Missouri native who created Greenies is back with new dental treat for man's best friend
A Hermann native credits a farm dog named Pal with sparking a life-long love that has pushed him to innovate and discover ways to improve the quality of life for man's best friend. When Joe Roetheli was four years old, Pal died in a farming accident.
"I cried my eyes out for weeks after it. It still has this big scar on my heart, and that’s why I’m so dedicated and persistent about doing things that will help the dog," said Roetheli, who founded Pets Best Life, LLC, with his wife. "Do we want to make money on it? Sure, we do. But dogs come first.”
That's a big part of what drove Roetheli to invent Yummy Combs, a dental treat for dogs. Yummy Combs, he says, address three health concerns for dogs: Dental health, nutrition and safe eating.
Roetheli had previously created Greenies, a dental treat meant to remove plaque and freshen breath. He and his wife sold the product to Mars, Incorporated, in 2006. After selling Greenies, Roetheli was subject to a five-year non-compete clause. But it gave him time to think.
“I thought, what would I like to someday do to somehow help dogs out?"
Dental health is key to dog health
Most dogs will have some form of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Just like humans, plaque from food can form on dogs' teeth and then harden into tartar. That tartar then irritates the gums, and can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream and affect organs.
"The bloodstream picks (bacteria) up, and the biggest filter that the body has is the kidneys," said Dr. Jan Bellows, a veterinary dental specialist. The other organs impacted are the liver and brain, and the bacteria can also affect heart valves.
Bellows says one of the most important things owners can do for their dogs is to brush or wipe their teeth daily to help prevent plaque from accumulating. (Tooth brushing is important for cats, too, and Bellows recommends owners wipe their cat's teeth along the gum line with a cotton swab dipped in tuna water.)
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According to Roetheli, the shape of Yummy Combs allows the treat to scrub between teeth and along the gum line. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has recognized Yummy Combs as a treat that, with regular use, will slow the progress of tartar in dogs. It is one of 27 edible dental treats recognized by the council.
Bellows explained that a dog's breath shouldn't smell, and if it does, it could be an indicator of dental issues.
"If their dog's breath doesn't smell like roses, there's a problem. Most people think, 'It's a dog, it has doggy breath, it should have doggy breath.' But that's not true. There should not be halitosis or oral malodor in dog's breath. It's just not normal," Bellows said. If owners are noticing that, Bellows suggests they take their dog to have their teeth cleaned at the vet, and then establish a daily teeth-cleaning routine after that.
Focus on nutrition
Another thing Roetheli wanted to focus on after Greenies was creating a treat that would be nutritious, and not contribute to canine obesity. A 2018 study by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 55.8% of dogs in the United States are classified as overweight or obese.
Like our own food products, companies must list a dog treat’s ingredients “in descending order of predominance by their weight in the product,” meaning the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, the ingredient that weighs the second-most is listed second, and so on, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Many dental treats have rice, wheat flour or potato listed as the first ingredient, which increases the amount of starch in the dog’s diet, and can contribute to weight gain in dogs. Roetheli wanted Yummy Combs to be different.
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The first ingredient in Yummy Combs is spray-dried chicken, a powder made from chicken meat and skin, and is a better protein for dogs, according to Roetheli.
“To get the same protein nutrition quality for a dog with potatoes versus chicken, you have to put twice as much potato. Now if you do that, you’re stuffing (dogs) more and more with starch,” Roetheli said.
Design, ingredients help prevent choking
Another major concern with dog treats is the potential for choking. Dog treats, toys and bones should be used under supervision.
“There has been for many decades, dogs dying from choking because they’ve gulped something and it gets lodged in their throat and they can’t cough it out," Roetheli said. "About the only thing they can do if a dog can’t cough it up is for a vet to go in and extract it through surgery most of the time. That’s a very, very traumatic situation for not just the dog, but the owner and the veterinarian, too.”
In order to mitigate the choking hazard with Yummy Combs, Roetheli approached the issue from multiple angles.
In order to help determine how big the treat needed to be to prevent choking, Bellows measured the width of the throat opening on each dog he saw when he put them under anesthesia for teeth cleaning and surgery. He recorded the width and the dog’s weight and shared it with Roetheli, who was able to determine what size the treat needed to be for each weight class to not choke on it.
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Sometimes, a dog can still choke when they bite off a chunk of the treat. The way the treat is made also helps prevent choking — the walls of the Yummy Comb are thin enough to dissolve rapidly and the treat contains an ingredient that makes it very slippery, allowing for a dog to either cough it out or swallow it.
"I read something recently that there are about 200,000 dogs a year that have choking problems," Roetheli said. "Now, 200,000 dogs isn’t huge out of 70 million dogs (in the US), but if it’s my dog, it’s traumatic and bad. I hate losing dogs."
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.