Q: My dog trainer swears by deer antlers for exercising my dog’s teeth and gums, and my Viszla, Mischa, loves them! Unfortunately, my veterinarian says they’re terrible for her teeth. How can this be true?
A: If there’s anything that galls my clients, it’s being told they could have prevented a painful and expensive condition … if only they’d been told to stay away from a, b or c hazard. Such is the case when it comes to the use of common chews and devices designed for dental cleaning or as an outlet for natural chewing behaviors in dogs –– including deer antlers.
Yet when I inform my dog-owning clients that certain “dental health” products can lead to serious problems, many can’t easily accept the notion that dental fractures, gastrointestinal obstruction and gastroenteritis (among other problems) are a possible outcome. After all, they say, how could anything sold expressly to help improve our pets’ dental health and behavior so adversely affect them?
Yet it’s true. Some of the most commonly marketed “oral health improvement” items are considered unsafe, unwholesome, and/or downright unhelpful by board-certified veterinary dentists (and plenty of run-of-the-mill vets like me, too).
Most dogs won’t experience any safety issues with the goods veterinary dentists suggest we avoid. But the old adage holds here: An ounce of prevention is absolutely worth a pound of cure.
Which is why I completely agree with your veterinarian: Skip the antlers. As with cooked bones, cow hooves and hard chew toys, deer antlers offer serious potential hazards. I’ve seen way too many painful dental fractures (most of which require tooth extraction or root canals) and not enough benefits to recommend them, behavioral or otherwise. And given the fact that there are so many safe and effective alternatives to choose from, it seems silly to insist on feeding anything potentially dangerous.
Not sure what your veterinarian considers safe and effective? Head over to VOHC.org, a website run by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. Here you’ll find a list of vet-approved chews and oral health products (including Greenies, CET-brand chews and others).
But be advised: These products are all well and good but nothing beats brushing for basic oral health. And when it comes to exercising that chew drive, consider that any chew toy your dog can sink his teeth into will work way better than any antler.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.