Dog and Dental Chew

Chew toys help clean teeth, but are not a substitute for brushing

Diet can be a major factor in the development of plaque and tartar. Soft or sticky foods may contribute to plaque buildup and subsequent periodontal disease. Dry food, biscuits, and newly-formulated abrasive diets can be helpful in removing plaque above the gumline. In addition, specially-treated abrasive dental chews are also available for both cats and dogs.

Providing your pet with these abrasive, resilient dental chews is often a good alternative for those days when you do not brush. However, only toothbrushing can remove plaque and food debris below the gumline. It is below the gumline where disease-causing bacteria flourish, resulting in irritation, inflammation, and infection.

Chew Toys

A proper chew toy can help keep your puppy’s teeth clean and his gums healthy. The size of the chew toy is important – it should be big enough to avoid being swallowed or stuck in the throat. Hardness is also important – some chew toys are so hard they often break teeth. Chew items that are too hard and should be avoided include cattle hooves, nylon bones, pressed rawhides, antlers, and real bones such as beef femurs, knucklebones, and soup bones.

Offer a variety of chew toys with different textures. Kong toys, rope toys, and some rawhides are good. Remember, proper chew toys are an adjunct to daily brushing.

Dog with Rope Toy

Rope toys are a better alternative to nylon bones

A Word About Raw Diets

BARF (Bones And Raw Foods) diets have been gaining popularity with pet owners. Some believe that this is a more “natural” diet since wild dogs in Africa, tigers, lions, wolves, and other wild carnivores eat raw foods. However, wild carnivores suffer from the same oral diseases as their domestic relatives. Predators with higher bone content in their diet have more tooth fractures. It is also important to note that the average age span of an African Wild Dog is five years.

Ultimately, the risks of feeding bones and raw meat foods outweigh any benefits. These risks include:

  • Bones can splinter when chewed, causing damage and/or obstructions in the digestive tract
  • Potential food borne illness in dogs fed these diets as well as possible risk for humans associated with the dogs or their environments
  • Higher food borne illness risk for animals that are sick, on chemotherapy, or those with bowel disease


Further Reading

View a list of products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council


Steenkamp G, Gorrel C, Oral and Dental Conditions in Adult African Wild Dog Skulls: a Preliminary Report, J Vet Dent , June 1999; 16(2): 65-8
Morley et at, JAVMA 228:1524-1532, 2006
Strohmeyer et al, JAVMA 228: 537-542, 2006
Stopforth et al, J Food Prot, 69: 1456-1459, 2006
Dodds, Research Study Report for Heska Corp, 2005
Weese et al, Can Vet J 46:513-516, 2005
Wynn et al, AAVN Symp, June 2003
Antech News June 2003
Antech News, November 2006