Dog Teeth Cleaning: Free, DIY

Stop Killing Your Pet: The Top 5 Ways — #5 Feed ‘Em Raw Bones!
Dog teeth, wolf teeth.
Dog teeth, wolf teeth; Cat teeth, lynx teeth.

You remember those gleaming white teeth your kitten or pup came into the world with? The ones that almost glowed, they were so clean and bright?

Take a good look at those adult cat or dog teeth today. Go ahead, raise the lip and pull it back on both sides. What do you see?

If they still look that white, you are doing something right! And if they don’t, you need not necessarily head for the dentistry that’s so widely recommended by Dr. WhiteCoat. There is a natural method you can use to turn this around. Dogs (and cats) can get their teeth cleaning at home, on the cheap. With a whole host of side benefits.

Vital Animal, Healthy Teeth

February is National Pet Dental Health Month. You can imagine the focus of that, right?

“Get your pet in for a full dental exam!” and “Your dog needs regular teeth cleaning for best health,” “Brush Your Pet’s Teeth!” blah blah blah.

I’ve noticed Dr. WhiteCoat’s push into dentistry paralleling your awareness that yearly vaccinations are not a good thing. Coincidence? Loss of income propelling this? I often get to offer second opinions on teeth cleanings in new patients, and they come in looking pretty clean. I usually advise raw bones and waiting on these guys.

I also see amazing teeth coming into my clinic, and the owners of these animals usually have one common reason:

We feed raw bones. Regularly.”

Wag. Purrrrr. Smile.

Any Examples to Follow?

As usual, we need to look to the ancestors of our dogs and cats to learn what works for healthy teeth. Wolves and lynx live with strong, white teeth, free of tartar, bad breath, or tooth decay.

Their “wild tooth brush?” Raw bones in their prey. Daily “brushing,” with a substance very similar to the substance of their teeth.

While you’re prompted by Dr. WhiteCoat to get the toothbrush out regularly, I submit you’ll do far better following the wild ancestors’ example and providing raw bones, at least 3 days a week.

Hard Food Important?

Ever hear this logic? That dental disease is due to feeding soft foods, so there’s nothing polishing up those pearly whites? So, kibble is really the best food after all?


As you found out in No Kibble for Kitty!, kibble is stuck together with starch, the simple carbohydrates that feed mouth bacteria, big players in tooth and gum disease. “Grain free” fads aside, kibble won’t be kibble without some kind of carbs gluing the meat into chunky pieces.

Check your labels. Potato, tapioca, sweet potato, and pea are all common carbs in grain free fad foods. And they all contribute to dental disease.

Q: How much carb does a wolf eat? Or a lynx? (That’s who we’re feeding, right?) 

A: Little to none.

The best hard food is the natural raw bone. No downsides to it. Oh, the myth of splinters and perforated intestines? I don’t buy it.

Raw Bones, The Why

  • Best dog and cat “toothbrush,” ever.
  • Anesthetic-free dentals for pets
  • Source of available, digestible calcium for strong bones and teeth.
  • Calcium and phosphorus ratios are perfect.
  • Great pacifiers, gives your dog “a job.”

Raw Bone Benefits:

  1. Clean teeth, healthy gums.
  2. Bad breath is unheard of with regular raw bone feeding.
  3. Lower cost and safer than Dr. WhiteCoat’s anesthetic cleaning.
  4. Strong teeth, strong bones. Fractures of either less likely.
  5. Balanced nutrition, especially if meat is prominent in your dog’s diet.
  6. Gives Fido something to do beside worry or bug you.

I’ve written more on the subject, including how you can transition to feeding raw bones safely, on this page.

Finding Raw Bones

It’s more difficult to find raw bones than it used to be. Butchers don’t work in grocery stores any more. But check for deer processing places (in Winter, especially) and small, local butchers. If they haven’t been “discovered” yet by other pet owners seeking natural cat or dog teeth cleaning, you’ve scored. They may give them to you if you tell them what you’re up to.

You can do so much good for your pets’ health by regularly feeding raw bones. And for such a small investment of time and money. Don’t wait. Get started today!

Let us know if you’ve found a good source or had any trouble feeding bones in the comments. Admittedly, getting cats interested is harder. Let us know if you’ve found tricks that work for your pride. One I know for certain: feed them at room temp, not chilled. More smell = more acceptance, especially by your cat.

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  1. Melissa Miller says

    I think it is inmportant to mention that by “raw bones” it means uncooked parts of bones surrounded inside meat and not “bare naked” bones~ Unless you’re referring to “recreational” bones, but those of non-ungulates? Even so, I never purchase “dog” bones or “soup” bones. I feed my < 20Lb crew of cats and dogs parts like chicken (any and all parts), pork ribs (even the cats- but just "singletons" for them), turkey necks, and then I give either deer ribs or beef ribs (depending if hubby has any deer) in a small rack for each of them to gnaw and nibble on and rip and tear the meat off. I find these, although they aren't eating the bones, give good cleaning of the front teeth by the pulling of the meat off the bones. I have heard some say even just the gnawing on these dense bones can be detrimental to the jaw and teeth……what do you say?

    • says

      Hey Melissa,
      I think the bones can be bare, just not dried out and hard as concrete like you find in some pet stores. I’m talking about fresh, raw bones, and if they have meat on them, that’s fine, they can take the place of some of normally offered food. The between meal, “recreational” bones can do all the good things for teeth, calcium, roughage, etc.

      Dense bones are fine in the healthy animals. I talk about this on my Natural Dental page further. Detriment would only be to unhealthy animals, and I talk about transitioning from softer bones to these harder ones if in doubt as to tooth health.

      I really like your “rack feeding” where they’ve got to pull things with the front teeth! Brilliant. Can you offer any pointers to Poppy (below) as to how you got the cats on board?

    • audra dill says

      What about the bones you get at animal feed stores, the ones that are cow bones that still have a little bit of meat on them but they are dried. Not fresh?

  2. Poppy says

    Do you have any suggestions for types of bones for my raw-fed cats? I have had a hard time getting my cats to “enjoy” them. They basically stare at them blankly. Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Poppy, and welcome to the Vital Animal discussions!

      I readily admit a lot of cats will do just what yours have done, especially if they are over about 6 years of age. Types of bones are typically poultry, but as Melissa says, hers take to ribs even. (I’ve asked her for more input about how she’s interested her cats in this wonderful activity).

      The biggest thing I see in cats is that they really need to smell what they eat, so cold bones or meat must be warmed to at least room temp. And then, there’s hunger, often missing if cats are free choice fed.

      Sometimes, it takes playing “hard ball” and offering meaty bones for several times as the only option for cats, over a few meals or even days. This can best be done in cats who are not overweight. It’s fasting, really, and I talk about that further in Back Away from the Kibble, Kitty.

      Cats are experts at training us!

  3. Poppy says

    Thank you! My cats are two years old and have always been raw fed (not free choice fed, never kibble). I have tried whole chicken wings so far. I will try them at room temperature. Should I break them apart for them, perhaps? Maybe they’d do better with necks? And I agree on the “hunger motivator;” great point! :)

    • says

      Ah, good for you, Poppy! Breaking them might make them seem more approachable at first, sure. I tend to think wings are more “real” looking than necks, but try anything, and add in the hunger and I think you’ll get there. Keep us posted. Any tricks that work to get cats on to eating raw bones are most welcome. Most (not all) dogs just “get” bones, while cats are often unsure.

      My fall back would be hunger + wings briefly seared in butter. Resist that, Puff!

  4. Linda Ellison says

    Dear Dr. Falconer, I am new to your site. My Jack Russell terrier, Patrick, was diagnosed with IMHA a few weeks ago. He is doing much better now. He always has loved raw marrow bones. I noticed in this article you said “dense bones are alright for healthy dogs”. Should I refrain from giving these to Patrick now? Also, the prednisone he is taking will compromise his immune system, right? Would he be at more risk for harm from raw bones just now? Your advice would be so appreciated, and I’m very glad to have found your site.

    • says

      Hi Linda,

      The bones are fine, but I’d really want to bolster his immune system in the face of the disease and the pred. TF Canine Complete plus a cap a day of the human TF Plus Tri-Factor are in order, just ASAP. The immunologists tell me that a boosted immune system is a balanced one, so don’t fear making it stronger in the face of auto-immune disease. He’s only getting his immune system suppressed right now by the pred, and we want it to be, rather, fully functional, and the transfer factors are the best I’ve found to bring that about.

  5. says


    I’m a natural rearing breeder of Border Terrers sice 2000. I by grass fed beef from a local farmer just for my dogs. I make sure there’s about 1-2 inches if meat on the bones. I feed chicken (free range) leg quarters, pork breast ribs ( if I can find naturally raised pigs). Venison meaty bones and or bison. It gets very cold here in Winnipeg (Canada) in the winter so during this time they get more ground meaty bones, but all summer long it’s easy bones daily.

  6. says

    Dr. Falconer,

    Thanks for the great information. I have two very small chihuahuas, one barely 2 lbs. and the other about 3 lbs., and they have very small mouths. We’ve recently started feeding them a raw food diet, but have not given them any bones as of yet. I would like to start, but I’m not sure what size/type of bone would be good for them and work with their small size. Do you have any recommendations?

    Thanks again for a great article!


  7. julie says

    Aloha’s Will…Well unfortunately after 25 years of feeding raw bones to all my different kinds of Doggies…it finally happened…My male Doberman, Doug, got a large piece of jagged bone stuck in the worst place possible in his intestines! It took Dennis Brown-our vet, myself and my oldest son George four hours of Emergency surgery and an excruciating four days of recovery to get him to Live again…and of course a $2000.00 bill…so well, all I can say at this time is I will not be giving them any more bones and am looking at other ways to keep their teeth clean…it’s just a risk I am not willing to take anymore…but I know where you are coming from and was all for bones for many years…until I just about lost one of my precious Dobermans…not sure what the solutions is at this point…but just thought I should make the point of running the risk…J

    • says

      Hi Julie,

      So sorry to hear of your difficulty with Doug. So, it begs the question: why, after successfully feeding raw bones for 25 years to a large population of dogs, was this the exception? Something about the bone? The health of Doug? Those are my first wonders, and a third would be the circumstances. Was it a rush job to get this bone swallowed before someone else took it from him, perhaps?

      Something not right with this picture, eh? Your own experience would indicate so.

      I’m glad he’s come through it, but would love more insight as to the why. Thanks for writing. I hope all’s well on Maui.

  8. Susan says

    What can a pet parent do for a dog who already has tooth problems (tartar, plaque, etc.) without going the anesthesia route. Is there anything?

  9. Shayda Daneshfar says

    I just recently rescued a 2.5 year old Siberian Husky. I don’t think she was very well taken care of because her teeth are as yellow and dirty as can be. I had given her a small knotted rawhide the other day to chew and she went to town, I noticed shortly after giving it to her there was a little bit of blood on the bone. I didn’t think much about it, considering it was only a little amount. After she finished I opened her mouth to see that her K9 was completely gone! It broke right were her tooth hits the gumline, so there is a small stub of tooth but its very little. I took her to the vet a couple weeks ago to see what I should do. The doctor at the vets office told me to put her on an antibiotic called clavamox, and then to schedule for the tooth to be extracted if it started to abscess. I refused the antibiotics until I saw that it was absolutely necessary, a couple days later I got her a weeks worth of augmentin. She seems to be fine, no trouble eating food. But is an extraction really necessary? I want whats best for her but it really seems like theres always a sales ploy involved when I go to the vet. And should I refrain completley from giving her bones? Thank you!

    • says

      Hi Shayda,

      I find you just have to watch the mouth periodically and how your dog deals with food and water when there’s a tooth fracture. Anything like suddenly backing away from food or water, or grabbing and then dropping food would indicate pain from the exposed tooth. Most seem to tolerate them quite well, but you’d also want to examine the area at least a couple times a week.

      If pain and redness and swelling, I’d get the extraction done.

      Softer bones, but still made of real bone are best: poultry is a good bet.

  10. Dd says

    Hello and Thank you for an informative site that isn’t trying to sell us on Purina dog chow or science diet as a healthy food. I would like to let you know that after our 12 lb. Bellabear (pom) was diagnosed with Itp and given prednisone, and was told lifetime prednisone tHeRaPy” was our only choice…….she became alot of things that concerned us……i removed the prednisone Asap and started her on 50 MCG of vitamin k a day. It has been Over a year and has not had a bout of purpura…My question is regarding her teeth, will slightly ground raw chicken thighs clean them safely. Thank you again and the Best to you and yours. Dd

    • says

      Hi DD,

      Not sure what “slightly ground” means, but the goal is to get the abrasive action of teeth on bones, like the wolves and foxes, who never get tartar or decay. Raw poultry is a good size for a Pom, and just the right amount of hardness to help without being hard to digest.

      Thanks for writing, and best of health for you and Bellabear.

  11. Jackie says

    I have a 13 yr. old cocker spaniel who doesn’t know what to do with bones. She carries them around but that is all. My other dogs eat their bones then take away the cocker spaniel’s bone. How do I teach her how to eat bones or do I just let her carry them proudly? Thanks

    • says

      Hi Jackie,

      I’d be inclined to make raw meaty bones a meal at least once a week for the whole pack. She’ll likely get the idea when there’s no other choices: “Oh! This is food!” I suspect she’s too well fed to get the connection.

  12. Lauren says

    I’m so brand new to this site. Are you saying the old thinking of chicken bones and other softer bones are good for dogs? They don’t pierce their throat or insides like we were always taught???

  13. Carissa says

    Just to be clear RAW chicken bones are fine? I own a very small Maltese who’s two and is getting serious tart buildup on her back teeth.

  14. says

    raw hide bones gave my canine pneumonia due to small pieces chewed off cause him to regurgitate filling lung with fluid .pet ok after vet treatment also can you recommend besides raw bones a way of brushing besides the enzymatic stuff full, of chemicals thanks

  15. Jess says

    Do NOT give your dog hard bones, antlers, etc. anything that can’t be bent should not go in your dog’s mouth. That’s how my dog broke her teeth and needed surgery. Wild dogs may eat bones, but they also have a much, much shorter life span!

  16. says

    I have a min. Doxie,he has tarter build-up,I have been brushing his teeth after each meal,it has helped. Are you saying that raw chicken wings will be helpful in cleaning his teeth,thanks

      • Peter says

        I just started giving my dog raw meaty bones, too. First did chicken necks but then was advised not to because she’s 55lbs and they are too small and she could choke, and they’re mostly bone. So I am now doing chicken legs. I think being a kibble-fed dog for 5 years and only having eaten ground raw in the last year, she didn’t know what to do with the bone, so I put it in her mouth and let her chew, and then she knew exactly what to do, and it was so cool to see her crush, rip and tear. After 3 chicken legs i can already see a tiny difference, i can’t wait to see what a month will look like for her teeth.

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