I think it’s fair to say that what you’re looking for in food for your pets – or for yourself and your family, for that matter – is a nutritious product made of quality ingredients that are safely and tastily prepared. Food is supposed to nourish our pets, helping to keep them healthy and strong. I don’t think it makes any sense to expect your pet’s kibble to perform some other task…for example, like cleaning their teeth.

Personally, I am baffled to imagine where such an odd – and even illogical – idea would have come from. However, while many pet owners believe that dry food cleans pets’ teeth, it is not logical, nor the solution to the problem. Just on the face of it, the belief that kibble cleans teeth is far-fetched because food is not a cleaning product – it is nourishment.

In fact, what we know as people is that eating is what makes our teeth “dirty,” or at least can contribute to the formation of tartar and plaque if we don’t brush our teeth at least twice a day. What most of us have always understood is that you eat food and then as a separate activity you use a toothbrush to clean off the residue of the food on your teeth, at least in the morning and at night. And then even with all that tooth brushing, we still need to go to the dentist for a teeth cleaning at least twice a year! This is one of the reasons that all dogs, as they age, should have their teeth checked by the vet once or twice a year no matter what they are eating – and schedule a professional cleaning as needed.

Dry pet food is by its very nature a highly processed carbohydrate that is usually sprayed with some sort of fat and “secret ingredient” that gives the kibble flavor. It can also leave a residue on your dog’s teeth that you need to manage. On a daily basis, we should be using any of the pet dental wipes, sprays or brushes on our dogs’ teeth to reduce that plaque and tartar. When you leave the dentist’s office after a teeth cleaning, do they hand you a bag of corn chips and tell you to rub them on your teeth every day to keep them clean? Or do they hand you a new toothbrush and toothpaste?

Once you learn to distinguish the ingredients in a high quality dry food by reading the label, you will have chosen a brand because a single protein is named as the first item on the list and it will not contain corn, wheat or soy. But you should not be expecting a teeth-cleaning agent in the food because the intended purpose of pet food is to nourish. It’s pretty straightforward: dry pet food is not a dental cleaning product. You don’t eat your toothbrush – nor, as a person, do you expect French fries, cheese and crackers or a salad to function as dental cleansers. It’s the same for your dog. Pick a quality food because of its ingredients and the integrity of the company – and make plans on ways to clean off your dog’s teeth yourself and with your veterinarian.

Tracie Hotchner, author of The Dog Bible and The Cat Bible, guest blogs here every Thursday on healthy, natural choices for pets.

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