Is crunchy food really better
for your pet's teeth?
Should you feed your pets a diet of crunchy kibbles or is it best to offer the moist and meaty stuff?
When it comes to formulating ideal diets for pets, there are lots of moving parts and the variables involved in identifying the perfect diet for each individual pet are many. But what's ultimately best when it comes to teeth?
If you think you know the answer, think again. Indeed, it's an especially good question because there's probably no one ideal answer for every pet.
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 studies do typically support the positive effect of chewed foods on dental health.
But to what extent does the shape, size, and texture of the foodstuff really matter when it comes to plaque reduction? Does that hold true for all dogs? And, if so, 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 that they do reduce plaque. To prove this, enter the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), an organization charged with determining whether dental claims on veterinary products are true or not.
But here's the thing: Even the most effective foods, plaque-wise, are less than five percent as effective as simply brushing your pet's teeth. So say veterinary dentists.
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 non-chewer like two of my own four dogs, 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 serious scrutiny by pet food companies the world around. My attendance at the Waltham International Nutritional Science Symposium in Portland proves that much, if nothing else.
Turns out that all the teensy particulars relevant to plaque reduction are highly scrutinized in 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. It also explains why pet food companies increasingly feel a strong sense of responsibility for ensuring that dental health is optimized via pet food formulas.
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? (Or raw food, for that matter?) Long-term studies on oral health will have to be undertaken before we'll definitively know the answer to this question. As it stands, kibble offers only a modestly compelling reason to recommend it, teeth-wise.
So to answer the question I opened this post with: Is crunchy better? Well... 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 overblown relative to its deleterious effects.
I raise this issue because it runs so counter to the conventional wisdom that it becomes difficult to convince my clients otherwise. Crunchy, they assume, has got to be better than soft.
Despite this pervasive belief, not a one of us believes in the "apple a day" approach to dental health. We'd never think to replace our own toothbrush with a daily dose of fruit. And yet, that's the kind of trade-off we're effectively talking about when we consider feeding dry diets.
After all, it's precisely because we're not brushing their teeth at all that we become more concerned about kibble's positive effects on pet teeth. Indeed, if we were more willing to wield a toothbrush in our pets' presence with regularity, I suspect we'd be way less preoccupied with our pet food's texture and more concerned with its content.