There are dozens of products that purport to work wonders for a cat or dog's teeth and gums. But which ones are actually beneficial for your pet's dental health?
Let's find out.
Why Is Pet Dental Care Important?
Most dogs and cats suffer some form of dental health condition over the course of their lives. The most common is periodontal disease, aka gum disease, which is caused by the bacteria found in plaque. (Plaque is that bacteria-covered, filmy substance that develops on teeth over time.) Once periodontal disease becomes more advanced, it's very expensive to treat.
But regular at-home care can prevent dental health problems, or at least stop existing conditions from becoming getting worse. Brushing, water additives, dental chews and treats, dental wipes, special diets, sprays and other daily treatments can play an active role in improving your cat or dog's dental health.
(You should also check out our article about the most common dental conditions and how to avoid them, and our article about how to clean your pet's teeth.)
Best Pet Toothpaste
Regularly brushing your furry friend's teeth is the first and best line of defense when it comes to staving off dental disease. Brushing removes plaque, and also prevents new plaque from developing. It's that simple.
According to Dr. Jennifer Coates, an expert veterinarian who recently explored the importance of professional dental cleanings in a different ManyPets article, it's wise to find a toothpaste designed especially for pets. Unlike humans, pups and kitties tend to swallow a lot of their toothpaste. And human toothpastes tend to include ingredients that can make your pet very sick, like fluoride and the sweetening agent xylitol.
Toothpastes specifically approved for pets tend to feature ingredients like the polishing agent dicalcium phosphate and the preserving agent glycerin. They'll usually come equipped with natural ingredients as well, often designed to give the toothpaste a beef or poultry flavor.
But regardless of brand, any toothpaste-plus-toothbrush kit you find in your local pet store will likely do the trick: The very act of brushing goes a long way toward fighting plaque, regardless of which toothpaste you use.
But if you'd like to use the very best dog toothpaste, it's worth noting that only one — Petsmile — has received a Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOCH), a group of veterinary dentists and dental scientists that review pet dental products in the US.
Some toothpastes, including Petsmile and others, can still be somewhat effective even if pet parents apply them with a swab or fingertip instead of a brush. This option can be useful for pet parents who aren't used to the process, or those with pets who resist toothbrushing.
Best Pet Dental Toothbrush
According to Dr. Coates, pet toothbrushes with soft bristles are the best option for dogs and cats. The Veterinary Oral Health Council approves of any toothbrush that has a soft bristle, a flat head, and is in compliance with the American Dental Association's guidelines. Even certain soft-bristled toothbrushes made for humans can work in pinch. But brushes made specifically for pets tend to be more angled, and therefore more capable of getting to hard-to-reach spots in the back of your pet's mouth.
Samantha Schwab, a pet expert at Chewy, recently told The Strategist that the Virbac C.T.E. toothbrush is an ideal choice because of its ability to hit hard-to-reach stops. But really, any cat or dog toothbrush you buy at your local pet store will be good enough.
A finger brush can also be somewhat effective — especially for puppies, since it will get them used to the process of brushing before you introduce a larger, more invasive brush. (Even a toothpaste-covered paper towel wrapped around your finger is better than nothing, according to Dr. Coates.) Introducing brushing from an early age will help get your pet used to the process. And regular veterinary dental checks are always recommended as well.
For more info, check out our guide to cleaning your pet’s teeth.
Best Pet Dental Wipes
Dental wipes aren't as effective as some other methods of keeping your pet's teeth clean (especially brushing). But wipes are moderately effective at fighting plaque and tartar buildup, and they also help with bad breath. If your dog or cat truly can't stand brushing, dental wipes definitely better than nothing.
Pet parents might want to start with TropiClean's Fresh Breath Dental Wipes, which are readily available in the US and marketed toward both cat and dog owners.
Best Pet Dental Water Additive
Water additives are exactly what they sound like: Liquid solutions you can add to your pet's water bowl in small amounts. They can help clean teeth and gums, reducing plaque and bad breath.
There are a number of water additives on the market, but only one has received the Seal of Acceptance from the Veterinary Oral Health Council: HealthyMouth, a company you'll be seeing more of on this list. HealthyMouth offers water additive products for dogs and cats (and also horses, but you probably won't need those).
Best Pet Dental Sprays and Gels
Like water additives, dental sprays and gels are a somewhat effective way to stave off plaque buildup and bad breath. Sprays and gels are easier than brushing, and unlike with water additives, you won't have to wait around hoping your pet laps up the right amount of water.
HealthyMouth markets the only VOHC-approved gel designed specifically to fight plaque. Another company, Pettura, sells a gel that can help combat tartar build-up. (Just FYI: Plaque is the filmy, bacteria-filled substance that develops on teeth. When left untreated for too long, plaque becomes tartar, a hard substance that's much harder to remove.)
Meanwhile, only one company offers a VOHC-approved dental spray for dogs and cats: HealthyMouth, yet again.
Best Pet Dental Treats
Some dental treats can also play a role in fighting plaque and tartar build-up. And unlike with some other products on this list, there are a variety of VOHC-approved dental treats. Purina, HealthyMouth, Whimzees, Virbac, and others make the cut.
One of the most popular brands of dental hygiene treat (for both dogs and cats) is Greenies. These treats contain a wide array of vitamins and minerals, though actually the very act of chewing a dental treat's rough surface does more to clean your pet's teeth than any specific ingredients.
On top of the dental health benefits, chewing treats can provide cats and dogs with much-needed mental stimulation, especially if they're anxious by nature.
Just be sure to stick to dental treats designed specifically for pets; things like bones and antlers are so hard they can break your furry friend's teeth, and that's the polar opposite of good dental care.
Also, just remember: Giving your pet dental treats is better than nothing, but as ever, brushing is still best. Try to do both!
Best Pet Dental Chews
Non-edible rawhide chews serve much the same purpose as edible dental treats, helping to break up plaque and prevent tartar build-up over time. Purina offers one rawhide product directly to consumers, the VOHC-approved Busy HeartyHideChew Treats.
If you need something a little more heavy-duty, Purina also offers its Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Dental Chews product, which you can get through your veterinarian.
Again, be sure not to give your pet any dental hygiene chews that are hard enough to break their teeth, which would kind of defeat the purpose. And out of an abundance of caution, you'd also be well advised to monitor your pet's gnawing no matter which chews you give them.
Best Pet Dental Food
Talk to your vet about which diets might be beneficial for your pet's teeth, especially if your four-legged friend has a history of dental health problems. In particular, dry, hard kibbles can do a decent job of busting up tartar on your pet's teeth. One example is the VOHC-approved Science Diet Oral Care, available for both dogs and cats.
If you need to get even more aggressive in addressing your pet's dental health, there are also prescription diets that you'll have to get through your veterinarian, like the aptly named Hill's Prescription Diet.
Smart dietary choices can yield huge dental benefits throughout your furry family member's life. But if you adopt an effective dental care routine that includes brushing, you may never have to buy specialty foods designed to promote oral health.
How Pet Insurance and Wellness Plans Can Help
Some pet insurance plans (including the Wellness Plan offered by ManyPets!) will reimburse pet parents for the costs of veterinary care related dental injuries and certain dental illnesses.
Unfortunately, no pet health insurance plans cover the cost of routine dental cleanings, which can run into the thousands of dollars. And at some point your furry friend will almost certainly need a professional dental cleaning at the vet's office, even if you've diligently mastered the art of at-home care. At least 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease. And according to Dr. Coates, smaller pets with flat faces (like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Persian cats) can require professional cleanings as often as once or more per year, and even the less vulnerable breeds can require cleanings every two or three years.
This is where Wellness Plans can come in handy. These plans, which can be added on to a standard insurance policy, reimburse pet parents for the costs of routine care, including dental cleanings. (Wellness Plans also help with services like like routine exams, parasite prevention and holistic care, but that's another story.)
If you take care of your pet's teeth at home as advised in this article, they'll probably need a lot fewer cleanings during their lifetime. But when they do need a professional cleaning, a Wellness Plan can help.
To learn how much insurance-plus-wellness would cost for your four-legged friend, just get a free quote.