There is a better way to help care for your dog’s teeth if they don’t like their mouth being touched.

doggy Alice was prone to tartar and gingivitis, so the vet suggested I try brushing her teeth. Trouble is, she was a skittish dog who didn’t like having her head or mouth touched. After a few unsuccessful attempts, during which most of the doggie toothpaste ended up on my shirt or the floor instead of in Alice’s mouth, I knew I was fighting a losing battle. Some dogs are quite happy to have their teeth brushed, but Alice clearly wasn’t going to be one of them. I had to find another solution to her dental problems.

This was awhile ago, before canine dental health became the big issue it is now. Today, I’d be able to find all kinds of products to help keep Alice’s teeth and gums in good condition between vet visits. Even better, a lot of these products cater to the canine craving for something enjoyable or flavorful to chew and play with. That means your dog can have fun while cleaning his teeth and strengthening his gums.

Along with raw meaty bones, (or no-brush dental solutions and sprays), you can choose from a variety of dental toys and treats. The trick is to make sure you’re getting a nontoxic quality product made from safe materials or natural ingredients. “There are many dental products in the marketplace,” says Susan Weiss of Ark Naturals. “Personally, I lump them into the following categories: effective but difficult to use, ineffective but easy to use – and products with ingredients that are not necessary, not healthy, not natural, and that give uneven results.”

Treats
In the past, most people believed all they had to do to keep their dogs’ teeth clean was to buy a box of biscuits at the grocery store. Unfortunately, most lowend commercial biscuits are made from inferior ingredients, and contain artificial colors and flavors that are bad for overall health. To ensure a healthy product that will also give your dog’s teeth and gums a good workout, look for a high quality sugar-free biscuit or chew that’s as natural as possible and especially formulated for maintaining dental health. “Read all the ingredients – not just the first few,” advises Susan. “Just because the ingredient is listed first, that doesn’t mean it represents the most that’s in the product.

It’s like a mathematical equation – it only has to add up to 100%. There could be 20 or 30 ingredients making up less than 5% of the total.”

Crunchy biscuits or chew bones made from wholesome ingredients are a top choice for many dog guardians, especially as they provide a nutritional boost as well as good dental exercise. The Terräbone from Complete Natural Nutrition is made from organic brown rice powder and other whole ingredients, including natural chicken flavor, and also contains parsley powder and peppermint oil to help freshen breath. It’s low in fat and has no added sugar or additives. Bear Biscuits from Natural Balance have an extra crunchy texture that helps clean and whiten teeth. Unlike most commercial biscuits, they contain no ingredients that contribute to dental disease and are made from whole grains, vegetables and apples.

For more biscuit choices, Solid Gold Dragon’s Teeth are especially formulated to help cut down on tartar and maintain healthy teeth and gums. The main ingredients are oatmeal, spelt and krill, but they also contain peppermint and chlorophyll to sweeten your dog’s breath, as well as olive leaf extract, which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Chlorophyll is also an ingredient in Zuke’s Z-Ridge Dental ChewBones. These potato-based treats, ridged to help scrape and polish teeth, come in several natural flavors, including cranberry and carrot.

If you’re looking for a meat-based dental treat, Doctor’s Dream Treats from Wysong are made from meat processed without heat and include ground bone, plant nutrients, enzymes and other ingredients that contribute to dental as well as general bodily health.

Or how about a treat that actually contains toothpaste? Made by Ark Naturals, the Breath-Less Brushless Toothpaste is a rice-based chewable treat with a pet toothpaste center that fights plaque, tooth staining, tartar and bacterial growth. “It’s an effective way to get the benefits of pet toothpaste and other bacteriastats into the animal’s mouth,” says Susan. Like some other dental treats, the outer covering features ridges that help scrub the teeth as the dog chews. The product also features breath-freshensing ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves and chlorophyll.

Toys
Chew toys for dental health are another excellent option for helping to keep your dog’s mouth in good shape. But not all chew toys are created equal. Cheaply made products present the risk of easily breaking, splintering or falling apart and can pose a choking or gastrointestinal hazard. “Look for toys made with safe, non-toxic materials like natural rubber,” says Chuck Costello of Kong, which offers a line of dental toys. “Examine the toy for actual dental features likely to substantially clean the teeth. Also ask yourself if your dog will be motivated to play with and chew it. Toys that include treat dispensing or gripping features increase the odds.” It’s also important to select a product suited to your dog’s size. Too large a toy will frustrate a small dog, while big canines may more easily destroy or even swallow a product made for a smaller breed.

Kong dental toys feature ridges or grooves that help massage the dog’s gums and clean his teeth by removing food debris and plaque. To encourage chewing, the ridges or toy interiors can be stuffed with quality treats, peanut butter, or some other healthy snack. As the dog works at the toy to remove the treat, he exercises his jaws and gums while cleaning his teeth. Canine toothpaste can also be applied in the toy’s ridges or grooves.

Another company that makes a selection of chew toys for dental health is Nylabone. The products are available in either inert thermoplastic polymer or extra tough nylon. (Note: the former are not recommended for strong chewers.) One option is the Double Action Chew, a bone-shaped toy with durable nylon ends for powerful chewing and a breath-freshening mint-flavored center; both sections of the toy feature dental nubs to help remove tartar. Durable Chews, meanwhile, have bristles that are raised during chewing to help control plaque and tartar.

Earth-friendly and recyclable, West Paw Design’s Zogoflex toys are also made from durable, non-toxic materials and are ideal for aggressive chewers. The toys come in a variety of shapes including the Tux, which like the Kong can be stuffed with treats to encourage more chewing.

Some toys even feature the equivalent of dental floss for dogs. The Dental Chew Rope designed by Petstages features a tough cotton rope that helps remove soft tartar, along with a rubbery ring to massage the gums. The company also creates Orka toys, made from durable, chewy, non-toxic rubber. The sputnikshaped Orka Jack offers multiple textures to enhance chewing, and the arms can be stuffed with treats.

With the current proliferation of toys, treats and other dental products on the market, not to mention all the information out there about healthy nutrition and home dental care, there’s really no reason for any canine companion to suffer from bad teeth and sore gums!

Supervise for safety
Keep in mind that even the best quality toys and treats aren’t 100% foolproof. Always supervise your dog when he’s chewing on a dental toy or treat and take it away from him if it starts to break into chunks that could be swallowed whole and potentially cause choking or intestinal obstruction. Inspect toys and long-lasting chews regularly, and replace them immediately if you notice any cracking, splitting or separations.

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