Here’s an understatement… dogs are big chewers. It’s instinctive, and it’s pleasurable for them. We’re happy because it’s good for their teeth and gums and it gives them something to do when you’ve no time to play… And they love it! It’s good to provide your dog with something to chew, but it’s overwhelming when faced with a number of choices there are. Not only that, but some chews and chew toys can be dangerous.
Always err on the side of caution when selecting a chew treat or toy for your dog. Even when you think you have selected a “safe” chew, the chew could be old and brittle, or of poor quality in general. No chew is 100% safe. Chews can break or fracture teeth. They can cause choking. Chews can be responsible for lacerating the gums, esophagus, and even the intestinal lining. Often chews or bones are the cause of digestive obstructions when swallowed. Furthermore, many chews are manufactured using harmful chemicals such as bleach… Who wants their dog to ingest bleach, right? So, what do we do? We want to give them something they desire, but more than anything, we want them to be safe.
Before we get started looking at the many types of chew “bones” and chew toys that are available, let’s talk specifically about your dog and his chewing habits.
Consider Your Dog’s Chewing Habits before Buying A Toy
Some dogs have a very strong chew drive, while some may have been like that when they were a puppy but have outgrown it. Some dogs have super strong chew drives, our “power chewers”, and chew heartily throughout their lifetime. Some dogs chew only on specific things… like blankets, fleece, or leather, for example. When selecting a chew, take into account your dog’s chewing habits. A “power chewer” would probably destroy a cornstarch bone, whereas a mild chewer may find a deer antler to be too hard. Also, the size of your dog makes a difference as to what chew you select for them. If the entire chew fits in your dog’s mouth, it’s too small and could easily be swallowed.
The condition of your dog’s teeth and gums can make a tremendous difference in what or IF you provide him a chew. Teeth that have not been well cared for may find nearly every chew to be uncomfortable or damaging. Red or irritated gums may become even more painful if your dog is given a chew toy. Older dogs may not find pleasure in chewing because their teeth are not as strong as they once were. Check with your vet to make sure your dog’s teeth and gums are healthy enough for chewing.
Always Supervise Your Dog When He Has a Chew Toy
I hope that the number one takeaway from this blog is the importance of supervising your dog when he has a chew. I cannot stress it enough. As we stated before, no chew is 100% safe. Your dog can easily become choked or hurt in some way while chewing in your absence. Many times people give their dog a chew or bone to enjoy when they are leaving the house, but that’s such a bad idea. Leave chews for special occasions shared with your dog, like enjoying in front of the TV on movie night, or while out to dinner on a dog-friendly patio.
Let’s look at some of the chews on the market today and examine their safety.
Type of Chew Toys
Antlers from deer or elk are normally found at your local pet supply store. They’re long-lasting and have no smell. Antlers are generally considered safe, although some reports of broken teeth have been reported. Elk antlers are softer than deer antlers. When fresh, they tend not to splinter, and they’re loaded with minerals. However, cheaper or older elk antlers can splinter easily and split. The older the antler, the tougher, so make sure you buy from a reputable supply store.
Real Animal Bones
People have been giving dogs real animal bones to chew since the beginning of time. These can be raw marrow bones, femurs, ribs, kneecaps, etc… Real animal bones are a good source of fats, vitamins, and minerals. Rib bones are a good size for smaller dogs and they’re also a little softer than other weight-bearing-type of bones. Be sure to match the size of your dog to the size of the bone… i.e., knee caps may be too small for medium-large dogs, as they will attempt to chew-up and swallow, resulting in a blockage. Knucklebones are not recommended because they can actually be eaten in full, breaking off in large pieces and possibly causing choking or blockage. Watch for sharp edges too. Cooked bones become hard during the cooking process, which causes them to splinter. They are so much more appealing to us because they look clean and are a lot less messy for your dog to chew, but we should never give our dogs a cooked bone.
Likewise, we should never give our dog a chicken bone. Chicken bones will break and splinter and can cause internal injuries as well as cutting the insides of your dog’s mouth.
Bully sticks, the most popular among tendon types of chews, are easily digested and generally safe. They’re high in protein, low in fat, and contain no carbs or grains. Bully Sticks help to keep your dog’s teeth clean, but they make his breath smell horrid! Some bully sticks are now available in “low odor”, but I would find out how the odor control was accomplished… was the bully stick soaked in bleach or hydrogen peroxide? That’s not a good thing…
It sounds gross, but bully sticks are made from pizzles that have been stretched and dried. There are other “tendon” types of chews including tracheas, esophagus, and Achilles tendons, some of which are rather small and could be dangerously swallowed whole.
Nylon and Plastic Bones
Nylon and plastic bones are very popular and can be purchased in nearly all pet supply stores and department stores. They are fairly safe for very light chewers, but more powerful chewers can easily chew them apart, possibly causing them to lodge or obstruct. These bones are often infused with meat or sweet flavoring to make them appealing to your dog. Read the manufacturer’s warning label. If you buy them for your puppy or light chewer, always supervise.
Kong is a good example of a well-made rubber chew. These are virtually indestructible. The most important thing to remember when choosing a “kong-type” chew is to select the correct size for your dog. A large dog could easily swallow the small kong designed for little dogs.
Your dog may not like a rubber chew. It generally has a “non-food” smell that is not appealing to your dog (unless you fill it will something yummy like peanut butter, cheese, or treats!). Beware of off-brands that may be made from cheaper rubber and could more easily break off.
Here at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, we safely treat our dog boarding to “Bizzy Bones” which are Kongs filled with a delicious flavor of the month… This month, Pumpkin Pie!
There is a stigma attached to dental chews from an incident years ago when veterinarians claimed that a popular dental chew caused intestinal obstruction. Since then, they have been reformulated and are actually fully digestible and safe to swallow. Dental chews are generally safe. They’re enjoyable for your dog, and you are rewarded with fresher doggie kisses!
Still uneasy about giving a dental chew to your pet? One source online recommends putting the dental chew in a glass of water and see if it dissolves by the next day. If so, then you can be assured that it is safe for your dog to swallow (but remember, they can still get choked if they attempt to swallow a piece that is too large for them!)
These chews are actually a hard cheese made from yak or cow’s milk. People of the Himalayans use to chew on them. Manufacturer’s claim they’re safe as they become softer as they are chewed. Yak and Himalayan chews are fully digestible, long lasting, not too stinky, and won’t stain your carpet. They’re low in fat but high in calories. Made from milk, salt and lime juice, my concern is the sodium content. Manufacturer’s claim the sodium is negligible, however, I would check with my vet before giving these types of chews to dogs with heart conditions or hypertension.
Pig ears have a high-fat content. They’re greasy. And they make your dog’s breath smell awful. Not a good choice for dogs that are overweight or dogs with pancreatitis. Seemingly innocent, they too can cause choking or intestinal obstruction if not chewed fully. Pig ears are so rich (bacon anyone?) that many dogs cannot tolerate them. If you are fine with your dog chewing on pig ears, make sure you buy them from a reputable dealer as it is often reported that pig ears are infected with the salmonella bacteria.
Rawhide and pressed rawhide is the most widely known, most widely available, and most affordable, but oh so bad for your dog to chew on! Here’s the rest of the story… Manufacturer’s use a chemical to separate the leather from the animal, then they bleach it, then they dehydrate it. Then they paint it (so it kind of looks like chicken or beef), artificially flavor it, cut it, roll it, and then GLUE it together! And then we give it to our dog to chew on! Yuck! Not only that, but our dog’s system cannot digest it or break it down, so when he swallows it, the dehydrated chew ends up expanding inside of his stomach. Then, guess what? An emergency trip to the vet! However (It pains me to state this, but I must…), given the amount of rawhide consumed by dogs each year, the risks are relatively small, according to WebMD.
While slightly more digestible than rawhide, pressed porkhide is also not recommended for generally the same reasons as with beef rawhide.
As with pig ears and any treat or chew made from animal parts, salmonella or E.coli is always a concern.
Dried Sweet Potatoes
Dried sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A. Vitamin A is amazing for your pet’s nerves, eyes, muscles, skin, and coat health. Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and completely digestible. If you buy them at a pet food store, make sure they are sourced only in the US, not in China where sweet potato treats have been known to contain highly toxic chemicals. But it’s best – and easy – to make them at home. Flipside, sweet potatoes are high in sugar and therefore, not recommended for dogs with diabetes or with yeast issues.
Okay, this is my personal opinion… NEVER buy animal jerky…i.e., chicken, duck, beef, etc. for your dog. Too many times, poorly processed meat jerky has made it to the stores and caused our dogs to become very sick. Period. BUT, you can make healthy jerky treats at home with clean, boneless chicken breast (or the meat of your choice) cut into long, thin strips. Bake them on a cookie sheet for around 3 hours or more (depending on thickness), at 180 – 200 degrees. Use caution when storing.
Cow hooves are durable, last all day, and are very affordable. I use to give my prior dog cow hooves, even though I hated the way it made her breath smell. I will not give my dog a cow hoof to chew on today, as too many claims have been made as to how dangerous they can be. They can fracture teeth, splinter, and develop sharp edges which can cause mouth lacerations.
That being said, my prior dog happily chewed them for years and they may be considered safe for moderate chewers. As with any animal product, they can contain salmonella. Buy only from a reputable manufacturer who properly cleans and pasteurizes the hooves. Again, always supervise your pet when chewing on any object and throw them away before they get small enough to swallow.
From what I can tell, fish skins are not a bad chew. Loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, good protein; but rather high in fat. Make sure it’s cooked or it could contain deadly parasites. My personal opinion is to stick with clean, natural Icelandic or codfish rather than nasty farm-raised fish. Beware of anything sourced outside of the US. Some sites advise feeding sparingly to avoid mercury exposure. I can only imagine what your dog’s breath is going to smell like after chewing on fish skins! Eeek!
On the good side, water buffalo horns are great for teeth and gums. They’re inexpensive, high in protein, low in fat, and last for weeks. Bully horn’s hollowed-out middle is great for filling with peanut butter. On the bad side, severe splintering and breaking into shards has been reported. Upon inspection, it looks like the bottom portion of the horn can be very thin… I can see how it would easily break into small, sharp pieces. If you choose to buy bully horns, be sure the horns are taken from slaughtered animals used for meat so that you are not supporting the cruel, inhumane act of removing horns from live animals (Water buffalo do not shed their horns naturally).
Cornstarch chews were all the rage not too many years ago. They’re very digestible, breaking down safely in your dog’s stomach. Best for mild to moderate chewers, they won’t last long. A strong chewer could become choked as he could easily bite off a large piece.
Obviously, Corn Starch chews are made of corn, so beware of food allergies. Also, they’re not particularly “good” for your dog, but they’re not really “bad” either.
Rope Bones and Fleece Bones
Most dogs love rope and/or fleece bones, and you’ll be happy to know that they’re generally safe. These types of “bones” consist of ropes or strips of fleece fabric braided into a bone shape and knotted at the ends. Your dog’s chewing action flosses their teeth, removing plaque and bacteria…especially when accompanied with a fun game of tug-of-war! Look for 100% cotton fibers, and be sure to wash them as often as possible to keep them clean and sanitary.