How to prevent dog tartar build up

How To Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up With Dog Chews

Dog tartar build up isn’t just visually unappealing, it’s also a health hazard for your pup!

I mean, have you ever wondered why vets place so much emphasis on clean doggie teeth?

Well, the reason is pretty straight forward: Hardened plaque buildup, aka tartar, creates the perfect playground for nasty bacteria. 

They sit right under the gum line and can cause gingivitis. That’s an inflammation of the gums.

Once that’s going on, the bacteria also enter your dog’s bloodstream.

That’s how they travel to vital organs like the heart and kidneys where they wreak havoc and cause major illnesses. 

So it’s pretty obvious that we’d want to reduce tartar buildup on our dog’s teeth, right?

Well, in this blog post, I’ll talk about how you can do that with dog chews when you feed kibble, and what changes when you feed raw dog food.  

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

How To Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up With Dog Chews

How to prevent dog tartar build up

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated in 2023. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you.

I’ve learned to prevent dog tartar buildup by providing my pups Missy, Buzz and Wally with dog chews, from their early kibble-fed puppy days into their raw-fed adult lives.

Start early to prevent dog tartar build up by providing healthy dog chews
Puppy Buzz with his single-ingredient Bully Stick from Best Bully Sticks
It's important to give your dog healthy dog chews to prevent dog tartar build up
Adult pup Wally with his limited-ingredient Himalayan Yak Cheese Dog Chew
K9sOverCoffee | A Twist On Doggie Dental Care - Buzz Chewing On A Pig Ear
Adult pup Buzz with a Pig Ear from Raw Paws Pet Food

Dog chews do all of the following:

  • Help scrape plaque off dog teeth
  • Keep doggie jaws exercised
  • Provide mental exercise

Bonus: They keep dogs busy for a while, which comes in handy when you need to adult!

How to Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up When You Feed Kibble: Dog Chews & Teeth Brushing

Kibble-fed dogs are a lot more prone to having dirty teeth than their raw-fed buddies.

That’s why back in our kibble feeding days, I gave the pups edible dog chews 3-4 times per week in order to help clean their teeth. Their favorite ones were and still are:

  • Pig ears
  • Bully sticks
  • Hairy beef ears
  • Yak cheese dog chews

Pig Ear Dog Chews

I get oven baked pig ears from Raw Paws Pet Food and also find them air-dried in our monthly treat/chew subscription box from RealDogBox.

Tip: Save 15% on your pig ear order from Raw Paws Pet Food with my affiliate discount code K9Savings (or anything else from them). | Buzz chewing on an air-dried pig ear
Pig Ears from Raw Paws Pet Food
Real Dog Box Air-Dried Pig Ear
Pig Ear from Real Dog Box

Hairy Beef Ears

Hairy ears are another chew favorite with my pups! They’re also naturally rich in manganese and fiber.

It took Missy 12.5 minutes to finish the hairy beef ear she’s eating in the video below.

Raw Feeding Miami carries the dehydrated beef ears and sells them in sets of two.

Tip: Use my RFM referral discount link to get 10% off your first RFM order.

Chowing Down on a Hairy Beef Ear Dog Chew Packed with Manganese & Fiber

Wally West LOVES his hairy beef ears, too!

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A post shared by K9sOverCoffee 🐕☕️ (@k9sovercoffee)

Bully Stick Dog Chews

Bully sticks are nothing other than bull penises, and boy do dogs love chewing on them! 

They come in different lengths, shapes and thicknesses which makes them a great fit for all size dogs, from Dachshunds to Great Danes.

K9sOverCoffee | A Twist On Doggie Dental Care - Missy Cleaning Her Teeth With A Bully Stick
Missy with a Bully Stick ring from Paw Struck
Entertain your dog inside and prevent dog tartar build up with bully sticks from Raw Paws Pet Food
Missy with a Bully Stick from Raw Paws Pet Food.

The Bully Stick below was an extra thick “super chew” add on in one of RealDogBox’s monthly subscription boxes.

It lasted about 1.5 hours! That’s a record for my power chewer Missy.

Too bad that these super thick bully sticks are hard to find otherwise.

The only ones I’ve seen online that are somewhat comparable are the 20 oz super thick 6′ bully sticks by Sancho & Lola’s.

Bully Stick super dog chew from Real Dog Box
Missy and her super chew Bully Stick

Yak Cheese Dog Chews

Yak Cheese Dog Chews are limited ingredient dog chews that are fully edible, just like the previous dog chews I mentioned.

They’re made with milk from Yaks, which are long-haired cattle from the Himalayas.

These chews are super thick which means they last quite some time!

By the way, when your pup has chewed their Yak Chew down to a nub size, don’t toss them but turn them into a crunchy cheese puff instead!

That way, they remain a safe dog chew and you don’t risk any potential choking. | Wally with his Yak Cheese Dog Chews from Mighty Paw
Wally with Yak Cheese Chews from Mighty Paw (full disclosure: I worked for the brand)

I also brushed their teeth regularly.

Yep, I invested in some doggie tooth brushes and doggie toothpaste and vowed to brush those doggie teeth every single day.

Because unfortunately, just giving the pups dog chews wasn’t enough to keep their teeth clean.

Truth be told, I was aiming to brush every single day but didn’t always do that. It was more of an every other day approach!

But either way, that combination kept their teeth pretty clean.

Now here’s why it’s super important to do both in order to keep your kibble-fed dog’s teeth clean:

Although most kibble brands claim that their food will help keep your dog’s teeth clean, kibble does not have that effect!

As a matter of fact, kibble does not scrape anything off your dog’s teeth at all. If anything, it leaves food residue on your pup’s teeth!

It might have to do with the fact that most dogs don’t properly chew their dry kibble and either swallow it whole or only partially chew it.

That’s certainly what Missy did – she’s a gulper, always has been.

Maybe because she was the runt of her litter of 9, who knows?

Visiting Boxer Jolene and her litter of 9 puppies
Missy on my ex-husband’s lap

Buzz ate at a slower pace than she did, but I still wasn’t able to observe that kibble kept Buzz’s teeth clean, although he didn’t gulp it down like Missy.

I believe that his behavior had to do with his gourmet dog tendencies.

He was the reason why I kept rotating flavors and kibble brands since the alternative would have been a starving Buzz.

He always gave me that appalled “Mommy, you really want me to eat this? I don’t think so!” look on a regular basis.

He’d step away from his bowl until I’d add some oomph with wet food (sticks to doggie teeth for sure btw!) and veggies/fruit.

Puppy Buzz walking away from his bowl of kibble
Buzz not interested in his food

Once the pups were on a raw dog food diet, Buzz was just as much into his food as Missy.

He never second-guessed my choice of raw food, regardless of whether it was pre-made raw or prey model raw, and finished as fast as Missy. 

The same is true for my current pup Wally by the way!

I adopted him from a dog rescue when he was a little over 1 year old and kibble-fed.

Much like Missy, he’d gulp down his kibble and he LOVES his raw dog food just as much as Buzz and Missy did.

How to Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up When You Feed Raw Dog Food

I began feeding Missy & Buzz raw dog food in 2015. Back then, it was mostly pre-made, ground raw dog food.

Wally has been eating raw dog food since early 2019. That’s when I adopted him for a rescue.

Here’s the thing: Raw dog food contains natural enzymes that keep a dog’s teeth cleaner than dry kibble.

Ground Raw Dog Food

However, there’s still a little build up when you only feed ground raw dog food. 

That’s why I continued to feed Missy and Buzz edible dog chews like bully sticks, hairy cow ears and pig ears 3-4 times per week.

Non-Ground Raw Dog Food

Once I began making my own, non-ground raw dog food I reduced the amount of dog chews I gave the pups.

That’s because it also consisted of whole raw meaty bones.

More on raw meaty bones in just a sec.

Just one more thing on edible dog chews.

Since chewing is a natural dog behavior that gives them lots of satisfaction along with a good jaw workout, they still got their favorite dog chews a couple times per week!

Raw Meaty Bones

Raw meaty bones are literally that – raw bones that have meat on them!

For example:

  • Chicken leg quarters/feet/wings/necks
  • Duck feet/wings/necks/frames/heads
  • Turkey necks
  • Rabbit heads

You get the idea!

Mother Nature made raw meaty bones soft and pliable which turns them into a wonderful natural toothbrush that’s fully digestible.

But caution: Never feed your dog cooked bones! Those are brittle and can break. That’s when they turn into pointy, sharp objects.

K9sOverCoffee | Wally eating a raw duck head
Wally eating a raw duck head from Raw Feeding Miami

Besides that, they contain the perfect ratio of calcium/phosphorus which is needed for healthy doggie bones. 

That’s why they’re an essential part of the raw dog food diet (besides muscle meat, secreting organs and plant matter).

Here’s what balanced raw dog food consists of.

I purchase them at our local grocery store, Raw Paws Pet Food  and Raw Feeding Miami.

Tip: Save 15% with my code K9Savings on anything from Raw Paws Pet Food and 10% with my referral discount link from Raw Feeding Miami.

What To Do If Your Dog Already Has Tartar Build Up

If your pup’s been eating kibble for many years and hasn’t been “brushing” their teeth with dog chews, they probably have a decent amount of tartar build up.

If it’s not super bad, give them some edible dog chews and see if they’ll help scrape some tartar off.

However, if you notice that the chews don’t help, your best bet is to take your pup to their vet for a thorough dental cleaning.

That usually requires anesthesia and is a bit more on the expensive side.

But once your pup’s teeth are clean again, you can start your at-home dog tartar build up prevention routine of edible dog chews and teeth brushing!

How To Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up With Dog Chews: Bottom Line

The condition of your dog’s teeth is an important indicator of your pup’s overall health, so it’s important to keep them clean and prevent tartar build up in the first place.

If you feed your dog kibble, you should offer them healthy, fully-digestible dog chews several times per week.

That’s because kibble does not help prevent dog tartar build up, although many brands make that claim!

Additionally, you should also brush their teeth several times per week, ideally daily.

If your pups are raw-fed, the natural enzymes in their food will help keep their teeth cleaner than if they ate dry kibble.

But unless they eat whole raw meaty bones several times per week, you’ll still want to offer them dog chews on a regular basis, roughly every 2-3 days.

I recommend fully digestible dog chews like bully sticks, pig ears, hairy beef ears and yak cheese dog chews.

How do you prevent dog tartar build up on your pup’s teeth? 

As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.







4 responses to “How To Prevent Dog Tartar Build Up With Dog Chews”

  1. Pamela | Something Wagging Avatar

    I definitely believe that a healthy diet is the best way to keep our dogs’ teeth healthy.

    But you have me curious. Can you really rely on Missy and Buzz to only eat their bones on a blanket? Because it would take Honey give minutes to take that duck carcass onto the settee.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      HA! Yes ma’am, I sure can! Once they’re on there I give them the “stay” command and they stay 🙂

  2. Anna Avatar

    thanks for another great and informative blog, Barbara! I am very reactant to give Rocky raw bones since he cracked his teeth. But bully sticks might work for him. Also, I do brush his teeth and use the spray to cleanup the build-up.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks, Anna! I totally understand being careful about cracked teeth. Buzz fractured a molar once when chewing on a recreational beef bone. It was the kind you can buy at the grocery store – big lesson learned, never again weight bearing smoked bones, and I threw out all of our antlers too as a precautionary measure. Raw meaty bones are the opposite of those store-bought, smoked bones though – they’re super soft and digestible.

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