Veterinary Oral Health Council

Obstructions as a Result of Chewing a Dental Chew or Treat


VOHC occasionally hears of problems resulting from use of products on the VOHC Accepted list. One of the most serious problems is obstruction of the pharynx, esophagus, stomach or intestines by chew treats, which may require endoscopic or surgical removal of the obstruction, and could cause death of the animal. 
Both the wild carnivore diet and manufactured chews for pet carnivores (dogs and cats) are not without risk.  Wild carnivores are naturally chewers, given that their typical diet does not come in handy swallowable-sized pieces.  VOHC understands that there is inevitably some risk for a product that relies on the animal obtaining the beneficial dental effect by chewing on the product, just as carnivores for millennia have chewed on cadavers, ripping and tearing off chunks.
VOHC responds to reported issues regarding problems with use of products on its Accepted list initially by investigating the prevalence of the problem. VOHC contacts the company for additional information.
Given the large sales volume of some chew products, if the problem appears to be a very infrequent or isolated issue, or appears to have resulted from the owner feeding the wrong-sized product to the animal, VOHC takes no immediate action but monitors reports of any further problems with that particular product.
If it becomes evident that the issue is more wide-spread and is causing injury to a substantial number of animals, VOHC responds differently, by requiring the company to remove the VOHC Seal from the product packaging, and deleting the product from the VOHC Accepted list. VOHC has done this twice to date with particular dental chews, both of which are no longer marketed.
VOHC is not a regulatory body. In the USA, the Center for Veterinary Medicine of the Food and Drug Administration is the designated regulatory agency for pet products. The only action that VOHC can take when frequent serious problems are identified is to require the company to remove the VOHC Accepted Seal from packaging and advertisements, and to recommend that owners whose pets have been affected inform the FDA.
Although VOHC is not a regulatory body, VOHC requires applicants for the VOHC Accepted Seal to provide assurance that no major safety issues, such as toxicity, esophageal or gastro-intestinal obstruction or perforation, gross nutritional imbalance, or trauma to oral tissues such as fracture of teeth or laceration or penetration of oral mucosa, were identified during testing or since the product was first marketed.  VOHC also requires assurance that all regulatory requirements have been met.  In addition, VOHC requires the company to provide an annual report of any complaints or regulatory actions relating to the safety issues noted above. 
While VOHC regrets any complication associated with using a dental chew, VOHC does not believe it is necessary to deny animals access to all chewable products with proven dental effectiveness, and thus deprive millions of dogs and cats the opportunity for a cleaner mouth, and perhaps fewer general anesthesia episodes for teeth scaling during their lifetime, in order to prevent an occasional obstruction, if the product complies with all current regulatory requirements. 
Pet owners and veterinarians should be aware of two ways that obstructions from ingestion of dental chews can be significantly reduced:

    1. Ensure that the right-sized product for the body weight of the dog is given.
    2. Limit giving the treats to times when the owner is available to observe the dog chewing the treat.

       Some companies have included these recommendations on the chew product package. VOHC encourages this notification.



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