We can often overlook a dog’s dental hygiene, without realising how detrimental gum disease and tooth decay can be to their overall health. Dental care, after the fact, can be very expensive and time-consuming so it’s important to take preventative measures where you can.
Dental chews can help with your dog’s dental hygiene, while at the same time keeping your dog amused as they will brighten its day with the prospect of a treat. They are convenient prophylactics that work best when used once a day, after a meal.
There are caveats though about how often you should your dog dental chews… and there’s also no right or wrong answer as it will depend on the age and size of your dog.
As a rule of thumb though, I’d not give my dog more than one dental stick a day. But what I always advise is that you read what is on the back of the packet as each brand will have guidelines on dog weight, age, and size.
It’s also important that dental sticks should not be given to puppies under the age of 6 months (even when teething) and they need to be a reputable brand, bought from a reliable source. Although they may contain vital nutrients, they may also be high in calories.
Why dental sticks are important for dog dental hygiene
Dogs are not discerning eaters, and they lick unmentionable places on their bodies. A mutt’s mouth is a fertile breeding ground for all sorts of germs and parasites. Through rough play and curiosity, their teeth are also subject to injury and tooth decay.
Imagine what your mouth would feel like after a week of not brushing your teeth. Plaque and tartar will build up on the enamel, which will have a detrimental knock-on effect on your gums. Dogs need similar regular polishing or mildly abrasive action on their teeth and gums to keep them healthy.
If their diet is too soft this does not happen. Likewise, if their diet is too sugary, acid builds up in the mouth which erodes the enamel, causing tooth decay and painful cavities. 1
Bacteria can take hold in the mouth and make their way into the dog’s digestive system and other organs. The liver, heart and kidneys are most often affected. They take undue strain and compromise the dog’s overall condition. Many canine pets have had their lives cut short due to a lack of dental hygiene.
What are dog dental chews made from?
Dog chews are supplements that are designed to simulate the motion of chewing on a bone, as dogs would do in the wild. The best dog chews offer some resistance and last for a period.
They may be edible or non-edible. The non-edible dog dental chews tend to be made from hard synthetic substances such as rubber, plastic or nylon. Your dog will bite off bits and discard them where it lays. These substances are not meant to be ingested, at least not in chunks or large quantities.
Edible dog dental chews are made from natural substances, not all of them what humans would call palatable. They are however generally harmless when swallowed. Ingredients include dried meat and cheese, and rawhide. Cow hooves, which are rich in lean protein, are also an option.
Some chews are intended to be consumed in one session while others are intended to last longer.
How do dog dental chews work?
The mechanical process of repetitive chewing gently massages the gums and removes stubborn detritus around the base of the teeth. This action prevents the build-up of dense plaque. If plaque is allowed to take hold, it gives ground to tartar which can only be removed by a vet.
The chewing action also stimulates the production of saliva and increases blood circulation in the mouth. This helps to more actively fight bacteria that may be lurking in between the teeth.
Some dental chews perform additional functions such as freshening your dog’s breath. Some edible brands are nutrient rich and contain extra vitamins and minerals to boost your dog’s immunity. The chews can also be used as treats, or to relieve your dog’s anxiety or boredom.
What precautions should you take?
Make sure to purchase a reputable brand of dog chews, from a reputable source. There have been reports of pets dying after chewing cheaper, imported products from novelty stores and other dubious outlets.
Even if the brand and source are reliable, slowly introduce your dog to the product. One of my dogs developed an upset stomach after I gave her a small portion of a chew, over consecutive days. We never know how animals will react to new substances. If your dog shows any form digestive stress, such as vomiting or diarrhea, stop issuing the chew until it has been eliminated as the cause of the problem.
Be like Goldilocks and make sure the chew is just chewable enough. If it is too soft, it will be consumed too quickly and will not have the desired affect on your dog’s teeth and gums. If it is too hard, it could prove to be too abrasive and damage tooth enamel.
Start young dogs, i.e., over the age of 6 months, on softer dog chews. The enamel on their teeth and the flesh on their gums is less hardy than those of older dogs, and more likely to be wounded by rough treatment. They do not have the common sense necessary to stop a pleasurable action if it becomes painful.
If the chew is brittle, large pieces could break off and cause problems, when swallowed. This is particularly true of synthetic products which will not be broken down by your dog’s digestive juices.
Natural products such as rawhide, dried meat, flavoured cheese and cowhide may start to decay if they last too long. Your pet will most likely think this is an improvement on the original product, but the smell will make your home a little less welcoming.
On the other hand, you want to be wary of products that use preservatives to ensure that they last longer. This is particularly relevant to rawhide products.
Cow hooves tend to last longer than other organic chews as dogs typically do not finish them in one sitting. Hooves left lying around can be hazardous, as the edges become sharp, and can cause pain to anyone who steps on them.
You want chews that last a reasonable length of time. They also need to hold the dog’s attention long enough for the saliva and blood circulation to be effective.
If the dog chew is edible and intended to be a treat, check the calorie content and the constituent ingredients. If they are too starchy, sugary or high in calories, these will not be digested well. They can prove to be detrimental to your dog’s overall metabolic health and possibly lead to obesity.
Give your dog the appropriate size chews. For example, do not give a large dog a small object as they may swallow it whole and choke, or cause a blockage in their intestines.
Other dental hygiene practices
If possible, teach your dog when it is young to endure having its teeth brushed. There are tasty and tempting tooth pastes on the market that could make your task easier. Make sure to use the correct toothbrush, i.e. not too soft or too hard.
Food bowls have been designed that make it a little more difficult for dogs to devour their food in an instant. Protruding nodules slow down the eating process while at the same time massaging the gums.
Cooked bones are never a good idea as a treat for your dogs as they become brittle and can splinter in your dog’s gut. Certain raw bones are good as a chew treat. These are the neck, head and feet bones, known in some cultures as ‘walkie talkies’. Chicken feet in particular are high in collagen and helpful for dogs with stiff joints.
Monitor your dogs when they are chewing bones so that you can react quickly if one should choke, or if a dispute arises between two or more of them.
Much like we humans, dogs need regular dental check ups. Ask your vet to give your dog a thorough dental examination during its annual routine visit.
Cleaning a dog’s teeth and gums will be difficult if your pet is not used to regular tooth brushing. It could turn out to be an unpleasant and expensive exercise, possibly requiring anaesthetic.