Dental Treats for Pets – Helpful or Harmful?
February is Pet Dental Month in the US, Canada and several other countries. Not only can you save up to 40% on dental procedures for your cat, dog or horse- many dental hygiene items may also be on promotion. Many people take advantage of these reduced prices and have their pet’s teeth cleaned at the veterinarian. But how can you take care of your pet’s teeth during the other 11 months of the year? Can brushing your pet’s teeth or providing dental treats help prevent the need for professional care? Let’s take a closer look.
Over time, just like humans, dogs can develop dental disease if oral hygiene is poor. Buildups like tartar and plaque can become prime real estate for bacteria to live and can infect the gums, causing gingivitis. This unsightly buildup and inflamed gum line are not only disgusting, but it can also be causing your pet pain. Often the bacteria will spread and infect the tooth root, causing painful abscesses.
It is a good idea to have your veterinarian examine your pet’s teeth at least once a year. Some breeds of dogs, such as Yorkshire terriers, are more prone to developing periodontal disease, so yearly professional cleaning, dental x-rays and home care are needed. Have your pet’s teeth evaluated, cleaned and treated before starting on a home-care routine. That way, you can ‘start from scratch” as trying to brush teeth that are already diseased and covered in calcified plaque won’t do your pet much good.
Most dogs will allow you to brush the teeth without a problem. Some even like it and find it relaxing. If you have a puppy or kitten, this is the best time in life to get them used to daily brushing. Natural, dog and cat-specific enzymatic tooth paste such as Virbac C.E.T.® can be purchased through your veterinarian, pet store or online.
If your dog or cat won’t let you brush their teeth, don’t despair – try a dental treat. These treats are designed to help scrape away tartar, stimulate the gums and prevent bacterial buildup. There are three rules to follow when selecting anything that your pet chews on. Following these guidelines will help prevent your dog or cat from breaking a tooth on a toy or chew. You should be able to:
- Bend the treat with your own hands or
- Break the treat with your own hands or
- Dent the treat with your thumb
Some good examples of treats that comply with these rules are certain rawhides, KONG® rubber toys and some other edible treats. The best rawhides to select are ones that are abrasive to the teeth and have anti-microbial properties. Some good examples are Virbac’s C.E.T. ® rawhide chews, which are coated in a natural enzyme that helps to keep the tooth surfaces clean. This is the same enzyme that is used in dog and cat-safe tooth pastes. There are even cat versions of these treats – small rawhides that are fish-flavored. Greenie® treats are great options as well. Other products that are worth a try can be found on the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website.
Keep in mind that not all toys are good for all dogs and their personal chewing style. Some cats will only chew on things that are flavored or edible. No toy or chew is ‘indestructible’ – every one of them can pose a choking or intestinal blockage hazard. Be sure to monitor your pets when they are enjoying their treats. If there are multiple dogs, provide treats or toys for everyone to prevent ‘guarding’ or food-aggression.
Treats, oral rinses and even brushing are no replacement for veterinary evaluation or preventative cleanings. However, it is true that you may be able to prevent additional trips to the vet if the teeth are properly cared for. Take advantage of February, schedule a check-up for your pet and stock up on their favorite tooth-friendly treat. Your pet and your wallet will thank you!