Dental chews? Raw hides? Bully sticks? Greenies? The selection of items marketed towards keeping your pets’ teeth healthy can be overwhelming. In this episode, Dr. Nicky Diaz discusses the Veterinary Oral Health Council recommendations for dental products that, combined with regular dental care with your veterinarian, can help keep your pets teeth healthy throughout their lives.
Welcome, Dr. Nicky Diaz!
[00:01:06] Dr. Lancellotti: Welcome, everyone, to today’s episode of Your Vet Wants You To Know. I am joined today by Dr. Nikki Diaz, who is going to be talking to us about different dental products that you can use for your dog and cat, what some of the benefits and risks are associated with products that you might find at the pet store, and help guide you into purchasing the things that will maximize the benefit with minimizing the risk. Welcome, Dr. Diaz, to the show.
[00:01:33] Dr. Diaz: Hi everyone. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:35] Dr. Lancellotti: Tell us a little bit about yourself, what your background is, and why dental care is so important to you.
[00:01:43] Dr. Diaz: I am a small-animal veterinarian focusing on general practice in Washington, DC. I’m originally from Miami, Florida, and I got to do my studies at the university of Florida. I’ve been loving living in DC for the last six years or so. We have a massive pet-parent and pet population here, so we get to see a ton of kids come through the doors. One of the main things that we always talk about is their teeth. Everybody wants to know how their pets’ teeth look, if the stinkiness is coming from that, a little bit about what a good dental cleaning is, and they always want to ask, “Well, what about that dental chew?” Hitting a little bit closer to home – I have a feisty little Terrier, and he does not even let me look at his teeth, just to do a general checkup in his own home. So, I definitely sympathize with pet parents when I see them come through the clinic and they’re kind of shocked when I tell them that there’s a decent amount of tartar, or I’m worried about gingivitis. I wanted to get a list of good quality dental products that these guys can use at home, in those cases where they’re not able to brush their teeth, or they have similar feisty Terriers like I do.
[00:02:57] Dr. Lancellotti: I can certainly sympathize with the feisty Terrier. That ugly mutt that you see on the podcast art, that’s my Terrier, Russell Sprout. And as adorable as he is as a cartoon, he definitely gives me a run for my money with his attitude at home. So, I can sympathize. I’m really glad you’re here today to talk about different types of products that are available to minimize the stress that pet owners experience when they’re trying to care for their pets’ teeth.
Dental care should be fun!
Dr. Lancellotti: So I want to explore your interest in dental care a little bit more. Tell us why this is so important to you. What is it that pet owners should know about caring for their pets’ teeth?
[00:03:38] Dr. Diaz: I think that a lot of pet parents forget about the teeth. They think that they’re just brushing their teeth by chewing or playing on this toy or that toy, but they forget about the oral cavity as its own essential organ system, with its own blood flow and its own nervous system. I’m coming about it in two places, both the scientific background, but also as a pet owner, understanding how valuable every second of the day is, especially being a vet. We always say, “Do as we say, not as we do,” because a lot of times we run out of those valuable seconds throughout the day. And toothbrushing just doesn’t really make it through the list for my pet on some days, especially those that don’t allow the typical brushing. So, I wanted to come about with a good set of products that they could use while they are doing laundry, and their pet could be doing something that’s not only valuable for entertainment, but also getting their dental health in check by reducing a little bit of tartar. There are a ton of ways to do it with really good treats, flavored toothpaste, interactive toys- all things to help improve dental care, reduce stress, and also alleviate stress from pet parents on their day-to-day. We get a little bit worried when they come to the vet and they say, “Oh, no. Don’t even talk to me about their teeth. I know that they’re bad.” We want to alleviate a little bit of that stress to say, “They’re not that bad. These are things that can help to make these teeth look a lot better- long term.”
[00:05:08] Dr. Lancellotti: That’s great. Anything we can do to minimize stress levels, not only in our pets, but also in ourselves (as pet owners), I think is really important. I’m excited to dive in and find out more about what options we have available, if toothbrushing is something that is really stressful for everybody.
Routine dental care prevents disease.
Dr. Lancellotti: I want to stress the importance of dental care. Taking care of a pet’s teeth is really important to the health over the course of their lifetime. So, tell the listeners a little bit about why that is.
[00:05:39]Dr. Diaz: I think dental care starts from day one. And I always tell my puppy parents to start early by manipulating their mouths because, while these teeth are going to go away, in around 18 to 22 weeks, we’ll start to see those adult teeth pushed through. These are there forever. They’re not going away and we want to do as good a job as possible to keep them very healthy. And as I had recently said, this is a very important organ system. We see a lot of diseases that can generate from the mouth or generalized oral pain, which can cause long-term problems in pets that are both young and old. While we look at the teeth and we think, “Oh, they look pretty pearly and white,” I think the number 1 thing to remember is that we can only see about 1/3 of that tooth. 2/3 of the tooth root itself is under the gum line, and that’s really where the problem lies. And that’s where dental care comes in, whether it be any form of care, to get as much tartar and bacteria off those teeth, to avoid that gingivitis and (the scary term that the vets call) periodontal disease.
How do I choose a dental product for my pet?
[00:06:45] Dr. Lancellotti: I know that there are a lot of different products out there on the market. You walk into the pet store and there are just tons of things available for your dog or cat to chew on. So, it really can be overwhelming for pet owners to decide what’s actually going to help their pet. Can you talk to pet owners about tools that are out there that have some evidence-based research to support how well they work?
[00:07:09] Dr. Diaz: Yeah, definitely. The number one thing that I see is- too many products and not enough information on those products (confusion from the pet store clerk that’s telling you, doing your own Google research, etc). How much marketing is actually taking place, as opposed to true research on the products? Fortunately, a group of veterinary dentists came up with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), and they have done tons of research-based studies on efficacy of certain products on the market. Then, they give their seal of approval for these products. So that, at least, helps guide you a little bit on which ones you want to try to lean towards. But the main thing to do is to find products that both have research behind them, but also can work effectively for your pet, because not everything is going to fit into a perfect mold.
What dental products are good for pets' teeth?
[00:08:07]Dr. Lancellotti: So, when we’re looking for a product that is going to help the pets’ overall dental health, what is it that the product should be able to do?
[00:08:18]Dr. Diaz: Products should be really be focused on reducing the buildup of bacteria that can lead to tartar and plaque, which then leads to gingivitis. There are some products on the market that are not recommended by vets and the VOHC council. You’ll see things like raw hides, bully sticks or very hard butcher bones. The label says it will reduce tartar, but what they don’t tell you is that it will break down the enamel, which can then lead to fractures. So a quick note for owners and all of my pet parents – when you go to the store, if you don’t have the list on hand or you’re not able to search it, all you need to do is either try to do a little bend to whatever you’re going to purchase, or try to put your nail print into it. That should tend to be soft enough for their mouths and safe enough for most pets. Now that’s a pretty cursory item, but you can use that in the event that you want to make sure it’s not too hard for their teeth, long-term.
[00:09:12] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. Because if it’s too hard, it’s going to break down the enamel. You want something that’s just hard enough to remove the tartar and the surface bacteria.
[00:09:20] Dr. Diaz: Exactly.
Rawhides and bully sticks (bull penis) can break down tooth enamel over time, leading to fractured teeth. They can also be swallowed whole and cause harmful obstructions.
What dental products should pet owners consider?
[00:09:21] Dr. Lancellotti: What are some things that you would consider must-haves at home, to help pet owners with dental health?
[00:09:29]Dr. Diaz: I have 3 must-haves in my home, and I recommend them for all my pet parents. First, I have a really good enzymatic toothpaste. You can use the toothpaste as a treat because they’re usually flavored and tasty. Or you can do true traditional teeth brushing. Dental chews are also my go-to, just so that there’s something to use as a distraction, but also something tasty. And then there’s also dental toys that have divots where you can put treats inside, but you can actually use the toothpaste on the surface. It’s kind of another way to “accidentally” be brushing your dog’s teeth without them really knowing.
[00:10:06] Dr. Lancellotti: It’s a sneaky brush. I like that.
[00:10:09] Dr. Diaz: I call it my play brush.
[00:10:11] Dr. Lancellotti: Oh, I love that. Yeah. Because it’s more fun to play than to actually do that chore of brushing the teeth.
[00:10:17]Dr. Diaz: Exactly.
What dental products should pet owners avoid?
[00:10:18]Dr. Lancellotti: So, on the flip side of that – you see a lot of products, used very commonly, that don’t have a lot of evidence to support their benefit. There are even those things that can be dangerous to pets or worsen their dental disease. What things would you recommend that pet owners avoid when they’re in the pet store looking for something to care for their pets’ teeth?
[00:10:37] Dr. Diaz: The number one thing to avoid are items that are just too firm and too hard. The second one are items that are too large. The last one might be a little bit controversial, but it comes from experience- the ones that are just too tasty. The reason that ‘too hard’ is a problem is just like we mentioned before, breaking down that enamel. It will work. Those teeth will be shiny. But I’ll guarantee you will have some dental wear and some suspected fractures that might need to have those teeth be extracted.
[00:11:08]Dr. Lancellotti: Which would you say are the common products that are ‘too hard’ for pets?
[00:11:13]Dr. Diaz: Butcher bones are definitely the number one item that pet parents will purchase at the pet store that are way too firm. Marrow bones that you can fill are also one of our no-gos. Then, non-digestible raw hides. Those seem to be the 3 most common offenders for being too firm.
[00:11:31] Dr. Lancellotti: And then you mentioned ‘too large.’ Which things are going to be too large for them?
[00:11:35] Dr. Diaz: ‘Too large’ are going to be products that are either out of the weight category for your pet, but the number one thing that I see on a day-to-day is bully sticks. They are so tasty to these guys that, a lot of times, they’ll fracture off sections of it and swallow them whole. And these are the ones that tend have procedures, to have those foreign materials removed. Also, those non-digestible raw hides, which are too large and again, too tasty. They’ll swallow those as well.
[00:12:03] Dr. Lancellotti: ‘ Too tasty…’ Is that the same as too large? Or are there other things that are too tasty that might cause problems?
[00:12:10] Dr. Diaz: My ‘too tasty’ is a little controversial because it is on the VOHC list- greenies. Greenies (or similar Dentastix) work very well. They’re just too darn tasty for these guys, so they usually chomp and swallow. They’re digestible. There’s no issue with that, but you’re really not getting the benefits of the toothbrush treat, itself, because they’re not chewing on it for long enough. They’re just too tasty for these guys.
[00:12:39] Dr. Lancellotti: Absolutely. So they’re enjoying getting a really delicious treat, but there’s not much benefit to the pets’ teeth, which they should be getting.
[00:12:47] Dr. Diaz: Yeah. And a lot of my pet parents will say, “Well, they get their greeny every night.” And I say, “Yep. I definitely agree with the greeny, but maybe go up a size in that case, because they are digestible. Or go ahead and switch over to something that’s still tasty, but just not as porous, so that they can actually work on that treat a little bit longer.
What should pet owners remember when choosing a dental product for their pet?
[00:13:09] Dr. Lancellotti: Perfect. What are the big takeaway points that you want pet owners to remember?
[00:13:14] Dr. Diaz: My big takeaway point is to never forget about their teeth. Don’t be discouraged if your pet doesn’t like their teeth being manipulated or is not going to sit around for traditional brushing, because there are ways around it. The other big takeaway is to not always just go by what the clerk at the pet store is recommending. While these harder toys and these firmer marrow bones will definitely keep your pet distracted, we want to think a little bit more long-term about these teeth that are not going away. We want to take care of them from as early as possible and introduce products that will really benefit both you and your pet, long-term.
[00:13:56] Dr. Lancellotti: And how about dental care? I know having that relationship with your veterinarian and talking to them about your pet’s teeth is really important. What would you say about dental cleanings?
[00:14:05] Dr. Diaz: I highly recommend professional dental cleanings. It is a part of every exam- we always look at their teeth. I make it a point to highlight it in each one of my physical exams, comments to pet owners, to give them an understanding as to where their (pets’) teeth look like they are, and a good timeframe for cleaning. I think most pets, realistically, will get their first cleaning between 2-4 years of age, usually dependent on the breed. I highly encourage owners to look into professional dental cleanings from veterinarians, to stay away from those more cosmetic non anesthetized cleanings, because those are a whole other topic- we can start a podcast on how worrisome some of those cleanings could be long-term.
The Dental Kit from PawKit Vet
[00:14:51]Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah, that’s definitely something that pet owners should be aware of. Those non anesthetic dental cleanings are, unfortunately, more for looks and less about dental health. You have a really awesome tool for pet owners. Is it Pawkit Vet or just Pawkit?
[00:15:09] Dr. Diaz: It’s Pawkit Vet, and we make kits for pet parents to group together our veterinary favorite products, so that you don’t have to be worried about buying the right product or having your vet say, “Ooh, that’s too hard,” or, “Oh, that’s not one of my go-tos. So, we kind of grouped them all together in a nice little kit for everybody.
[00:15:28]Dr. Lancellotti: I know a lot of our listeners are now going to be interested in making sure that they have the appropriate dental products for their pet. Do you have a specific dental care kit?
[00:15:39] Dr. Diaz: Yes. We just launched our dental care kit last month and it has our go-to products, for both traditional and non-traditional brushing. There is an enzymatic toothpaste that is flavored. It’s pretty tacky, so it’s also really helpful to keep on the teeth. We’ve got a traditional brush, just in case we have some pet parents that are willing to go that extra mile. And then for the ones that the pets won’t allow, we’ve got a perfect little dental toy that you can put treats inside and you can also add in that tacky toothpaste on the outside, so they can play with that. And then my must-have dental chews will keep these guys engaged and really entertained for long periods of time, while really working on reducing that tartar.
[00:16:26]Dr. Lancellotti: Yeah, I’m looking at your dental kit here, and I love that you’ve got products that come from companies that do a lot of veterinary research and have a lot of evidence-based medicine and science behind what they’re trying to accomplish. So, this is a great kit for any pet owners who are looking for some more dental care products for their dog. I know a lot of family veterinarians are very comfortable managing your pets’ dental care throughout the course of its life, but if you would like to find a veterinary dentist near you, I have a link on the Your Vet Wants You To Know website under the resources page, so you can consult with a specialist near you. And if you’d like to view references for today’s show, that will be on the website for today’s episode. We’ll have some pictures in there. I’ll have a link to the Pawkit Vet, so that you can look into getting your pet a dental kit. I would love for listeners to join the Facebook group and show us pictures of their pets, having their dental toys, maybe getting their teeth brushed, or just enjoying dental health. You can follow us on Instagram or Facebook and to get more information and updates on the show.
Scratching the Itch
[00:17:33] Dr. Lancellotti: We always end our show with a segment called ‘Scratching the Itch.’ It’s a short segment that highlights something- either a human interest story, a product or website that just provides relief or makes you feel good. Hence, scratching the itch. Dr. Diaz, do you have a ‘scratching the itch’ for our listeners, today?
[00:17:51] Dr. Diaz: Yes. I recently adopted a very fun, energetic Shepherd mix, who loves nothing more than to stare at me while I’m on the phone and just get my attention at all times. I found the most perfect product to scratch her itch of my attention and it’s called the Snoop, which is made by Planet Dog. It’s this super cute little toy that you can fill with both treats or edible pastes (like peanut butters or almond butters), and it’s adorable because they just put their snoot into the Snoop and she will go at that for days. So, it helps me get my life on track by being able to focus on what I’m doing, and it really just alleviates her anxiety and stress of not having my undivided attention. It is something that I give to all of my friends that get new pets. But the Snoop is a must-have for all pet parents.
[00:18:55] Dr. Lancellotti: This looks great. It would be very entertaining for the dog and get a lot of that mental energy and stimulation out. I love it.
[00:19:01] Dr. Diaz: And you can use it as a slow feeder too. If you pop the top up, I have some good pictures which I’ll send over. But if the dog is coming, we do not leave home without it.
[00:19:11] Dr. Lancellotti: That’s great. Excellent. Thank you for the recommendation.
[00:19:15] Dr. Diaz: Yeah. For sure.
[00:19:16] Dr. Lancellotti: And thank you so much for coming on and talking about different dental products for pet owners to use. I’m sure people are going to be more discerning when they go to the pet store now, looking for products that are a little bit safer for their pet, something that is endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, so that they know it’s got some research behind it and is beneficial. Thank you very much, Dr. Diaz. I appreciate it.
[00:19:40]Dr. Diaz: No. Thank you, for having me. Feel free to send out any questions you guys might have.
[00:19:46] Dr. Lancellotti: That’s great. And for all of our listeners, I look forward to your next visit with Your Vet Wants You To Know.