Most people know that dogs like to chew. Chewing is a natural behavior for all dogs. It allows them to explore the world around them, exercise their jaws, and even clean their teeth. Most of all, it engages them mentally and alleviates boredom.
However, when dogs lack the proper items to chew, it can lead to destructive chewing and other behavior problems. Providing plenty of dog chew toys is one way to allow your dog to fulfill its natural desire to gnaw on things. Supplying your dog with tasty, edible chews is another way to fulfill your dog's need to chew while offering a tasty treat.
With so many types of chews on the market, it can be hard to decide which are the safest and healthiest chews for your dog. While no dog chew is without risk, some are healthier than others.
Always supervise your dog while feeding chews to ensure they do not ingest large pieces, which can cause gastrointestinal obstruction, or injure themselves since some chews can lead to broken teeth or oral injuries.
Dog Chews to Avoid
While no dog chew is 100 percent safe, some are especially dangerous.
- Indigestible chews like hard plastic or nylon chews: As a rule, any chew that is indigestible has a high chance of causing a gastrointestinal blockage or indigestion at the very least. Hard plastic or nylon dog chews are often too hard and can damage teeth. In addition, they develop rough edges when chewed that can cause injury. These toys are not digestible and cause GI obstruction or damage if eaten.
- Chews that are too hard: If you think the chew is too hard for your dog to bite off a chunk and swallow it, then it is probably too hard for your dog to chew on. Very hard chews can cause tooth fractures or oral injuries. As a rule of thumb, any chew that would hurt if you banged it on your knee is too hard for your dog.
- Animal hooves, antlers, and bones: Hard animal parts and particularly cooked bones pose the most significant risk to your dog's teeth and GI tract because they are very hard and indigestible. If your dog doesn't break a tooth first, he could manage to snap off a piece and ingest it. Some animal horns (like buffalo or goat horns) soften and fray a little while dogs are chewing them. These can be less dangerous to the teeth and may be more easily tolerated by the GI tract. However, they should be used with extreme caution.
- Rawhide: This is a somewhat controversial chew. Though many dogs will do fine with rawhide, it's important to know that large pieces of rawhide are not easily digested and can cause GI blockage or irritation. Additionally, rawhide is often treated with potentially harmful chemicals. There are a few exceptions, though. Some types of rawhide are specially designed by vets with safety and digestibility in mind. Ask your vet for more information about safe rawhide chews that can help keep teeth clean.
Digestible Dog Chews
There are many chews on the market today that can be considered safer for dogs because they are digestible and not too hard for teeth. It is important to remember that even large chunks from digestible chews can still cause GI upset or blockage. Always supervise your dog after giving it chews. If the dog seems to be swallowing large chunks, take the chew away. Furthermore, if the dog develops vomiting, diarrhea, or other signs of illness, see your vet right away.
Obviously, the positive thing about digestible chews is their increased safety. However, the downside is that they don't last very long and tend to be more expensive than bones and hooves. To save money, try balancing between chew toys and edible chews. Aggressive chewers might do well with something like a food-filled Kong Ultra, bully sticks, beef tracheas, or flavored dental chews.
- Bully sticks: These are one of the most popular dog chews today. Made of beef pizzle (yes, that means penis), they are dense, flavorful and come in various sizes. Bully sticks are among the longest lasting of the safer chews, and dogs love the taste and texture. For aggressive chewers, braided bully sticks tend to last longer. The negative thing about bully sticks is that they can be a bit costly and they stink pretty badly. In addition, some experts worry about their safety from contamination with bacteria. Seek out bully sticks from reputable sources. And, try low odor bully sticks to save your nose.
- Beef tracheas: Sometimes called "windies" or "moo tubes," beef tracheas are primarily made up of cartilage and contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which benefit the joints. Beef tracheas last almost as long as bully sticks, but it really depends on the dog. They can also be more costly than bully sticks though they do not tend to stink quite as badly.
- Other animal parts: These may be good or bad depending on the source. When in doubt, ask your vet about the safety of a chew. As a general rule, safer animal part chews include aortas, tendon, gullet, and tripe. Ears are more controversial as they are closer to rawhide as far as digestibility goes (plus, pig ears especially tend to contain a lot of fat). Some animal horns will soften when chewed and fray into small pieces that are digestible, but these should be used with caution.
- Flavored dental chews: Greenies or N-Bones are made of digestible ingredients like wheat gluten, corn starch, and meat or poultry meal. Thought completely edible, these ingredients are not ideal for dogs on a strict grain-free diet due to allergies or owner preference. These chews also tend to go very fast, especially around aggressive chewers.
Which Chews Are Best For Your Dog?
Remember that there is no one chew that is right for every dog. For overweight dogs or those with sensitive stomachs, it may be best to stick with non-edible chew toys. For healthy but selective dogs, you might need to try a few different types of chews before you discover what works best for your dog. Overall healthy and non-discerning dogs will probably enjoy a little bit of everything. Just make sure no treat or chew makes up more than about 10 percent of your dog's diet.