10 Dental Hygiene Alternatives For Pets Who Hate Toothbrushes

Vets recommend the best dental treats, food supplements, chew toys and other brushing alternatives to maintain your cat or dog's oral health.
A no-brush dental gel, a pack of popular dental chews and a grooved dental chew toy.

Several years ago I adopted a rescue Persian cat, and during that time, I’ve learned that he has hatred for a lot of things. But nothing is as great as his hatred for a toothbrush.

The effects of this aversion cost me a hefty bill each time professional teeth cleaning time comes around, but it’s a small price to pay. If left unchecked, poor dental hygiene in pets can lead to far more serious repercussions.

Allowing bacteria to build up on teeth (causing plaque and tartar) can harm your pet’s health beyond bad breath, inflammation, painful gums and loose teeth, said Dr. Maureen K. Murithi, a licensed veterinarian who consults for PetKeen, a virtual health platform for pets.

“Dental disease often caused by bacteria, if not treated on time, can lead to the translocation of bacteria through the blood to body organs such as the heart, kidneys, predisposing them to infections that are fatal,” Murithi said.

According to Murithi, these risks are even higher for certain cat and dog breeds such as pugs, Persians, Yorkshire terriers and Dachshunds, because their facial structure means they are more dispositioned to dental problems.

Dr. Whitney Miller, chief veterinarian for Petco, said that although manual brushing is probably the best way to keep up with your pet’s oral hygiene (in addition to regular teeth cleanings from your vet), it’s also understandable if they don’t always want to deal with a toothbrush.

“Pet parents can supplement with other dental care aids like dental treats, water additives or dental wipes. Dental chews are a great option to build a routine while supporting your dog’s healthy mouth, teeth and gums and they even work double duty as a tasty reward,” Miller said.

Whatever supplemental products that you choose to incorporate in your pet’s routine, Dr. Heidi Cooley, a veterinarian with Banfield Pet Hospital, said you should look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of acceptance on the product’s package or website.

“The VOHC provides third party assessment for dental products and a ‘seal of acceptance’ means the product meets a pre-set criteria for effectiveness in controlling plaque and tartar deposition in dogs and cats,” Cooley said.

She added that gradual consistency and soothing praise can go a long way when introducing new items to your pet.

But when no amount of cajoling, meat-flavored pastes or post-brushing rewards can get your furry friend within 10 feet of the scary dental tool in question, this round-up of veterinarian-recommended alternatives may be able to help.

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A 12-pack of nutrient-rich dental chews
"These treats feature a chewy texture that helps battle plaque and tartar buildup. Greenies are vet-authorized for at-home oral care and have been accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council," Miller said. These widely popular dental chews are made with a blend of natural ingredients, vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

You can also get Greenies dental treats for cats.
Dental wipes infused with anti-plaque ingredients
Cooley said that, after toothbrushes, dental wipes might be the next best thing to help mechanically remove plaque from teeth. They might also be better tolerated by your pet, since it's just your hand rather than a foreign object. "Products that contain chlorhexidine gluconate can help to decrease the accumulation of plaque. It works by binding to the tooth and slowly releasing over a slower time period to provide sustained antimicrobial activity." she said.

These textured and pre-soaked wipes are formulated with 0.1% chlorhexidine gluconate and are mint-flavored to leave behind fresher smelling breath.
A dental water additive for cats and dogs
"Water additives are also an easier way of keeping your pet's teeth clean. They contain enzymes that help to break down plaque and tartar. They are usually added to your pet's water and help to clean the teeth as they drink," Murithi said. Just make sure to provide a separate source of water for your pet that doesn't have the additive.

Safe for both cats and dogs, this tasteless and odorless additive is alcohol-free and has over 15,100 five-star-ratings on Amazon.
A dental-conscious dry kibble
According to Dr. Megan Conrad, a licensed veterinarian working with Hello Ralphie, a virtual pet care platform, certain over-the-counter diets can be helpful in keeping tartar buildup at bay. "These have an advantage over regular kibbles in that they’re larger in size and have a texture that will break up easily so the pieces in a sense 'brush' your dog or cat’s teeth," Conrad said of the Royal Canin dental care kibble, which is also formulated with omega-3 fatty acids, glucosamine, and chondroitin to help provide bone and joint support.
A no-brush dental gel that helps remove plaque
Cooley said that certain dental gels use antibacterial agents to help decrease plaque formation and bad breath. This popular option by TropiClean claims to use naturally derived ingredients to help remove plaque and tartar and freshen breath in just one month, no brushing required.
A pack of enzymatic rawhide chews
Dr. Stephanie Sheen, a Bend, Oregon-based veterinarian with Fuzzy, a comprehensive pet care platform, told HuffPost that although pet owners might turn to bones as an effective way to scale teeth, there can be some risks involved.

"[They] carry a higher risk for tooth fracture since they are so firm [and] raw bones may have bacterial contamination concerns. You should never feed your cat or dog cooked bones, as these are more likely to splinter into sharp pieces that can injure the mouth or digestive tract or cause an obstruction," Sheen said.

For heavier chewers, she recommends natural chew items such as bully sticks, beef tendon chews, enzymatic rawhides or Yak cheese, granted your pet adequately chews rather than swallows them after only a few bites.

These vet-recommended rawhide chews for dogs contain enzymes that can help reduce plaque and calculus formation on the teeth.
A daily food additive to support dental health
"The use of food supplements is also a viable option, though a bit expensive. Some contain enzymes or are coarse in nature which helps to break down plaque and tartar. The supplements should be added directly to your dog's food and can be served daily." Murithi told HuffPost.

This veterinarian-formulated daily food powder is safe for both cats and dogs and claims to control tarter, eliminate bad breath and reduce plaque by up to 20% thanks to a blend of natural minerals. It also contains probiotics and healthy fats to support a healthy diet.
A grooved chew toy infused with baking soda
Sheen said that another brushing alternative, primarily for dogs, are rubber toys that contain nubs or grooves to clean teeth while you pet gnaws on them. This popular option is made with durable natural rubber and contains tread-like grooves that can grip onto teeth. It's also infused with baking soda to help remove plaque and tartar.
Dental treats for cats that contain active probiotics
For cats, Conrad recommended these Dentalife daily treats by Purina, which are made with a porous texture to reduce tartar buildup. They are also made with added vitamins, minerals and nutrients as well as probiotics to support digestive health.
Plant-based dental chews suitable for sensitive stomachs
For dogs with dietary sensitivities, Sheen said that these Whimzees dental treats, which were recommended by several of the veterinarians that we spoke to, could be a good option since they are plant-based. They are also shaped with functional grooves to help manually remove plaque buildup as your pet chews.

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