A clean mouth is an important part of staying healthy. It’s why we brush our own teeth twice a day for two minutes each, and why vets tell us to brush our pets’ teeth as well. In fact, oral hygiene affects much more than just the mouth: The presence of bacteria can weaken gums, causing them to swell, bleed, and recede. Unhealthy gums can then leave teeth loose and weak. Eventually, bacteria can get from the mouth into the blood steam, creating inflammation in the rest of the body and damaging various organs.
Unfortunately, dogs don’t usually line up for a good brushing. In this absence, pet companies churn out all sorts of dog dental treats and dog dental care products disguised as chew toys to try to make the process easier, by appealing to your dog’s natural gluttony and chewing instincts.
The problem is that many retail treats claiming to clean teeth and freshen breath are made with starchy ingredients, like potatoes, corn, or rice. These don’t clean teeth – they stick to teeth! Starches and grains create a perfect foundation for plaque to grow. Moreover, most retail treats are made with strong flavors and smells to entice dogs to eat, not to add balanced nutrition to their diet.
As far as dental chew toys, these tend to be made out of either plastic or silicone. Now, be honest here: How often do you wash your dog’s toys? These chewies may effectively knock plaque off your dog’s teeth to a point, but all that plaque and bacteria will stay adhered to the surface of the toy with your dog’s saliva, to be reintroduced to their mouth the next time they chew on it.
So what can you do? With more than 85% of adult dogs suffering from some sort of dental disease, it’s clear that taking care of your dog’s dental health is important. There is no single “perfect” answer; if you find something that your dog enjoys and you can provide diligently, then that may be the best solution for you. But there are some healthier, more natural options out there you can try, such as…
1. Ice Cubes
Most people don’t think of ice cubes as a dog treat, but many pooches love to crunch into them! Teething puppies especially will go after ice as a way to numb their sore jaws, but plenty of adult dogs enjoy them as well. And what’s not to love? You can make them for free at home with no effort, they’re hydrating, and they give the hardest crunch without getting stuck in your teeth.
If your dog likes ice cubes, giving them a few at a time is a great, clean way to knock plaque off their teeth. Just be careful if the weather is cold that they won’t get too chilled!
Cheapest Source: Your own freezer!
2. Hard, Raw Fruits & Veggies
Commercial dental treats for dogs often contain sugars, fats, and cereal grains, which are great for creating an appealing odor and flavor but bad for your dog’s health. Fresh produce is healthier, crunchier, and cheaper by far, ideal for scraping food off your dog’s teeth while supplementing their nutrition. A few examples of appropriate fruits and veggies for this task are as follows:
Note: Never overfeed your dog on treats, even healthy ones like these; give amounts appropriate to your dog’s size, meaning 10% or less of their daily calorie consumption. You may wish to consult with your veterinarian to make sure your dog doesn’t have any allergies or intolerances before introducing new foods to their diet. Dogs with sensitive stomachs may not handle raw produce well – steamed or cooked fruits and veggies will be gentler on their digestive tracts, but it will also be softer and thus no good as a dental chew.
Cheapest Source: Your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or garden. Your choice.
3. Raw Bones
Not only are these tasty and fun to gnaw, but they also help remove tartar from your dog’s teeth. Raw bones make an excellent substitute for a tooth brush and help satisfy your dog’s chewing instincts. Additionally, unlike commercial dental chew toys, they aren’t made of plastic or silicone that will sit around for weeks and gather bacteria. The temporary nature of bones may seem like a drawback since you’ll have to keep supplying new ones, but rotating out old bones will ensure that your dog is cleaning his teeth with clean material.
However, not just any bone will do. When providing bones as a dental chew, you must take several precautions:
- Never give your dog cooked bones – these can splinter and fragment and are dangerous
- Make sure the bones you choose are the right size for your dog – bones that are too small present choking hazards
- Dogs that chew aggressively may chip or fracture their teeth
- Always supervise your dog with this treat – remove any fragments that separate off the rest of the bone
Concerning which type of bone works best as a dental chew, there is some debate between large animal bones like cow and bison, or medium-sized bones like goat and sheep. Commonly used bones include beef femurs and knuckle bones, but you should do your own research and consult with your vet about what will work best for your dog.
Cheapest Source: Chewy.com Natural Bone Selection
Antlers are in fact a type of bone, an outgrowth of an animal’s skull. They are ideal for chewing, but only if you use the right kind. Quality antlers will be softer on your dog’s teeth and longer lasting than other types of bone, providing days or potentially weeks of chewing.
Elk and moose antlers are preferred amongst vendors for having softer outer walls and core marrow, making them safer for your dog, while deer antlers are largely discouraged for being hard, dense bone throughout. Today there is a growing online market of small-scale vendors who provide naturally-shed, high-grade antler dog chews, and you can research if any are local to your area or region. However, be careful to only buy from sellers who can attest to how they source and grade their antlers, to make sure you’re getting the best product for your dog.
For More Information:
Cheapest Source: Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies
Perhaps the one downside to antlers is that high-grade chews can be pricey. You may find that the cost is offset by how long-lasting they are, but if they are still outside your budget, keep reading below for a more economical option:
5. Dried Meat Chews
There is a wide variety of dried meat chews, all of which are commonly available in most places. These include beef ears and snouts, tendons, esophagus, and the well-known bully stick. These are easy on teeth, a great source of protein, and provide excellent chewing action to occupy your dog.
They do help fight tartar and plaque buildup, though they’re not as complete a toothbrush substitute as bone or antler. Also, most dogs tear through dried meats fairly quickly, and you have to be careful not to overfeed your dog on these proteins, just as with fruits and vegetables. However, if you can moderate them with your dog’s diet, and rotate them with other treats such as fresh vegetables and ice cubes, then they can definitely be helpful in forming a regular dental routine.
Cheapest Source: Chewy.com Bully Sticks and Natural Chews
There are some great natural dental chews for dogs out there, some that can do double- or even triple-duty by not only cleaning their teeth, but also adding nutrition to their diet and occupying them with a stimulating activity. Ultimately, taking care of your dog’s dental healthy is about keeping them healthy and happy, and what could be more important?
What’s your preferred way of keeping your dog’s teeth clean? Comment below with your thoughts.