Teeth are important to our health. Though perhaps often overlooked as a vital part of one’s overall health, dental and oral hygiene play an integral role in the upkeep of our systems.
In the world of pet medicine, the stakes are just as high. But the domestication of companion animals, particularly cats and dogs, has complicated things. The responsibility of what would normally be a naturally occurring process now falls on the shoulders of pet owners, who must take special care to maintain their pets’ dental and oral hygiene. And it often proves to be an arduous task.
“The carnivore diet in the wild primarily consists of food obtained from carcasses of animals they have hunted, or carrion,” said Colin Harvey, BVSc, FRCVS, DipACVS, DipAVDC, and Director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). “This natural diet requires extensive biting and tearing, which provides an excellent source of abrasive action on the teeth, including a ‘flossing’ action when tearing meat from the bones.”
Harvey explains that this process is almost completely eliminated for companion animals, whose eating habits have acclimated to the domestic environment of their pet owners’ homes.
“Most cats and dogs are fed convenience foods, which are characterized by defined nutritional content, need for convenient storage and use, and lack of smell or appearance that would be objectionable to the owner,” Harvey said. “The result is that the standard dog and cat diet has little of the wild carnivore chewing action when consumed by the pet.”
And what happens if this removed cleaning process is not supplemented? Ultimately, your furry friend is left increasingly susceptible to serious disease. As explained by Harvey, a buildup of tartar (calcium salt deposits) can provide plaque and other harmful bacteria an ample place for growth, leading to inflammation in gum tissue and a breakdown of tooth, bone and the attachment between the two. These issues initially manifest themselves as detectable symptoms, such as discolored deposits on teeth, bad breath and bleeding gums. In severe cases, teeth become loose and eventually fall out, causing pain for pets that may prevent them from eating.
“When gum disease is severe, the bacteria around the teeth find their way into the bloodstream and can become lodged in other areas of the body,” Harvey said. “As a result, there is evidence that kidney, liver and heart abnormalities are more likely to be seen in dogs and cats with severe gum disease than in those with healthy mouths.”
So it’s clear: maintaining dental and oral hygiene is a critical responsibility for pet owners. In turn, pet retailers can play a crucial role in making sure that consumers understand the importance of this task and are presented with adequate information about proper hygiene practices and helpful products. Maintaining dental and oral health is not always easy, but it is a need that consumers will always have.
Herein lies an opportunity for pet store owners.
Pastes, Gels and Sprays
Luckily, periodontal disease is relatively easy to prevent, especially when pet owners are equipped with the proper knowledge and maintenance tools. Just as brushing several times a day does the job to prevent plaque and tartar buildup in humans, it also benefits the dogs (and more rarely, cats) who will tolerate the act. However, many products are available for the pet owners who prefer hands-free paths to their pets’ optimal dental health.
“Since pet owners have trouble when attempting to brush their pets’ teeth, we came out with Petsmile, the ‘no fuss’ pet toothpaste that eliminates the need to actually brush your pets’ teeth,” said Lucia Smigel, president and CEO of Petsmile. “Our proprietary ingredient Calprox—which originated from its parent company Supersmile, a leading oral care company for humans—safely dissolves the plaque. The safety and results of this ingredient led us to be the first pet toothpaste awarded the VOHC seal for plaque inhibition. In addition, we use only human grade ingredients that are made in the USA.”
Depending on how it is applied, Petsmile can be used to achieve a cleanse with a range of intensity. For deep cleaning, toothbrushes are recommended. For easier maintenance, the Petsmile Professional Applicator Swab can be used or the paste can be spread on snacks and chew toys, as it has a natural beef flavored formula that will appeal to canine companions. Petsmile is formulated to give dogs of any breed or size stronger, healthier and whiter teeth.
To help customers fortify their pet’s dental health even during meals, Ark Naturals Breath-Less Plaque Zapper is available. This odorless, tasteless, colorless natural water additive fights plaque, tartar and bad breath as dogs or cats drink from their water bowls, even if they do not drink the entire serving. The formula helps to maintain saliva’s natural pH and is available individually packaged in sizes Small-Medium and Medium-Large.
Following the release of their spray and gel lines, PetzLife formulated the active ingredients in those products into a dental chew. The product’s effectiveness comes from the mechanical aspect of the chews’ ridges scraping the teeth and the blend of essential oils and extracts that help remove excess calcium in saliva that could otherwise build on teeth.
While daily brushing is recommended by veterinarians as the foundation of pet dental and oral hygiene habits, dental chews can maintain cleanliness between brushings and visits to the vet.
Ark Naturals Brushless-Toothpaste is specially sized for dogs of every size, from Mini to Large and everything in between. Ingredients such as cinnamon, vanilla, clove and alfalfa work to freshen pups’ breath. For senior dogs or those with missing teeth and tender gums, Gray Muzzle Brushless-Toothpaste is designed with a light, airy structure that is easier for older dogs to chew and will still give them all of the dental health benefits of a product made for younger dogs.
Customer habits have driven the recent trend in the pet product industry for more products made with human-grade material. More and more, consumers are expecting their choice pet products to mirror those products that they themselves would use, in design as well as quality.
Similarly, the natural product category has seen much growth, featuring products such as WHIMZEES Natural Dental Chews. With unique shapes and knobby designs to promote proper blood flow through the gums, prevent bad breath and tartar build-up, WHIMZEES are made with a limited number of natural ingredients, excluding artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, GMOs, gluten or meat. They are high in fiber and low in calories and sugars, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including the newly released XXS Toothbrushes and the Alligator, which is the brand’s best-seller.
Although the target demographic for many dental pet products are dogs, some brands, such as Ark Naturals and PetzLife, are formulated and designed to help maintain dental and oral health in cats as well. Ethical Products’ Feline Harvest Dental Treats are specifically made for cats, with flavors including chicken, duck, salmon and tuna.
Chewing materials for small animals are particularly essential, as their teeth continuously grow throughout their lifetimes. Similar to cats and dogs, natural chewing process in the wild would normally prevent small animals’ teeth from growing to the point of detriment. However, owners of small animals must supplement this lack of chewing activity by providing proper materials.
Doubling as a chew material and a source of nutrition, KAYTEE Forti-Diet Crunch with Dental Bites promotes dental health with the grinding action that small animals employ when eating them. Just one dental product of several in the KAYTEE brand, Forti-Diet helps control tooth growth and removes tartar build-up, made with a range of ingredients meant to nourish pets.
According to the American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC), periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition in dogs and cats, with most of these pets showing some evidence of periodontal disease by the time they reach three years of age.
One of the primary responsibilities of pet manufacturers and retailers is to inform consumers of meaningful information and to equip them with useful tools so that they are most capable of caring for their pets. The dental and oral hygiene category is a prime opportunity for store owners to fulfill that responsibility—by presenting customers with a wide array of products to make their pet dental care practices as easy and effective as possible.
Colin Harvey, Director of the VOHC, recommends that consumers pay close attention to relevant labels and certifications, and that store owners can make this easier by displaying informative signage.
“Alerting [pet] owners can be done by placing a poster or shelf-card containing the VOHC Seal and a brief description of the VOHC Seal system in the aisle containing the dental products,” Harvey said.
A full list of VOHC Accepted products can be found at vohc.org/accepted_products. The organization hopes to develop awareness surrounding the importance of good oral health in pets, and retailers are encouraged to visit the VOHC website and contact the Director at VOHC@AVDC.org.