Deconstructing (And Sometimes Dissing) Dental Chews and Tartar-Control Treats for Pets

3. If it's labeled as a dental treat, it must be effective.

Since we’re already talking about evidence-based methods, let’s mention the fact that the vast majority of dental chews and tartar-control treats have not yet been proven effective in doing what they claim to do.

Thankfully, there is an organization, the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), that serves to certify the efficacy of dental products through a rigorous set of standards and protocols. (Check out its website to view the certified products, but I caution you — its pictures are not for the squeamish.)

4. Dental treats don't have a lot of calories.

As a veterinarian who just spent the past year of her life developing an iPhone app to help dogs lose weight, I believe I’m qualified to attest to the fact that the caloric density of some of these treats outstrips that of the average cup or container of food. Which, I’m sure you will all agree, is not a good thing.

Luckily, there are some low-cal options on the market. But the problem remains.

Dental chews and tartar-control treats will continue to be the preferred method among pet owners for dealing with bad breath, heavy tartar and periodontal disease as long as the “food = love” mentality persists. This, in spite of their significant inferiority to other methods (as I mentioned above).

5. Dental treats are safe.

Here’s the final issue: Not all chews and treats are created equal when it comes to their safety profiles. Plenty of them are more likely to leave devastating dental lesions like tooth fractures than manage your pet’s periodontal disease.

But chews and treats are by no means a no-no as an adjunct to any dental health regimen. Dr. Bellows recommends pet owners start with the VOHC-accepted chews, treats and diets that are considered effective and urges pet owners to “make sure that whatever they use bends and allows teeth to sink in.”

Dr. John Huff, board-certified veterinary dentist at Alameda East Animal Hospital in Denver, Colo., sounds a final note of caution 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, the [VOHC] does not test for safety." Moreover, he urges pet owners to understand that "'Effective' is relative. If brushing is a hundred, treats and chews are probably a one." He adds, "The positives on the VOHC-approved dental products are [that] they are better than nothing."

Though not all veterinarians share the same list of do's and don’ts — not to mention favorite dental products — it’s always a good policy to ask what your veterinarian recommends for your individual pet and why. And given that February is National Pet Dental Health Month, it seems like a task you’d do best to put on your to-do list today!


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