Observe your dog when feeding Greenies, other treats

Greenies are a popular dog treat that are touted as controlling tartar and plaque in dogs, leading to fresher breath. And dogs – at least those I’ve observed coming into contact with the treats – enjoy gnawing on them. The success of the original Greenies treat spawned several imitators that make similar chewable dental treats for dogs.

The original Greenies are shaped like a toothbrush on one end and and a bone on the other, and come in a variety of sizes for different sizes of dogs. The dog treats are made primarily from wheat gluten, which is high in protein, and include chlorophyll to give them their green color. In addition to Greenies for dogs, the company also makes biscuits, “Lil’ Bits” or small flakes of Greenies, and Feline Greenies for cats.

Greenies are endorsed by the Veterinary Oral Health Council and have been found to reduce tartar by 62 percent and bad breath by 31 percent in independent studies. Seems like they really do make an impact on dogs’ dental health.

But now the company that makes Greenies, S&M NuTec LLC, is in some legal trouble. A class-action lawsuit, filed by 10 pet owners in eight states, accuses the company of making a product that can kill or injure dogs. As many as 13 dogs have been reported to have died by choking on the treats or developing blockages in their gastrointestinal tracts. Several others have needed emergency surgery.

According to the company’s instructions, Greenies are safe if they’re given as directed, and that means choosing an appropriate size of treat for your dog. A small dog treat should not be given to a larger dog that could chew up the treat quickly and try to swallow the pieces. As well, Greenies are not intended for toy breeds or very small breeds (under five pounds) or dogs under six months old. Dogs that like to gulp should also be given a different chew or toy.

“Greenies dental treats are safe and effective when used as directed. Since 1998, we have sold approximately 750 million Greenies dental treats, and reports of problems have been rare – although highly publicized in recent months,” explain Greenies inventors Joe and Judy Roetheli in a statement on their web site, www.thetruthaboutgreenies.com.

“Because Greenies dental treats are animal care products, their packages include instructions and warnings to help owners decide if they are appropriate for their dogs, and if so, which one is right for their dogs’ size, weight and eating habits. As with all food, treats and toys, owners should monitor their pets when they use these products.”

It’s possible that the wheat gluten that serves as Greenies’ primary ingredient may be stickier or absorb liquid more than other foods, so that they are more inclined to stick in the throat or stomach area. This is the main reason why rawhide chews are no longer recommended for dogs – the chewed-off pieces get soft and can obstruct the airway or stick in the intestines.

With any treats or toys, it’s important to make sure your pet interacts with them correctly. A pet owner should never bring home something new for their pet, give it to the pet, and leave. Watch the pet’s play and behavior for a while until you know that the treat is safe. With all chew treats and toys, owners should give them when they’ll be with their dog for a while to observe, and remove the treat or toy when they won’t be around.

It’s also likely you know if you have the kind of dog who likes to destroy bones and chews immediately. With this behavior, you can know to be careful when purchasing new toys and treats in the first place. You may want to avoid all chew items like Greenies and Nylabones, even though they are safe for most dogs. As the caretaker for your dog, you need to use common sense to evaluate what will be safe. Rubber Kong toys and chew ropes are more likely to be safe.

And, when chew toys become older, it’s a good idea to replace them before pieces can be chewed off and consumed. This is true with polyurethane dental dog bones, which are made by many manufacturers but are most recognized under the Nylabone brand name.

If your dog does get a gastrointestinal obstruction, you’ll be able to tell because it will vomit and refuse to eat. Any such symptoms should be evaluated by your veterinarian.