How to keep your dogs teeth clean without brushing

How to keep your dogs teeth clean without brushing

This is a very difficult topic to write about. Mainly because we are very big advocates for dogs well-being. Wherever possible, brushing your dogs teeth should be the priority over any of the methods we will discuss in this post. However, if your dogs are anything like ours, regardless of what we do they will not let us brush their teeth. So, as a result and in order to do what is best for our dogs, we have had to find alternative methods to help keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy.  


When Callie was a puppy, I was a first-time dog owner. I went to a large pet store and bought all the plastic and cheap “chew” toys I could. I also bought all the “dental sticks” as I wanted to do right by her. I grabbed some dog friendly toothbrushes to go alongside the toys. Plus, some very disgusting-looking (and unpleasant smelling) toothpaste as well. I thought I had done my research and my dog was going to have the cleanest teeth and we would have no problems.

Alas, my plan went awry when Callie would not tolerate having her teeth brushed. She would turn her snout and refuse with a normal toothbrush. Or, just simply lick the toothpaste off whilst refusing to allow me to get the bristles near her teeth and gums. I tried all different types of toothbrushes and bristles. We even bought the baby finger toothbrushes and still, she would not tolerate her teeth being brushed. To this day, she will still not let anyone brush her teeth.

It was frustrating that our dog wouldn’t let us clean her teeth. But, it was okay. At least we had the dental sticks. And we made sure to stock up even more on the plastic “teeth-cleaning” toys. Surely, everything would be fine! All of these items are marketed to keep dogs teeth clean, which meant we could trust them. Right?

Unfortunately, when Callie was around a year old, her teeth were covered in dark plaque. Her breath had begun to smell and we just couldn’t work out where we were going wrong. She had a size-appropriate dental chew every single day. Plus, our house was full of dental toys scattered across the floors and in her bed. We had failed at brushing our dogs teeth and we had failed at keeping her teeth clean. My childhood cat had problems with her teeth at the time and needed regular dental treatment. I was adamant that this would not be the case for Callie so I looked further into keeping my dogs teeth clean. I did a lot more research, moving far past the first couple of pages on Google.

Whilst doing my research, it shocked me what I found. For the majority of dogs, the “dental chews” available so easily on the market had little to no effect. This is because they don’t last long enough to effectively remove plaque and can be gone in seconds. They can also be extremely soft in nature meaning they are not strong enough to combat the plaque covering our dogs teeth. Plus, if they are easily chomped and gone so quickly, any chemicals combatting plaque are not spread effectively around the dogs teeth and gums. All of these reasons can completely negate any claims being made as to how effective these “dental chews” really are for our dogs.

Callies dental chews were gone in seconds every day. We tried sizing up and changing brands, but all the brands we tried had the same outcome.


In regards to the plastic chew toys we had purchased, we thought we were doing the right thing at the time. But, when I took a closer look at these toys, the plastic was chewed to pieces and small pieces were flaking away consistently which were then being eaten by my dog. Something felt very wrong when a toy designed to be chewed, in a size appropriate for my dog and replaced often, was allowing my dog to ingest plastic regularly. On top of this, the toy had done nothing to help my dogs teeth. I had essentially wasted a lot of money to allow my dog to eat plastic and end up with terrible dental health. Of course, I felt terrible when I realised this.

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. My research did teach me about appropriate, and safe, alternatives available on the market. It may be hard to believe, but you can keep your dogs teeth clean and healthy without brushing when necessary. I must stress that it is much cheaper and easier if your dog will allow you to brush their teeth. But, for those who don’t, there is hope at the end of the tunnel. Finally! And I am here to discuss how.


Dental Wipes

The dental wipes we have tried and tested for our own dogs are Vet's Best Finger Wipes. Firstly, I do not have enough experience to give a comprehensive view on these when used from a very early stage. After reading great reviews on dental wipes, I did give them a chance to see if they helped us with Callies teeth. They did come away brown so they were removing some of the residue on her teeth. But they weren’t effective enough to remove the built up plaque, even over time. As a preventative measure, I do think these would be a good option to try for the right dog when used alongside other methods too. We have opted not to use these for our second dog, purely because we believe a lot more strongly in other methods. However, we are considering attempting to use these to help the transition to brushing for Penelope. Unfortunately, they did not help to transition to brushing for Callie.



Consult a Professional

With teeth brushing being the best option for great ongoing dental health, it may be time to consider consulting a professional. Professional advice can range from discussing dental hygiene with a qualified canine dentist or for many, the best place to start will be with either your vet or your groomer. Your vet may have more techniques you are not aware of to assist with teeth cleaning which will be most effective for your dog. Plus, every dog is unique and your vet will be able to advise on your individual circumstances and give tailored professional advice. If you visit a groomer regularly who your dog is comfortable with, asking them to clean your dogs teeth may be a great option to keep your dog at their happiest too. The photos above are from one of our ambassadogs, Goji. They demonstrate the before and after from having canine teeth professionally cleaned at the groomer.

Regular appointments around dental health for your dog can quickly incur a high cost which may be unaffordable for some. For this reason, you may find dental powders and long-lasting, natural chews could be more suitable for you. Both are discussed in-depth within this post.


Be mindful of what you feed your dog

Almost two thirds of dog owners feed their dogs human food on a very regular basis. However, not all human food is good for dogs. Whilst sharing dog-safe and appropriate fruit, veg and meat can be great for dogs as part of a balanced and healthy diet, sweet treats designed for humans are not recommended for dogs. With sugar causing havoc on dental health within humans, you can only imagine the trouble it can cause for dogs, especially those who cannot tolerate having their teeth brushed. The best practice is to avoid all sugary treats for your dog and to opt for dog-specific treats instead.


Dental Powders

The evidence available is mixed on dental powders. Some of the dog parents we have spoken to feel they have made an incredible difference to their dogs health. Others feel they have seen no difference and it has been a very expensive trial with no visible results. Dental powders are designed to be sprinked on top of your dogs food, meaning whilst they eat their dinner it will be spread around their teeth and gums to help prevent plaque buildup. We have previously used the PlaqueOff powder for Callie to assist with her teeth. 

From our personal experience, we feel PlaqueOff powder can be a great option for some dogs to assist with preventative measures. But, it didn’t help to remove the plaque that was already there which was our biggest problem. It did potentially help to slow down new plaque build up. However, the results we achieved were not equal to those we experienced when using long-lasting natural chews which we will discuss in more detail in a moment. From some of the discussions we have had with other dog parents, some did not tailor the measurements of their dogs powder to the size of their dog. Additionally, the brands which people had tried varied, which means some brands of powder may not be as effective as other brands. If you are considering trialling dental powders for your dog, we would recommend starting with a reputable brand. By this, we mean a brand with a long-standing built-up reputation such as PlaqueOff.


Natural Chews

Natural chews encompass a wide range of products, and please do not be fooled by manufactured “natural” treat companies masquerading as natural chews, it is not the case. Unfortunately, many “natural treat” businesses which have a dental product as part of their range will have an ineffective product for the reasons discussed previously in this article. 

For the purposes of dental health, we are going to forego discussing natural treats in detail. Whilst truly natural treats of animal origin are a great, healthy option for the majority of dogs, they are not going to be a miracle cure for their teeth. Simply put, they do not last long. Many dogs may not even chew them! If you are looking to improve your dogs dental health, you will want to look for natural chews instead of treats. This does not mean natural treats don’t have their place in your dogs diet – they are incredible! But they should be balanced with chews too.

I usually categorise natural chews into three categories when it comes to what we use for our own dogs: “super long-lasting”, “long-lasting” and “standard”.



Super Long-Lasting Natural Chews

In the super long-lasting category, there are Buffalo Horns, Antlers, Hooves and XL Roe Deer Legs. Woof and Snout currently stock Buffalo Horns and we have plans to stock Antlers too. You will not see us stock Hooves or XL Roe Deer Legs due to safety concerns. Please note, we do not judge others who do feed these items as with appropriate supervision, the risks can be minimised. But, from our own experience, we just do not feel these products are worth the risk as they have a higher than normal chance of splintering. Whenever Callie has eaten a hoof, she has promptly thrown up a number of extremely sharp pieces. 

For our own dogs, we rely primarily on Buffalo Horns. Buffalo Horns are incredible. They are hypoallergenic as Buffalo is a novel protein, meaning dogs are less likely to experience allergies and develop intolerances to the protein.  Buffalo Horns will last our dogs months. They are the longest-lasting chews we own. Due to this, they can sell out very easily. The downside to buffalo horns is, unfortunately, they do have a strong smell when they are first chewed. However, this does dissipate within a day or two, and it helps to attract the dogs to chew it too. 

Antlers are a great second option for dogs, either if you would like to avoid the scent associated with buffalo horns or if you would just like to add some further variety into your dogs diet. Antlers come in a variety of sizes, so you can choose the appropriate size for your dog. However, we would strongly recommend looking for “easy” Antlers. “Easy” Antlers are antlers cut in half lengthways. When feeding Callie a standard Antler before, it has chipped part of her tooth. This did not cause any pain, and it was by chance that we noticed. However, in order to avoid any further chipped teeth, easy Antlers have a much smaller chance of doing this as they are not quite as tough on their teeth. We have never experienced a chipped tooth with Buffalo Horns. However, to minimise the risk, we strongly recommend teaching your dog to chew from the “opening” by smearing a little dog-friendly peanut butter around the rim of the horn.



Long-Lasting Natural Chews

Whilst the name of this category is “long-lasting”, this will vary per each individual dog. Whilst a chicken foot will not last my dogs more than around 30 seconds, it could last a very small dog half an hour! This category is based on my experience owning both medium and small Border Collies. For tailored advice, please contact us and we would be happy to advise based on your dogs characteristics, chewing habits, allergies and size. 

Long-lasting natural chews are ideal to keep your dogs teeth clean without brushing. They can last anywhere from 5 minutes to several hours depending on your dog.

Examples of long-lasting chews are:

  • Goat Feet
  • Pigs Ears
  • Pork Rolls
  • Braided Lamb Pizzles
  • Chunky Fish Braids
  • Beef Trachea
  • Camel Skin

And many, many more.


Why are long-lasting chews a great option to keep your dogs teeth clean without brushing?

They are hard, solid chews

This means they are not going to dissolve in your dogs mouth and add to the build up, rather than remove it. Hard and solid dog chews will scrape long-lasting plaque away from your dogs treat which means they are great for removing build-up that is already present as well as preventing new build-up from occurring.

They are, as the title suggests, long lasting.

The longer your dog is chewing the item, the more plaque the chew is scraping away. The more plaque is scraped away, the less it can do damage to your dogs teeth and gums. Plus, long-lasting chews are exceptional for enrichment. They will keep your dog stimulated and happy for longer, whilst giving them great health benefits too.

Numerous health benefits are associated with natural chews

Hairy chews can assist with digestion, fish can aid skin and coat health and buffalo wraps are high in omega 3 to help with heart health. Not only are natural chews great for dental hygiene, but they have lots of added health benefits too.



Does this mean “standard” natural chews are bad for our dogs?

Not at all. “Standard” chews are full of great health benefits for our dogs, just like their long-lasting counterparts. Whilst a chew that doesn’t last as long won’t spend as much time scraping plaque from teeth, chews such as chicken feet, chicken necks and duck necks can all act as a natural toothpick between dogs teeth due to their thin and wiry structures. They are usually very cheap per item to purchase so they’re a great cost-effective way to add to your dogs dental health.


We primarily focus on natural treats and chews for our dogs. Our older border collie, Callie, now has good dental hygiene, but we have never been able to completely remove the most stubborn little bits of plaque from the roots of her teeth. However, our younger border collie, Penelope has had regular natural chews from the moment she arrived home with us. I have never seen teeth so sparkling white and healthy as I have with Penelope. She is proof that the earlier you start, the better the results. But, Callie is also proof that whilst you may not receive the exact same level of results if you start late, you can still make a great improvement to your dogs health regardless of when you start.


I hope you have found this post informative and interesting. In order to support us to continue creating content to add value to our community, please consider liking or sharing our social media pages. Or, if you are in need of some exceptional dog supplies, please take a look at our store. Woof and Snout is a small, family business from the Yorkshire Wolds dedicated to enhancing dogs well-being and creating a great community we adore. Thank you for taking the time to read our post on how dogfluencers can add value and build their communities.

*Please note, we may earn a commission from some of the links used in this article.


Photography Credits:

Working Cocker Spaniel - Lottie. @lottie_the_workingcocker
Labrador & Red Border Collie - 
Paolo & Gingie. @gingie.and.paolo
Orange Roan Cocker Spaniel (working) - 
Goji @gooseberry_cocker
Dachshund - Maple. 
Dachshund - Merlin. @merlin.the.creamy.weenie
Cocker Spaniel (working) - 
Winnie. @winnieworkingcocker
Collie Cross - 
Tori. @tails_of_toriandstan 

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.