Did you happen to see a commercial in which a veterinarian informs you of an innovative treat specifically designed to clean your dog’s teeth? What he’s actually talking about is brushing your dog’s teeth with a Mars bar.
Are you confused as to what we’re talking about? Well, Pedigree Dentastix and Dentaflex are, quite literally, Mars bars. That’s right, the company that provides us with junkfood owns Pedigree. Now that wouldn’t necessarily mean the products are bad and unhealthy, but we’ll share some facts below that definitely prove they are.
But, the vet said…
These treats are made to clean your dog’s teeth. That’s what the doggy dentist in the commercials says, so it must be true, right? Well, that’s debatable. That person in the white lab coat is an actor at best. And even if he were a vet, most veterinarians (sadly) aren’t educated in nutrition. Most get a few short courses funded by none other than Mars. No wonder they’d advise us to feed these chews, they just don’t know any better!
We talked to the veterinarians and assistants working at the vet’s office that we visit with Mojo, and they could barely remember the last time they were taught about canine nutrition. All they could tell us, is that they visited a day course hosted by a pet food brand that they sell in their office. Marijke is actually planning an evening with our veterinarians to give them a lecture on species appropriate nutrition. They are very interested!
Pearly white teeth
Sadly, the majority of dogs above the age of 2 suffer from dental disease (4). Most forms of dental discomfort start with buildup of tartar and plague, in which diet plays a major role. Pedigree recommends to feed Dentastix and Dentaflex in order to keep your dog’s gums and teeth healthy and strong, and tartar free. These treats are flexible and have a slightly abrasive texture, and are supposed to work as an edible toothbrush. However, we find it questionable whether these chews have a positive influence on dental hygiene.
A dental chew is a food item that is listed by the manufacturer as a treat that keeps your dog’s teeth clean. Mojo has never eaten any of these, nor did we ever brush her teeth. Despite being close to celebrating her third birthday, her teeth are still plague and tartar free. We believe this is due to her being fed a raw diet.
Since dogs are a predatory species, their jaws are designed around eating prey animals. The incisors and canines are used to rip off pieces of meat, where the molars are used to crush bone and chew through tougher parts like tendons. Since a dental chew, like Dentastix, is small, there’s no need to rip and tear, so the front teeth don’t come into play. The molars are the only teeth that these dental chews touch.
Besides the fact that the front teeth are not cleaned by offering a dental stick, dog owners often mention that it only takes a few bites before their dogs swallow their Dentastix. That doesn’t surprise us. Since dogs’ molars are made to crush bone, so a simple and flexible treat made of cereal and other plant material isn’t hard to chew through.
Although some dogs might chew on them properly, we doubt they actually work as a toothbrush. The structure of dental chews is usually quite tough, but when moistened, they turn into a sticky substance that gathers in the molars. In our opinion it is questionable whether any leftovers that remain there, could actually cause issues in the long run.
Though Pedigree designed two products with an abrasive texture, specifically made for dental hygiene, we wonder whether they are even slightly beneficial.
Dogs’ bodies are designed to process a diet high in protein, fat, and moisture, yet dental chews lack those nutrients and are high in carbohydrates. Sadly, Pedigree (1) do not share nutritional information about their dental chews on their website, so we used the Pets At Home webshop to gather more information. Below, we have the ingredient lists and nutritional information (2,3):
Dentaflex Cereals, Derivatives of Vegetable Origin, Meat and Animal Derivatives (including 4% Chicken), Minerals (including 2.2% Sodium Tripolyphosphate), Oils and Fats Protein: 3.8% Fat content: 1.1% Inorganic matter: 5.9% Crude fibres: 0.6% Moisture: 15% Calcium: 0.8%
Dentastix Cereals, Derivatives of Vegetable Origin, Meat and Animal Derivatives, Minerals (Including 2.3% Sodium Tripolyphosphate), Oils and Fats Protein: 7.7% Fat content: 1.8% Inorganic matter: 5.3% Crude fibres: 2.3% Moisture: 13.5%
A quick glance at the ingredients shows a high amount of plant material. There is a lack of specificity amongst all ingredients. There is no clarity about which cereals are used, what derivatives of vegetable origin are included, and which types of animal material were used (aside from 4% chicken in Dentaflex).
One can use the nutritional analysis to calculate the amount of carbohydrates in any given food item as follows. Sum up the percentages of protein, fat, moisture, and ash, and minus that from 100. Now, the ash content is not written here, but it’s often around 6%. Here, a quick calculation shows that these new Dentaflex ‘edible toothbrushes’ contain no less than 74.1% carbohydrates:
100 – 3.8 (protein) – 1.1 (fat) – 15 (moisture) – 6 (ash) = 74.1%
Similarly, the famous Dentastix contain 71% carbohydrates.
Now, when these chews are digested, carbohydrates are transformed into sugars. Carnivores, to which the dogs belong, actually prefer to use fat as their main source of energy. Sugar will cause weight gain and has no positive effect on a dog’s body condition. Additionally, high amounts of sugar can cause hyperactivity and other behavioural issues. So I would like to ask you here, would you consider these dental chews to be a healthy choice?
Feeding recommendations and weight gain
Pedigree recommends feeding two Dentaflex chews a week, and an additional Dentastix once daily. For a medium sized dog, the recommended amount would equal to 160 grams Dentaflex and 180 grams Dentastix. This sums up to a weekly 340 grams of snacks for dogs weighing anywhere from 10-25 kilograms, totaling 246.36 grams of carbohydrates a week, which are transformed into sugars when digested!
Marijke has been helping a few people getting their dogs to lose weight and she remembers one owner feeling sorry for her dog eating less than he was used to, and fed him a dental chew once daily for a little over two weeks. We’d been tracking a steady weight loss for weeks and suddenly she told me the dog had gained some weight. I told her it wasn’t a clever decision to feed the dental chews as we had cut them out of his diet for a reason. He didn’t eat a dental chew since, and he’s back on track.
Now, one could decide to cut back on the dog’s normal daily food to decrease the chances of unwanted weight gain, but that wouldn’t be too clever. Dog food – be it kibble, canned, or raw – include the minimum requirements for a dog to survive. If a dog’s food – especially one fed a low quality dry food – is partially replaced with a treat, it could miss out on some essential vitamins, which could cause damage in the long run. Especially, if the amount of food that is replaced with treats is relatively high.
Their recommendation does not include a warning about potential weight gain, so the only thing a dog owner can do, is follow their guideline and feed 9 treats a week, simply because they don’t know better. We sincerely hope this explanation helped you realize that these treats are not just ‘edible toothbrushes’, they’re unhealthy, calorie laden treats.
Are there any alternatives
From time to time it is indeed good for dogs to chew on something relatively hard. If a dog properly chews for a while, on something that doesn’t stick to their teeth (which these chews tend to do), the teeth will get a good scrub. There are healthy alternatives however, that provide a better cleaning session!
Now, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to feed commercial dental chews, such as Dentastix. If you choose not to (and we hope you do), here’s a list of alternative things to use to clean your dog’s teeth.
- Bully sticks (use code ‘mojoandfriends’ for a 10% discount via Natural Dog Company)
- Dehydrated (preferably unbleached) rabbit, pork, or beef ears
- Raw edible bone, such as turkey necks, duck wings, ox tails
- Raw beef knuckle (you can get these from the butcher’s)
These are made of 100% animal material and are hence very natural for your companion to eat. In order to keep your dog’s diet balanced, we would recommend introducing one of these items into your dog’s diet once weekly, to help maintain their dental health. If you choose to feed one of the treats we listed above and your dog is sensitive to weight gain, you can slightly lower the amount of dinner you feed that day. Due to the fact that these treats are species appropriate, meaning that they contain nutrients that dogs actually need, replacing a small amount of food with one of these treats on a weekly basis is completely save.
Additionally, it’s an option to manually brush their teeth with natural dog toothpaste, once or twice daily. Does your dog have advanced dental disease, a thick layer of tartar, or any other dental discomfort? We advise to check in with your veterinarian.
Keep in mind If your dog is not fed a raw diet, we do not recommend feeding soft edible bone. Gastric acidity of kibble fed dogs tends to be lower. Gastric acidity has to be high (low pH value) for a dog to properly digest bone.
Fun fact Pedigree is actually not the only brand owned by Mars that’s directed at pet care. Others include Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro, Cesar, Royal Canin, Sheba, and Whiskas. Another massive company in the pet food industry is Nestlé. Watch the Pet Fooled documentary on Netflix for more interesting facts!