoring, they are believed to be as safe as any other thing your dog will want to gnaw on….depending on who you talk to!  What do we believe?  Raw bones should be your first choice, but not everyone is open to raw.  Dental chews are a reasonable option as part of your routine, and may have a positive impact.  Just remember that nothing replaces brushing, except perhaps consistently providing appropriately-chosen raw bones.  If you are providing dental chews, always look for natural ingredients that you easily recognize (and can pronounce). Avoid artificial dyes, preservatives (like BHA, not FDA-approved safe for people so your dog shouldn’t have it either) and ingredients like propylene glycol (petroleum derivative), carrageenan (inflammatory) and by-products. We like edibles to have simple ingredients panels like Whimzees Toothbrush chews, and we like it when simple natural ingredients dominate the list (eg, Ark Naturals Breathless Brushless).  If grain and gluten are a problem for your dog, try Greenies Grain-Free forumula.  greebie-dental-chew-start

But what about digestibility?  It’s hard to say whether the ingredients are being simply passed or digested.  So we’re running our own (admittedly rudimentary) science project.  What happens when you soak them in everyday water, and how long does it take for one to soften and eventually break down?  Stay tuned for un update.

About Kathy Palmer

I grew up in NJ and Belgium and eventually settled in Portland, ME. Until missing the big city, which inspired a return to Boston in 2010, and the opening of Fish & Bone on Newbury Street. Fish & Bone and its original sibling store Fetch (est. 2000) bring together some of the things I love the most: animals, real food, great design, having an impact, the natural world, urban life, creative solutions, good community, and a good laugh. Zip is all pug, but I'm a cultural mutt.