Should your dog eat crunchy food or soft? Answer might be different for cats

Q: Could you solve a long-running dispute? My sister feeds her dogs and cats crunchy foods because she says the kibbles help clean their teeth. I’m a dental hygienist, and I say it can’t possibly make that big a difference.

A: Ah, the age-old question: Should you feed your pets a diet of crunchy kibbles or is it best to offer the moist and meaty stuff?

The conventional wisdom claims that crunchy food is better for dental health because the chewy friction created by kibbled diets usually means less plaque. And yes, studies typically do support the positive effect of chewed foods on dental health in humans.

But to what extent does the shape, size and texture of the foodstuff really matter when it comes to plaque reduction? Does it hold for all dogs? Are all dry diets created equal?

Turns out that some crunchy foods do almost nothing for dental health, while others have passed rigorous standards showing they do reduce plaque. But here’s the thing: Even the most effective foods, plaque-wise, are less than 5 percent as effective as simply brushing your pet’s teeth. That’s what veterinary dentists say.

Then there’s always individual chewing behavior to consider. Is every piece of kibble being chewed or are they simply swallowed? After all, if your pet is a nonchewer, there’s no way that even foods deemed highly effective for preventing tartar formation will do a thing for your gulper’s teeth.

Luckily, all these issues are under scrutiny by pet food companies the world around. Plaque reduction is a huge issue in pet nutrition research, which makes sense seeing as dental disease is a big issue in pets and their longevity has been positively correlated with oral health.

But even with all their research, the question remains: To what extent is the average crunchy kibble diet better than the canned or home-cooked diet when it comes to overall oral health? Long-term studies on oral health will have to be undertaken before we’ll definitively know the answer to this question.

So to answer the question you asked: Is crunchy better? Maybe marginally … for some dogs. But here’s the thing: Cats, as an increasing body of research is starting to show, are better off eating moistened diets due to their unique metabolic needs. The dental allure of dry diets for felines is way overblown.

Which brings me to the obvious conclusion: No food or treat is going to replace the need for daily brushing.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is

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