I enjoy doing dental work on dogs, but I admit I cringe a bit when I see these words on our surgery schedule: “Tooth extraction needed.”
Any broken tooth with an exposed pulp chamber needs to be removed. The pulp chamber contains nerves and blood vessels that extend right down to the root. An exposed pulp makes the tooth vulnerable to infection, and it’s painful.
Trauma from many causes can break a tooth, but what I want to discuss is tooth fractures caused by chewing hard objects and toys, because they are often preventable.
To find out which chew toys and objects were inappropriate for our canine friends, I turned to the Veterinary Information Network, a stellar bunch of specialists who answer questions and offer expert advice. Their-board certified veterinary dentists agree on this list of usual suspects that are behind most of the tooth fractures they see:
- Hard nylon bones
- Natural bones
- Antlers, hooves and bully sticks
- Ice cubes
- Large rawhide bones
- Stones and rocks
I was surprised to see so many warnings about chewing ice cubes. I don’t recall whether I’ve ever seen a tooth broken by ice cubes, but I know there’s evidence that humans can chip teeth from munching on them. I’ll put them on my “don’t chew” list from now on.1 Warnings were even issued for hard “dental treats,” many of which seem to help keep tartar at bay. I’ve recommended those in the past, but perhaps they must be used more judiciously2 — or not at all.
A general rule of thumb offered by Fraser Hale, DVM, Dipl. AVDC, is that if you would not want someone to hit you on the kneecap with the item, you should not give it to your dog to chew. If it’s hard enough to hurt your knee, it’s hard enough to break a tooth.
That research led me to some clear winners in the chew toy department. West Paw Design makes Zogoflex toys, which are durable but soft and easy on the teeth. Their designs, which include a ball with a deep groove (“makes for a wacky bounce!”) and a flying disc, are non-toxic and dishwasher safe. The company offers a free one-time replacement if your dog destroys one of their products. And Zogoflex floats, a boon for the water-happy hound.
The other standout was Goughnuts pet toys. In addition to the attributes of Zogoflex, Goughnut toys have a red core that, when exposed through vigorous sessions of chewing, indicates that it’s no longer safe to chew. When the core is exposed, the company will send a free replacement (shipping costs $5.25). Don’t count on having to replace a Goughnut, though; they are extremely durable. If you have the patience to watch this video, you’ll see a 5,000-pound pickup truck being lifted off the ground by a Goughnut on a cable!
Conspicuous by its absence in my recommendations is the Kong. I’ve had many clients tell me that their dog destroys this food-stuffable plaything. For that reason I don’t recommend them for dogs that tear them to pieces, but they’re fine for dogs that leave them intact. That goes for all chew toys that can be destroyed; the possibility of a foreign-body obstruction in the respiratory or digestive tract isn’t worth the momentary pleasure your pooch gets from noshing on them.
I realize that it’s hard to deprive your best friend of his favorite chew toy. But consider the risk of broken teeth vs. the benefit of his chewing pleasure, and make the decision consciously. And don’t forget the kneecap test. If the toy hits your kneecap and makes you say “ouch,” you might be saying “ouch” when you pay your dog’s dental bill!
1 Some other cautions: The fuzz on tennis balls is highly abrasive to dogs’ teeth; you might as well give them sandpaper to chew. And frantic mouth play with large balls can cause serious wear to a pooch’s choppers. Some dogs perpetually carry objects in their mouths, a habit that can wear down or fracture the cusps, or pointy tips, of teeth. The Goughnut stick is soft and would be perfect for pooches of that ilk.
2 One board-certified dentist describes hard dental treats as risky products being foisted on an unsuspecting public. We veterinarians have not received any warnings about their potential to chip or fracture teeth. I couldn’t find many relevant complaints about those products, but when we find a broken tooth, we don’t usually know the offending object — it could be those treats. If you’re concerned about this, stick to biscuits and skip the dental chews.