How to ‘Chews’ a Dental Chew

It’s not easy to keep your pet’s teeth clean all the time. Many pet owners, especially ones who have smaller dogs, struggle with their pet’s dental issues — despite dental supplements, brushing, and regular cleaning. However, a lot of large breed dogs don’t have the same kinds of issues! We see large dogs every day who are older, have never had their teeth cleaned, and yet their mouths look beautiful and hygenic. In the same vein, you don’t hear about dental supplements and teeth brushing for wolves and coyotes!

This warrants the question, how do dogs — from larger domesticated buddies, to their wild ancestors — keep their teeth clean for so long? It all comes down to chewing (and diet, but that’s a tale for another day!)

Chewing is a natural behaviour for canines that provides many benefits. Chewing provides energetic output, relieves anxiety stress and boredom, enables dogs to explore and be curious, soothes the aches of puppy teething, and — depending on the material — provides extra nutrients. For the purposes of this blog, chewing helps stimulate the gums, manually removing tartar from the teeth.

Dogs’ inclination to chew may not be every owner’s favourite behaviour as most dog owners will have at least one story about losing their favourite pair of slippers or shoes. However, chewing is a necessary behaviour for dogs to exhibit. What matters is the material being chewed on — especially when it comes to dog dental care. Chewing is certainly a behaviour we want to encourage!
Walking into a pet store, you’ll be assaulted by a massive variety of dog chews — how do you even begin to choose which one will suit you and your pup best? There’s a good rule of thumb; we approach from the view of maintaining and promoting dog dental health so the more natural, the better! Synthetic chew TOYS are great for keeping your dog busy but they’re not going to do much to help keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy — and they are certainly not intended to be ingested. Naturally sourced and made dog chews are ideally fully ingestible and won’t provide a source of health issues for your pup. Below is a non-exhaustive list of pet chews that we enjoy and encounter at K9 Gentle Dental!
Please note that every chew, regardless of whether or not it is a toy or bone, should be fed with supervision. Product quality will vary by brand and availability will vary from place to place. Do your research and when picking out a chew for your dog, consult your local pet store sales specialist for what will be appropriate depending on your dog’s size and chewing proclivity.

Raw Meaty Bones
Raw meaty bones are just as the name implies — they are raw animal bones covered in meat. The ‘meat’ portion is connective tissue in the form of blood, tendons, cartilage, and some fat and muscle. Many raw meaty bones are soft enough to consume without damage* to your pet — these include ribs, knuckles, wings, tails, necks, feet, and backs, available in a variety of proteins. What bones provide is bulk and roughage to your dog’s digestive system; this encourages firm stool and ensures that the digestive tract is being appropriately cleaned and emptied. They also provide essential nutrients in the form of Calcium and Phosphorus in appropriate amounts for your dog that they may not be getting in their regular diet.
These bones are not baked, which means they will not get brittle and splinter–they will gradually wear down as your dog chews them. When the pieces of bone get small enough, throw them out to prevent choking.

Being raw meat products, these bones can be higher in fat. Ribs, feet, and wings provide lower-fat options but may not be an appropriate size for your dog.
*Disclaimer: There are many stories of pets breaking their teeth on bones, and this is true — chewing on anything is not without its risks. Most teeth fractures from bones come from weight bearing bones like femurs and leg bones from grazing animals such as cattle. These bones are incredibly dense and will NOT break. Don’t use weight bearing bones if your dog is a big, intense chewer — these bones are most suitable for light chewers and dogs that prefer removing the marrow from the bone. When the meat is gone from these bones, get rid of them.

Bully Sticks
Bully sticks have become popular in recent years due to their wide palatability and chewing longevity, but some people quail at the product itself. Bully sticks are 100% natural and single-ingredient, making them a great choice for dogs that have allergies or tummy aches. They are made of bull penis from cow, water buffalo, and bison. Because bully sticks are made of tough connective tissue and tendon, they are entirely digestible and the low-fat high-protein content makes them popular even for older and obese dogs. However, any concerns with the high protein content should be discussed with your vet. Being low in carbohydrates also means that they help reduce tartar buildup, as carbohydrates are notorious for sticking to the teeth in the form of plaque! They are either smoked or baked in the preparation process but as they are non-mineralized tissue, they do not run the risk of splintering. In fact, most bully sticks need to be cut to size with a saw!

Bully sticks are known for being a long-lasting chew even for some intense chewers. They come in a variety of sizes that can be tailored to the size and chewing intensity of your dog, but be warned — these guys are a little stinky! Low-odor varieties are available, but this may be a treat for outside.
The outer layer of bully sticks is tough but the addition of saliva and the manual action of chewing gradually breaks it down into a gummy texture, eventually fully disintegrating. As with any chew, remove the last piece of bully stick when it becomes small enough to warrant a choking hazard.

Himalayan Dog Chews
Of the readily available chews on the market, Himalayan chews are probably the least known. As the name implies, these chews originated in the Himalayan regions and follow an ancient recipe developed for…people! These are made from cultivated yak’s milk with lime and salt to coagulate it into a tough cheese. They were used as high fat and protein rich for snacks for those traversing up mountains and living in alpine climates, but recently it’s been adapted for dog chews as these cheese snacks are tough! Initially they are very hard but with chewing, they soften, making them a totally digestible and relatively long lasting chew. Himalayan chews are available in a variety of sizes. Start small to see if your dog likes it first — this is not the cheapest chew on the market.
The best part about these hunks of cheese is that when your dog chews it down to a little nub, you can take the little end piece and microwave it for 45 seconds for a puffy popcorn-like cheese snack for your dog to enjoy!

Ears
Cow, pig, bison, and lamb, ears come in all sorts of varieties in the pet store aisles! Ears are a classic chew due to their high availability, high palatability, and low cost. Because they are a byproduct of the meat industry, prices tend to remain quite low. Most aren’t much more than a buck or two per piece — however, with cheap cost comes the risk of poor sourcing and processing. Best to ask your sales rep about them first!
Apart from their cost, ears are also a great source of nutrition; ears are primarily made of cartilage, which is a great source of the nutrient glucosamine that contributes to joint health. Ears are also high in fat which makes it a great chew for dogs that need to put on some extra weight. However, any dogs that need to be on a medical low-fat diet should steer clear for the time being.

Regardless of animal, ears tend to be thin and on the smaller side. Baking makes them hard but as with the other chews mentioned, chewing gives them a gummy texture to make them entirely digestible. These tend to be good chews for less intense chewers who really enjoy taking their time.

Hoofs/Horns
Cow hooves and water buffalo horns aren’t the most readily available chews on the market, but they’re definitely an overlooked gem. Both are made solely of keratin, which is a non-mineralized protein; keratin is the stuff that forms our hair, nails, and is present in the top layer of our skin for added protection. In bovines, the nails (hooves) are very thick sheathes for the foot and as a chew, tend to be quite long lasting. Water buffalo horns are the same — the horns available for sale are the sheathes on the bone structure, and are hollow.
Due to the structure of keratin, when chewed the horns and hooves flake off and get slightly gummy — again, entirely digestible. There is no splintering risk but when chewed enough your dog may be able to take off a chunk. Any small chunk that have been removed from the core of the chew should be disposed of to prevent choking hazards.

These chews are practically odourless and so unfortunately that makes them not the most palatable, so some enticement is usually needed to encourage your dog to pick this up. Both hooves and horns are hollow so this is actually quite easy; simply add some of your pet’s favourite treat to the inside and watch them go! Good options are mashed sweet potato, mashed pumpkin, natural peanut butter, or anything you can think of. If you don’t want to stuff it and add bulk to your pet’s diet, you can also soak these in warm, low-sodium broth to give them a light meaty flavor for your dog.

Deer/Elk antlers
Antlers are becoming increasingly popular as a chew of choice in the pet world because they are probably the longest lasting chew on the market. However, antlers come with a big disclaimer — there are tons of instances of dogs breaking teeth on them. Antlers, unlike buffalo horns, are bone. More importantly, they are non-hollow bone which means that unlike bovine femur, they don’t have the same amount of spongy area of marrow in the middle that’s easy to eat. Dense antlers therefore don’t make the best chew for intense chewers — lighter chewers can be okay but it’s still recommended to be cautious. You can also buy antlers split in half already, so the dogs can dig out the slightly less firm inner portion of marrow that is more easily eaten.
Antlers are odour free which helps make them a more popular chew, but we would really only recommend the split antlers for safety’s sake.

Whimzees
Walk into any pet store and chances are, you’ll see Whimzees. These are green, brown, and orange shapes of chews that range from the ever popular stick to the more fun alligator and hedgehog shapes. The sheer range that Whimzees offer is a huge positive alone, so the fact that they make great healthy chews is icing on the cake.

Whimzees are a vegan/vegetarian chew made primarily of potato starch and boast a limited ingredient list. Their ‘no meat and animal product’ content means that they are also very low protein and low fat (although high carbohydrate) which makes them a great choice for pets that have strong dietary restrictions, health issues that prevent them from having too much fat or protein, allergies, or pets that need something a little more interesting to chew on. Whimzees get a little goopy as they are chewed, but they are much less messy than other chews by far! They are also virtually odor free and tend to last a long time — even in the mouths of hard chewers. The plant content also means that these treats are high in fibre, and can be a good addition to most diets.
There are of course, a massive amount of other chews that are used for teeth cleaning for dogs available on the market. The ones mentioned above are only some of the more popular ones that we see around, but more and more chews are being created and sold every day in the pet industry! We encourage giving some of these chews a good try if they are appropriate for your dog. When choosing chews, always take into consideration the size of your dog’s mouth and their chewing habits, and always supervise to prevent undue harm. Make sure to also check the ingredients to ensure you are giving your dog the highest quality product, even on the big box items. Informed decisions are the best ones; don’t be afraid to ask your local pet store or dog dentist for help!

[Author: Matthew Staton

Editor: Selena Raskin]

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