- This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Promising everything from fresh breath to tartar control, dog dental chews are often marketed as the one-stop shop for effortless dental care. But how effective are they in cleaning your pup’s teeth? Can you swap out your pet’s toothbrush in favor of them? And are they even good for dogs?
To find out, we interview Monique Feyrecilde, a licensed veterinary technician and specialist in behavior at Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic, which offers advanced pet dentistry in Seattle, Washington.
Do Dental Chews Work? What The Experts Say
While Feyrecilde admits that brushing is the gold standard for preventative care at home, she does think there’s a place for dental chews and treats because of their ease of use and accessibility.
“There’s no equivalent substitute for brushing,” she notes. “That being said, the best home dental care is the care that actually happens. For families where brushing creates stress for the people or pets, dog guardians should choose the home care that’s most feasible to be done daily.”
Feyrecilde adds that because plaque hardens into tartar when undisturbed for about 24 to 48 hours, frequency is a key component in your dental practice at home. So while chews aren’t usually very effective in removing tartar or calculus once they’ve hardened, they can help keep that buildup from occurring in the first place. “Dental chews can be really helpful to remove plaque and the bacteria that causes it from a dog’s teeth,” she says.
How Dog Dental Chews Work and Which Ones To Choose
Dental chews come in all different shapes, sizes, textures, and consistencies. But their overall premise is the same. Simply put, they’re designed to be chewed slowly, which helps to gently clean your dog’s teeth and massage their gums.
When picking out dental chews and treats for your pup, Feyrecilde recommends checking that they’ve been certified by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). “The VOHC reviews research studies to determine if products are actually effective at removing or preventing plaque and tartar,” she says, adding that the VOHC website updates its list of products annually.
She also advises checking the ingredients to make sure your pup can tolerate them and that the consistency of the chew is one that they’ll actually gnaw on instead of gulping down. “Chews are only effective if the pet actually chews them,” she says.
Different Types of Dental Chews and Treats
While the market is flooded with different types of dental chews and treats, which one you pick will boil down to your individual dog and the area of dental care that you’re trying to target.
If your pup is struggling with stinky breath, then look for a dental chew with an active ingredient that’s designed specifically to fight bad breath—like Purina’s DentaLife ActivFresh chews that have a proprietary blend of honey and spirulina.
While most dental treats don’t have super long-lasting power, some are known to have a longer chew life than others—ideal for slowing down the chowhounds and super chewers. For instance, Whimzee chews have a harder, gummier consistency, which makes for more lasting power than most other dental chews on the market.
For pups who have sensitive stomachs or who are prone to allergies, a plant-based dental treat is a great way to avoid animal protein, which can be a common trigger for dogs. Virbac CET Veggiedent Chews, for example, have a relatively short list of ingredients and are free of animal byproducts and wheat gluten. They also include a prebiotic to help support digestion.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure you’re around to monitor your pup’s chewing. Though dental chews are typically the softest of the dog chews on the market and unlikely to result in chipped teeth or gum damage, no chew is risk free. A short end can pose a choking hazard—so keep an eye out and consider investing in bully stick holders if you know your dog is likely to gulp down big ends and chat with your vet about how to manage risk.
Final Verdict: Are Dental Chews and Treats Good for Dogs?
When accompanied by frequent brushing and regular visits to the vet, dental chews can be a helpful addition to your home care practice—assisting in disrupting plaque before it hardens into tartar. In particular, we think dog dental chews are a great addition for:
- Pet parents and pups who find daily brushing stressful
- Dog guardians who have dexterity differences and issues
- Dogs who find chewing enriching
- Pups who need extra help in controlling plaque buildup
Some dogs and their guardians won’t find dog dental chews useful. For example:
- Aggressive chewers who break chews into chunks
- Dogs with serious food allergies and sensitivities
- Pups who are watching their weight
- Dogs who need serious dental work and care
If your pup is speeding through dental treats, consider giving them a longer-lasting chew like a bully stick that can still help clean their teeth. For pups who are watching their weight or have serious allergies and sensitivities, tartar-control dog food can be added to their daily feeding. There are even rubber dental toys that can help stimulate brushing to some extent.
Regardless of which home care works best for you, it’s important to visit your vet frequently so that your pup can receive professional dentistry. “Just like with humans, we brush our teeth daily (hopefully!) and still need to visit the dentist for X-rays and professional cleanings regularly,” says Feyrecilde.
How We Chose
The dental chews and treats featured here were selected based on a combination of our own hands-on testing, a comprehensive look at customer reviews across a wide variety of retail platforms, and interviews with veterinary experts. We prioritized products based on ingredients, texture, consistency, and value. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated pups, who are never stingy with their feedback.