Did you know periodontal disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats presented to primary care veterinarians?
A study of more than 39,000 canine and 14,000 feline visits to general practices revealed oral disease to be the most common ailment in every age group.1 Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most common questions I receive from pet owners and referring veterinarians is, “What oral health care products and chews do you recommend?”
Remember the television commercial that used the phrase “Four out of five dentists agree”? Well, thanks to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), pet owners need not poll five veterinary dentists to obtain opinions about a particular product.
Take a look at your personal toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, mouthwash and chewing gum. Odds are good that you are using an oral health product that carries the seal of acceptance from the American Dental Association.
In 1997, VOHC was launched to provide pet owners with a similar level of confidence in claims about the effectiveness of diets, chews, treats, sealants, water additives, gels, sprays, toothpastes and toothbrushes. VOHC will soon enter its 20th year of providing consumers with an objective assessment of oral health care items.
How does a product become accepted by VOHC? Companies propose the protocol before the start of the trial. Preapproval of the protocol is necessary. Two separate trials on different sets of animals are conducted. A four-week trial period is required.
After completion of the studies, companies submit the results to VOHC for review by nine independent AVDC-certified veterinary dentists or technician specialists, who consider the product’s effectiveness in helping to control plaque or calculus.
A minimum of 15 percent reduction in the plaque or calculus score in each trial and 20 percent in the mean of the two trials—compared with a control group—is necessary to achieve the Seal of Acceptance. If the data submitted demonstrate the required dental efficacy, the VOHC Seal of Acceptance is awarded to the product.
The VOHC process focuses on a product’s effectiveness in the realm of oral health. The process does not assess every aspect of a treat, such as nutritional content, digestibility or overall safety.
VOHC requires the manufacturer’s assurance that a product awarded the seal is safe and meets all regulatory requirements, and the company must inform VOHC of any future problems with the product. For example, the original formulation of canine Greenies was evaluated and awarded VOHC’s Seal of Acceptance due to its ability to prevent plaque and calculus. Later, as information surfaced regarding the treat’s possible role in intestinal obstructions, the product was reformulated to increase solubility and digestibility.
Factors besides digestibility play a role in gastrointestinal issues involving ingestible chews, particularly the size of the treat in relation to the size of the pet. The VOHC website states: “Chew treats often come in different sizes. Please be sure that you feed the right size product to your dog, and observe the dog the first few time that she or he is given the chew. Do not continue to give the chew if the dog takes one bite and swallows it. Chews work best when the dog obtains at least a couple of minutes of chewing time when given the chew.”
Since the newly formulated Greenies product was of a different composition than the original, its application for the Seal of Acceptance had to be resubmitted to assess for efficacy of plaque and tartar prevention.
A data review led to the reformulated product’s approval.
The ability to decrease plaque and tartar is a desirable trait of an oral health care item, but other characteristics need to be considered before it is given to a pet. For example, bones—either real or nylon—cattle hooves and antlers probably do great in helping to cut plaque and tartar, but I don’t recommend them because they may fracture teeth.
Though not as widespread as periodontal disease, tooth fractures are common, especially in dogs that are heavy chewers.
When owners ask me what they should give their pet, I instead tell them what not to give and recommend that they check for options at the VOHC website. Take a look for yourself at www.vohc.org.
- Lund EM, Armstrong PJ, Kirk CA, et al. “Health Status and Population Characteristics of Dogs and Cats Examined at Private Veterinary Practices in the United States.” JAVMA, 1999; 214(9): 1336-1341.
Dr. John Lewis practices veterinary dentistry and oral surgery at NorthStar Vets in Robbins-ville, N.J. Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.
Originally published in the August 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today!