Do dental treats for pets really work?
The short answer to this question is that some work really well and others, not sure about, but before diving in to discuss dental treats let’s review why pets even need them in the first place. By 3 years of age, most dogs and cats have some form of oral health problems.1
Dental disease starts with plaque. Plaque is composed of bacteria and very small food particles that start to adhere to the tooth shortly after eating. Tartar (calculus) is made up of mineralized plaque and shows up as thick tan or brown staining on your pet’s tooth surface. The bacteria living in the plaque and calculus produce odors that cause halitosis or bad breath. When plaque gets below the gumline it can lead to gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) and even to periodontitis which ultimately causes pain and tooth loss.2
So, the problem really starts with plaque and tartar accumulation on the tooth surface. Daily tooth brushing is the gold standard for good pet oral care but unfortunately, only about 2% of pet parents routinely brush their pet’s teeth.3 This can be for many reasons such as a non-compliant pet, lack of training for the pet parent and the time it can take to brush pets’ teeth. Efficacious dental treats and chews can help reduce plaque and tartar accumulation which can ultimately lead to the problems discussed earlier.4
The next best thing to daily toothbrushing your pet’s teeth is to give dental chews and treats that have been proven to work. There are several things to consider when choosing a dental treat or chew. The first thing to look at is doing a dental chew or treat works to help control plaque and tartar. It is recommended to research the treats you are considering finding out if the manufacturer did dental efficacy testing with dogs or cats to demonstrate that the treats do what they claim to do. There are many dental treats on the market. Unfortunately, dental claims are not regulated very closely and products that do not have dental testing associated with them can make oral health claims.5 A good way to ensure that the dental chew or treat you are considering has done dental testing is to check and see if it has the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) Seal of Acceptance.6 The VOHC is part of the American Veterinary Dental College. It is an international organization of veterinary dentists who have preset standards that companies must follow to test their products. If the dental chew or treat meets the VOHC standards, then the company can use the VOHC Seal of Acceptance on its packaging or website.
Efficacy is just one important aspect of choosing a dental treat for a pet. Safety is also something that should be considered. Dental chews should undergo in-vitro (laboratory) digestibility (solubility) testing. This demonstrates that even if a large piece of a dental chew is swallowed by a pet, it will readily break down and not cause a gastrointestinal issue.7 It is recommended to contact the manufacturer and ask if such testing has been performed on their dental chews.
Some dental chews may be very hard. Although very hard dental chews and treats may help reduce plaque and tartar accumulation, they can also be tooth fracture risks. Most dogs inherently have very strong bite forces and the enamel (strong outer portion of the tooth) in a dog’s tooth is much thinner than a human’s tooth.8 Due to the greater bite force that dogs can exert with their jaw strength, it is estimated that between 20-27% of dogs may have suffered tooth fractures.9 A good general rule of thumb is that if a dental chew cannot be indented with a fingernail when applying pressure then it may be a tooth fracture risk for a pet.
Dental chews and treats may be good options to help pets’ oral health. Still, it is important to choose dental treats that have proven efficacy, have undergone digestibility (solubility) testing, and are not so hard as to be a potential tooth fracture risk for pets.
- Pet Dental Health. https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/pet-dental-care
- Harvey, CE, Emily, PP. 1993. Periodontal Disease, Small animal dentistry. Mosby. 98-99.
- American Animal Hospital Association. The Path To High-Quality Care: Practical Tips For Improving Compliance. Lakewood (CO): AAHA Press; 2003.
- Quest, BW. 2013. Oral health benefits of a daily dental chew in dogs. J. Vet. Dent. 30(2);84-7.
- AAFCO 2023 Official Publication. p. 151.
- Veterinary Oral Health Council. 2022. https://vohc.org/
- de Godoy, MRC, Vermillion, R, Bauer, LL, Yamka, R, Frantz, N, Jia, T, Fakey, GC, Swanson, KS. 2014. In vitro disappearance characteristics of selected categories of commercially available dog treats. J. Nutr. Sci. 3:e47. doi:10.1017/jns.2014.40
- Crossley, DA. 1995. Tooth enamel thickness in the mature dentition of domestic dogs and cats – Preliminary study. J. Vet. Dent. 12(3):111–113.
- Soltero-Rivera, M, Elliott, MI, Hast, MW, Shetye, SS, Castejon-Gonzalez, AC, Villamizar-Martinez, LA, Stefanovski, D, Reiter, AM. 2019. Fracture limits of maxillary fourth premolar teeth in domestic dogs under applied forces. Front. Vet. Sci. 5:339. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00339.
About the author: Dr. Bradley Quest, DVM is the Principal Veterinarian at BSM Partners. He has practiced clinical veterinary medicine and has developed, studied, and clinically tested pet health products (including dental products for pets) for the past two decades.
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