It’s a good time to be a pet. We are learning more and more about how to keep our canine and feline friends happy and healthy, and finding that taking care of their teeth can help them live longer, happier, pain free lives. The pet care industry has caught on too, and now we have many more options now for dental treats and toys. There is a large range of options, from great treats clinically proven to remove plaque and tartar, to some that make some amazing claims. Unfortunately, there are also some of these can do more harm than good.
So how do we know which treats are helpful for our pets? One way is to evaluate these treats and toys on an individual basis. It is important to think about the mechanics of chewing to determine what may help or harm. Dogs especially can be very aggressive chewers, and the main bite force teeth are the upper fourth premolar, and the lower first molar. If you have ever seen your dog holding a stick or bone in her front paws while biting down on the side of her mouth, she is using these teeth. Unfortunately, due to the force exerted during the bite, any chew that is harder than the enamel on these teeth can be harmful. As veterinarians, we have seen tooth fractures from anything from ice cubes to sticks, to bones. The general rule is: if you cannot indent the treat/chew with your fingernail with firm pressure, it is possible this may cause damage to the tooth.
What treats are the main culprits? Sadly, veterinarians and veterinary dentists are seeing an upsurge in tooth fractures, especially in these large molars, due to some of the newer, very popular treats. This problem is many treats marketed as natural dental treats, such as bones, and antlers are simply too hard, and commonly cause fractures. The consequence to breakage of one of these large, deep-rooted teeth can be immense. Once the underlying tissue of the tooth (dentin) or pulp chamber is exposed, the only options to address this are either a root canal or extraction. And because these are large, 3 rooted teeth, it is expensive and invasive to have to treat them, yet leaving fractured teeth untreated can lead to abscesses, pain, and systemic inflammation, so prevention is the best medicine.
Thankfully we have many recommended options for safe, healthy treats, which have been clinically shown to support dental health. We recommend looking for options with the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal, like Greenies, Tartar Shield products (made here in Indiana), or Milk Bone Dental Chews. In the end, we thankfully have more options than ever, it is just essential we choose wisely for our pets.