By vetstreet.com | Pets
If there's anything that galls my clients, it's being told they could
have prevented a painful and expensive condition - if only they'd been
told to stay away from A, B or C hazard. Such is the case when it comes
to the use of common chews and devices designed for dental cleaning or
as an outlet for natural chewing behaviors in dogs.
Yet when I inform my dog-owning clients that certain "dental health"
products can lead to serious problems, many can't easily accept the
notion that dental fractures, gastrointestinal obstruction and
gastroenteritis (among other problems) are possible outcomes. After all,
they say, how could anything sold expressly to help improve our pets'
dental health and behavior so adversely affect them?
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The Truth Behind the Marketing Hype
Yet it's true. Some of the most commonly marketed "oral health
improvement" items are considered unsafe, unwholesome and/or downright
unhelpful by board-certified veterinary dentists (and plenty of
run-of-the-mill vets like me, too).
But here's the thing: While many dogs won't experience safety issues
with the goods veterinary dentists suggest you should eschew, as they
say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Which is why I say you should steer clear of the following six "dental health" products:
1. Rawhides. I used to have a Boxer
who would swallow these whole, only to turn blue in the process of
regurgitating them. Now, you might well ask why I'd give her the second
rawhide after watching her do such a thing, but in my defense, I was
trying to see whether different sizes might actually get chewed
properly. No such luck. To my credit, I always watched carefully just in
case a tracheotomy might be in order.
Honestly, though, some dogs tolerate these just fine. And they can
be good for the teeth once they become soft and yielding. Just be sure
that a) he actually chews it (otherwise, it's not only useless but also a
potential gastrointestinal obstruction), b) you know how many calories
you're offering when you give him that ginormous one you hope will keep
him busy all day, and c) you never leave him unsupervised with it.
2. Dried Pig Ears. Now, these aren't strictly off limits. As
with rawhides, however, they can be swallowed whole by some dogs. And
these fatty morsels do have far more calories than you'd expect.
Moreover, some fat-sensitive dogs can be prodded into pancreatitis by
consuming one. Overall, it's perhaps not the best idea.
3. Antlers. I have one patient who not only fractured a tooth,
but she also developed a terrible fungal infection at her gumline after
eating one. All in all, it was a very strange situation. The good news,
however, is that most dogs seem to enjoy these chews, and most do not
fracture their teeth while chewing them (much less develop fungal
infections). Still, I say you should beware.
4. Cooked Bones. Though there's a lively debate when it comes to
whether it's safe or not to feed raw, meaty bones, there's none on the
subject of cooked bones. These hard-as-a-rock, splinter-prone bones
aren't good for the teeth or the GI tract.
5. Rocks and 6. Cow Hooves. As with cooked bones and antlers,
rocks and cow hooves are generally considered a bad idea for pets. Not
only do numbers 3 through 6 increase their risk of a tooth fracture and
foreign body ingestion, they also don't do much to improve their dental
After all, says Dr. Jan Bellows, board-certified veterinary dentist and
owner of Hometown Animal Hospital in Weston, Fla., products that offer
hard, unyielding surfaces are unlikely to offer much help against tartar
buildup and gum disease. He urges pet owners to "make sure that
whatever they use bends and allows teeth to sink in."
What the Dentists Recommend
But none of this should lead pet owners to assume that all chews and treats are a no-no. Dr. Bellows recommends that pet owners head on over to VOHC.org
where the Veterinary Oral Health Council offers a seal of approval to
dental products deemed effective against periodontal disease in pets.
Still, it's important to be cautious, he says.
Dr. John Huff, board-certified veterinary dentist at Alameda East
Animal Hospital in Denver, Colo., agrees. Here's what he says when it
comes to assessing the safety and efficacy of dental chews and
tartar-control products: "Though I have found all the VOHC products to
be safe and effective, [VOHC] does not test for safety."
Moreover, he urges pet owners to keep things in perspective:
"'Effective' is relative. If brushing is a hundred [percent], treats and
chews are probably a one." He adds, "The positives on the VOHC-approved
dental products are [that] they are better than nothing."
Which, I'm afraid, can't be said for numbers 1 through 6 above. Proceed
to feed any of the above at your pets' peril. And whatever you do,
don't skip that nightly brushing your veterinarian recommends.