Pet plaque products might not deliver on their promises

Pet plaque products might not deliver on their promises

By Susan Kim. CREATED Mar 23, 2012 - UPDATED: Mar 23, 2012

MILWAUKEE- Plaque problems plague 85% of pets, and it's hard to know the best way to keep their teeth clean. In fact, your pet's teeth can be the tip of real problems in their overall health. Dr. Jan Bellows is President of the American Veterinary Dental College.

"Disease can go to the kidneys and the heart and the brain and really cause a lot of damage," Dr. Bellows explains.

If you've ever tried, you may already know it's not so simple to say 'open wide' to an animal. Lori Macaione has a tough time with her pet. "It's kind of a problem where she has such a small mouth--it's tough to get a brush in there."

Your veterinarian can help with a dental cleaning, but that can be one expensive option when less costly alternatives exist. From wipes to water drops to special chew toys, there are all kinds of products on the market to help clean your pet's teeth.

"I do try and wipe her mouth with some pads I have," Lori says.

However, according to Dr. Bellows, with some of these products, their bark may be more effective than their bite. "A lot of times the product will say they will do something but there's no research that shows they actually will."

The FDA is in charge of regulating medical claims made on pet products, but unless the product is promising to cure a disease or contains what might be considered a drug, experts say it's up to consumers to figure out what works and what doesn't. The Veterinary Oral Health Council, or VOHC, says the effectiveness of many of these products hasn't been tested adequately. In fact, Dr. Bellows says some can even be harmful. He's performed many root canals on dog teeth broken by bones.

"Unfortunately, the products may actually injure the dental because they're too hard to chew on," Dr. Bellows warns.

So what's a loving owner to do? Dr. Bellows suggests, "Look on the back of the container and look for a veterinary oral health council seal. If you see one it's a product considered safe and effective."

The VOHC is a scientist-run group that's part of the Veterinary Dental College. It reviews research submitted by manufacturers. Only 29 products have the seal so far.

"There are products that have been shown to be effective by independent studies research that shows they will control plaque and will control tartar. These products are awarded a seal," Dr. Bellows says.

Still not sure if your pet has a problem or you need these products? Dr. Bellows says their breath will tell you. "If your pet's breath doesn't smell like roses, there's a problem."

Vets tell us it's much easier to get a pet used to the dental regimen as a puppy or kitten, so start them young. A current list of the approved products can be found here.

Susan Kim

Susan Kim

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Susan Kim loves the people of Wisconsin because they instantly made her feel welcome when she started at TODAY'S TMJ4 in 1994. She started off working the assignment desk, and began working on the anchor desk a couple years later.