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If you are a dog owner, then you are probably familiar with Greenies, the green toothbrush-shaped dental chews found in most big-box pet retailers like Petsmart and Petco.
Greenies is one of the most popular “dental treat” brands for dogs.
But, should they be so popular? Is their product really that great, or is it a result of clever marketing and packaging? What if I told you giving your dog Greenies is actually doing more harm than good?
Dog Dental Health
The main reason why pet parents purchase Greenies dental chews is for the “dental health benefits” that Greenies boasts their product provides.
On their website, Greenies states that:
“Dental treats or dental chews work with mechanical action similar to how your tooth brush works, where it will scrape the surface of the tooth and help brush away plaque and tartar that can accumulate that can lead to more serious problems.”
This entire statement focuses on the benefits of chewing, but fails to address the most important topic “What is your dog actually chewing on.”
There is no denying that chewing or gnawing has proven to be an effective method for keeping a dog’s teeth clean and gums healthy. However, it is important to understand that dogs are consuming what they are chewing on.
So yes, chewing on say, a shoe, may be beneficial for your dog’s teeth and gum health, but that doesn’t mean it is healthy for your dog to be consuming shoes.
Moreover, consuming some ingredients, sugars, and carbohydrates specifically, can actually promote plaque and tartar build-up. In the short term, dental chews like Greenies might effectively remove plaque and tartar from your pup’s teeth. But, in the long term, they are actually contributing to the overall plaque and tartar problem.
Breaking Down The Ingredient Label
Consumers have become savvier and more informed about the ingredients they are giving their pets, and many are refusing to buy products with ingredients such as meals, by-products, and cheap fillers.
To replace these lower quality products, things like grain-free pet products have grown in popularity.
Because of this, pet product manufacturers have been looking for ways to replace those cheap fillers and grains that consumers have identified as “undesirable” with something more appealing.
So, what did those manufacturers do?
They took out the cheap grain fillers (previously wheat flour and wheat gluten in the original Greenies) and replaced them with pea flour and pea protein (another cheap filler). The marketing team slapped a “grain-free” label on their new product and started pushing it out to retailers nationwide.
Don’t believe me? Check out this Original Greenies ingredient label (below) and compare it with the Grain-Free one (above).
Why is pea flour/pea protein bad for my dog?
It is important to understand that pea protein is a vegetable protein, not an animal protein.
Because of this, pea protein is harder to digest for dogs. Your dog’s body won’t be able to break down and absorb all of the protein they are consuming. So, most of the protein they are consuming is wasted.
Pea flour isn’t just a bad source of protein, it is also full of carbohydrates. When digested, the carbohydrates found in pea flour are broken down into sugars in the mouth which fuel plaque and tartar build-up on your dog’s teeth.
Pea flour is nothing more than a cheap filler disguised as a protein that actually makes your dog’s dental health worse.
So, why is it found in your dog’s chew?
Manufactures add pea protein to artificially “inflate” the protein percentages in grain-free pet products.
The protein found on the label is not the actual amount of protein that your dog is able to digest and use. The remaining undigested protein serves no purpose for your dog, no nutritional value, and will eventually leave your dog’s body as waste.
“You won’t find pea fiber in high quality commercially available pet foods, nor will you find it in healthy recipes for homemade pet meals. Where you will find it is in very affordable, highly processed, low-quality pet food,” said Dr. Karen Becker, DVM
Once again, pet product manufacturers have found a new way to trick pet parents into thinking their products are better and healthier than they actually are.
Gelatin isn’t a horrible ingredient for your dog to consume. Actually, it can be quite beneficial (assuming it’s sourced safely and naturally).
Gelatin comes from collagen which is rich in animal protein and amino acids.
Greenies manufacturers add it as a gelling agent which causes their product to be gummy and ‘“chewy”.
You can provide your dog with a natural source of gelatin by feeding bone broth (which you can make at home). 🙂
If your dog has ever had an upset stomach after consuming Greenies, then glycerin is likely to blame.
Glycerin is a form of sugar alcohol that dogs (and humans) cannot fully absorb. It offers the same nutritional benefits as sugar, with even more calories.
Glycerin attracts water like a sponge. When consumed, glycerin’s moisture-attracting properties pull water from the body into the colon, acting as a laxative and stimulating bowel movements (i.e. gas and diarrhea).
If diarrhea wasn’t bad enough, the sugar in glycerin is also very bad for your dog’s dental health. The high carbohydrate content directly fuels plaque and tartar build-up, further worsening the overall health of your dog’s teeth and gums.
So, why is it found in your dog’s chew?
Because glycerin has that moisture-attracting property we talked about earlier, adding glycerin to foods helps them stay moist. Generally speaking, glycerin is widely used in food manufacturing as a preservative.
Although glycerin helps the manufacturer control the moisture content in their product, it offers no nutritional benefit to your pet. It is just a moisture-absorbing sugar.
Dried potato is another starchy filler that is very similar to pea flour. It offers little nutritional benefit for your dog.
Just like glycerin and pea flour, the carbohydrates found in potatoes also break down into sugars that fuel plaque and tartar build-up. This actually works AGAINST your dog’s teeth and gum health.
Alternatives To Greenies
Unfortunately, Greenies’ success is likely the result of well-designed packaging and clever marketing and not because their product is of high quality.
Now, just because Greenies chews are off the list, that doesn’t mean you are out of options. There are lots of other safe and healthy chews for you to give your dog:
Avoid These Chews
Flavored Dental Chews (Like Dentastix)
Antlers, Horns, Hooves
Himalayan Yak Chew
Give These Chews Instead
Beef Pizzle (Bullysticks)
Pig. Lamb, or Cow ears
Duck or Chicken Feet
Always supervise your dog when they are chewing. All chews are choking hazards.
These alternative chews can typically be found at your local ethnic food store or butcher shop. The key to success is to find a single-ingredient chew that is not heavily processed and has little to no carbohydrates or sugars.
There are also companies like Farm Hounds that deliver natural single-ingredient dog treats and chews straight to your door. You can make individual purchases, or they offer a convenient monthly subscription box service.
There is no room for excuses! It is time to throw that box of Greenies away and make the switch to single-ingredient chews that are actually going to improve your dog’s dental health long term.
Many pet product manufacturers have caught on to the fact that their consumers are becoming more educated and aware of the products they are buying. In turn, manufacturers have learned how to present their products as seemingly healthy by using terms like, “high-protein”, “grain-free”, and “all-natural”.
For things like dental chews, you should always strive to stay away from products that have sugars and carbohydrates and instead look for single-ingredient chews that are not processed or bleached.
In the end, chewing and gnawing are only part of the dental health solution. It is important that you continue to regularly brush your dog’s teeth in order to prevent things like canine periodontitis. If you would like to learn more about the importance of preventing canine periodontal disease, click here.