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Dental chews promote patient, practice health

By persuading clients to give their pets VOHC-accepted chews every day, the veterinary team can boost oral health and the bottom line.

Dental chews promote patient, practice health

U.S. veterinary practices capture just 2 to 3 percent of dental chew sales, meaning nearly all clients buy from retailers instead. That’s a significant chunk of lost cash in the nearly $1 billion market for pet oral care products.

But the biggest problem for practitioners isn’t the missed business opportunity.

“The biggest opportunity you’re missing is to help the patient,” said Jan Bellows, DVM, DAVDC, DABVP, of All Pets Dental in Westin, Florida.

“Unfortunately, there are so many different types of chews out there, clients don’t know which chews are safe and which are harmful,” Dr. Bellows said.

The labeling on many chews claims they “clean teeth,” “whiten teeth” or “freshen breath,” but pet owners have a hard time knowing what’s best for their dogs’ oral health.

“There’s virtually no regulation on these chews unless they say, ‘Controls periodontal disease or gingivitis,’ which is policed by the FDA,” Dr. Bellows said. “Bones are not safe; they break teeth, which leads to pain and a possible root canal. Other chews, such as antlers and even nylon chews, may also break teeth.

“Therefore, the only chews worth their weight are VOHC [Veterinary Oral Health Council] accepted,” he added. “They are shown to decrease the progression of plaque or tartar by at least 20 percent.”

You can bet that most pet owners don’t understand the importance of looking for VOHC-accepted dental chews. That’s where a veterinary practice can help.

Instead of leaving clients to search online or in pet supply stores, make it your mission to be their guide on how to choose safe and truly effective chews.

Here is Dr. Bellows’ approach:

  • “We give out samples to all our clients. We open a box of OraVet chews, for example, and every patient goes home chewing one. I send home three to four more in a bag, and the client sees this as a good thing. The beautiful part is that the chews are really tasty and they work.
  • “Every teeth-cleaning client goes home with a goodie bag that includes a box of dental treats. We upcharge the price of the teeth cleaning so we can include these free dental treats. We’ve seen that when we provide a whole box of 20 to 30 chews, it becomes a habit to be repeated.
  • “We take every opportunity to educate clients that chews should be given to their dogs every day. We brush our own teeth twice a day, so it’s good for dogs to do that, too. I give chews to my own dogs every day.”

All VOHC-accepted chews are good products because the mechanical function “squeegees off plaque,” he said.

The chew business can be a revenue enhancer, Dr. Bellows said.

“We see that by repeated sales,” he said. “People come in to buy chews every day. We market them for about the same price as online, and I still get a margin.”

What about toothbrushes?

“We don’t even sell toothbrushes anymore,” Dr. Bellows said. “Clients won’t use them. That’s why we prefer dental chews; they create a happy experience. The pets love them, the clients love giving them, and we’re seeing compliance and healthier teeth.”