As nearly any pet owner knows, dogs love to chew on things – whether it’s gnawing on his favorite toy, chomping on a soccer ball, or tearing up a pair of old tennis sneakers, canines have a natural urge to exercise their jaws. This behavior is perfectly normal – it not only allows a pooch to explore his surroundings, but helps to keep his teeth clean while offering mental stimulation. Chewing also prevents boredom and reduces a dog’s stress levels. However, when dogs aren’t provided with safe items to chew, it may lead to destructive chewing and other behavioral issues that can become problematic for both dogs and pet parents. It is therefore important to provide dogs with safe dog chew toys. This article will focus on the safety concerns of dog chews, including how to identify healthy and safe options suitable for every pup.
Satisfying a dog’s primal urges to chew is essential for many reasons – it not only fulfills his natural tendencies to gnaw while keeping his teeth and gums clean (and breath fresher!), but may prevent him from munching on items that weren’t meant to be chewed on. As seen below, supplying safe chews can benefit dogs and owners alike in these common scenarios:
- Prevents dogs from ingesting toxic/dangerous chemicals and other harmful substances
- Deters dogs from eating/chewing on household items that may cause obstructions in breathing/digestive system
- Helps to protect pet owners’ belongings from being chewed up/damaged/destroyed
Much like children, dogs get into mischief often – and quickly. It only takes a minute for a pooch to chew on something he shouldn’t be, and unfortunately if a dog gets ahold of the wrong object, swallowing the item could lead to choking, gastrointestinal obstruction, and in worst-case scenarios, death. That’s why it’s so crucial to monitor the type and quality of chew toys as pet parents – by offering safe, appetizing chews, it can satiate canine cravings to chew while providing furry companions a tasty treat. But how does one go about deciphering the safest and healthiest dog chews? This is where it can become tricky for many pet owners. While no dog chew is “risk-free”, research has shown that some are healthier – and safer – than others.
Helpful Hint: An Ounce of Prevention
It probably comes as no surprise, but one of the easiest way to prevent choking hazards and other chewing accidents is to keep a watchful eye on dogs, and learn from observation what the best type of chew is for the family dog based on his size, chewing habits, and even breed. A vet should be able to provide guidelines and suggestions to pet owners shopping for appropriate chew toys.
While it’s important to be mindful of what types of chews are being administered, it’s equally essential to supervise dogs to prevent ingestion of large or sharp pieces. As mentioned earlier, feeding a dog the wrong type (or size) of chews may lead to either respiratory (choking) or gastrointestinal obstruction. In some cases, it may even result in canine injuries, as some chews have been known to cause oral injuries, including broken teeth.
Choosing The Best Chew: What To Avoid & What To Consider
Unfortunately, there is no “100% safe” dog chew – however, there are some that are on the safer side, while others pose a much higher health risk. Although the following is not an all-inclusive list, it provides some general rules of thumb to keep in mind when choosing dog chews:
The ‘Danger’ List: Top 4 Worst Types of Dog Chews
- Animal Bones: Although a dog may consider them a tempting treat, animal bones – be it a chicken bone, antlers from a deer, or cattle hooves – can pose a serious danger to canines of all ages, breeds and sizes. Hard animal parts of any kind (specifically cooked bones) are risky to a pup’s GI tract and teeth, since they’re extremely hard and indigestible. In addition to breaking his tooth, a dog could manage to break off a piece of bone while chewing and digest it, which can puncture his internal organs and cause serious damage to his gastrointestinal system. Other animal parts like horns (such as goat or buffalo) fray and soften after a dog has chewed upon them for a length of time. While a dog’s teeth and GI tract may tolerate them a bit better, they should still be administered with a watchful eye.
- Indigestible Chews: Chews that are not digestible for dogs may lead to gastrointestinal blockages in worst-case scenarios, and at the very least, result in indigestion. These type of chews are especially dangerous for aggressive chewers – for example, dogs who attempt to eat (i.e., swallow) or destroy their toys. The majority of nylon and hard plastic chews are indigestible and should be avoided, as they’re typically too hard for dogs to chew safely and frequently damage (or break) teeth. Furthermore, these types of chew toys often develop rough edges when repeatedly chewed, which may also result in further canine injuries.
- Very Hard Chews: In the instance where a chew toy is too difficult for a dog to bite off a piece and swallow it, it’s probably too hard for him to chew on, as well. As mentioned, very hard chews can cause fractured teeth and other oral injuries. A good way to gauge a chew toy’s safety: if it would hurt a person who banged their knee on it, it’s most likely too hard for a dog!
- Rawhide Chews & Treats: While many dogs will do just fine with rawhide toys and treats, this type of chew still remains somewhat controversial as far as safety goes. Due to the indigestible nature of dog rawhide, it can lead to irritation and blockage of the canine GI tract. Furthermore, some rawhide chews are treated with potentially dangerous chemicals, so when shopping for rawhide treats, be sure to read labels carefully. There are actually a few rawhide brands designed by vets with dogs’ digestive systems and safety in mind, giving pet parents and their pooches some peace of mind.
The ‘Safer’ List: Top 4 Preferred Types of Dog Chews
- Flavored Dental Chews: When it comes to ‘digestible’ dog chews, flavored doggie dental chews have grown in popularity in recent years as a safer alternative to traditional chews made of rigid plastic or hard animal parts. Comprised primarily of ingredients such as corn starch, wheat gluten, poultry meal and meat by-products, these chews are completely edible and don’t pose a threat to a dog’s GI tract, teeth or gums. However, they may not be suitable for dogs adhering to a gluten-free diet (due to dog allergies or by owner’s choice), so be sure to read the ingredients. Furthermore, it should be noted that dogs tend to gobble these chews down quickly (particularly true amongst aggressive chewers and ‘inhaler’ types), so while they are a safer alternative, keeping them in stock may become costly.
- Classic Kong: A beloved dog chew for pups and pet parents alike, this sturdy, non-toxic, dishwasher-safe chew toy takes a beating and is one of the safer styles out there. Engineered with a dog’s safety in mind, the rubber toy with a hollow center has holes on both ends so it won’t create a ‘suction’ effect. When stuffed with treats, it provides dogs of all ages with a healthy outlet to satisfy their chewing and licking urges. The added ‘puzzle’ feature – i.e., creating a need for the dog to ‘work’ for his food, just like he’d do in the wild – creates an added benefit, engaging him mentally. Plus, there’s a Kong toy suited for nearly every pooch, based on his age and chewing style. However, as in any chew toy, be certain to monitor dogs when engaged in playtime, and if treats are stuffed into this puzzle-style toy, make sure it’s not blocking the smaller hole – you can learn how to stuff a Kong toy here. It’s also important to buy the appropriate-sized Kong for dogs, as a small toy could pose a choking hazard for larger breeds. Similarly, for households with several dogs of varying sizes, be sure to have toys on hand that are safe for all of them.
- Bully Sticks: Recognized as one of the most popular dog chews on the market, bully sticks are loved by dogs for their flavor and chewy texture. Ranging in various sizes, bully sticks are made of beef pizzle; although costly, they’re among the longest lasting of the ‘safer’ dog chew options. For robust chewers, braided dog bully sticks typically last longer. Be sure to shop for bully sticks from reliable sources, as some experts warn against possible bacteria contamination. Additionally, pet owners may wish to opt for low-odor bully sticks, as they do have a strong smell.
- Beef Tracheas: Also known as “moo tubes” or “windies”, beef tracheas are mostly composed of cartilage and therefore a safer chew alternative to other harder animal parts. Another added bonus is that they contain chondroitin and glucosamine, which may benefit a dog’s joints and skeletal system, according to some studies. Additionally, beef tracheas are a long-lasting treat (although it really depends on the dog’s chewing habits). While they might be a bit pricier than bully sticks, they don’t smell quite as much, so overall, combined with their longevity, it makes this option a worthwhile chew-treat investment.
Helpful Hint: Make No Bones About It
Nearly every dog loves chomping on a bone, and will lick his chops at the mere sight of one. That’s why it is so important to practice extreme caution when throwing away bones after meals – treat this waste (e.g., bones and cartilage from raw or cooked meat, poultry, game or fish) the same as you would any other item that is toxic to dogs.
In order to ensure it’s out of his reach, transport tightly-sealed garbage bags to outside trash cans as soon as mealtime is over – leaving bones in the kitchen garbage is basically tempting fate. For those living in suburban or rural areas where a dog may be let out into a yard, an added precaution is to put bungee cords on garbage cans; this not only protects dogs from harm’s way, but can also keep pesky raccoons out of the trash. If a dog is showing any signs of choking or complications due to bone ingestion, contact a vet immediately.
Purchasing Quality Dog Chews: What To Look For
Although every dog is unique, there’s fortunately a wide variety of chews and chew toys available to satisfy nearly every breed, size and type of chewer. Whether he’s an aggressive chewer who is prone to destroying everything, a gentle nibbler who loves and cares for his toys, or an enthusiastic inhaler who swallows things whole, identifying a pup’s chewing style is essential to choosing the right dog chew.
Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when shopping for canine chews & dog chew toys:
- Firmness: When in doubt, check it out – if the dog toy doesn’t “give” a bit when pressing down with one’s thumbnail, it’s most likely too hard and could break his teeth. On the other hand, pet parents don’t want to pick a chew that’s too soft, either, as there is a risk of it being easily torn apart and swallowed. Opt for pet toys and chews that fall somewhere in the middle – a trusted vet or pet store can provide recommendations.
- Durability: Inspect toys closely for quality construction – avoid chews and dogs that are shoddily made or appear as though they could be chewed apart/disassembled with little effort. Watch for small pieces and toys with stuffing or filling, as some dogs (particularly those who tend to destroy things or swallow items whole) will rip a toy open and ingest part of all of the chew toy, which can pose serious harm to the animal.
- Coating: Watch for coatings and flavorings on edible doggy chews that could lead to digestive problems. In the case of dog chew toys, be sure to read the packaging to ensure that the materials used – be it rubber, plastic, fabric, or other treatments/surface materials – are safe and non-toxic. For example, there have been some instances where traces of lead were found in the fuzzy coating of tennis balls, so shop wisely and always read the fine print.
- Shape & Size: When choosing dog chews, keep in mind the size of the pet it’s intended for: it shouldn’t be so tiny that he might choke on it, nor should it be a shape where he might get his muzzle or tongue stuck inside of it. In addition to speaking with a vet for chew toy recommendations, reading actual product reviews online (such as pet owners’ feedback on a blog or similar Social Media forum) may also be helpful.
- Is It Washable? Checking to see if a dog chew toy is washable before buying can prove worthwhile, as it allows periodical cleaning and disinfection to ensure a sanitary home environment (and cross-contamination of germs to a minimum). This may be a particularly valuable quality for families with small children, as most parents will attest that kids can (and will) get ahold of dog toys. Read labels carefully to see if the dog chew toy is dishwasher or washer/dryer safe.
Ultimately, it’s always best to speak to a veterinarian for professional advice and recommendations for safe, health-conscious chew toys that can aid in keeping canine teeth clean while satisfying a dog’s instinctual urge to chew. By remaining proactive in the type and quality of dog chews administered, pet owners can ensure the safety and well-being of their dogs while providing them a fun activity that’s actually good for their overall mental and physical hygiene.
- Nicholas, Jason. “3 Simple Steps to Choose the Best Chews for Your Dog.” Preventive Vet.com, October 30, 2016, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/choosing-safe-dog-chew-toys. Accessed April 14, 2019.
- “Dog toys: How to pick the best and safest.” The Human Society Of The United States (no publish date), https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/safe-dog-toys. Accessed April 14, 2019.
- Stregowski, Jenna, RVT. “Finding the Best Dog Chews.” The Spruce Pets.com, November 14, 2018, https://www.thesprucepets.com/choosing-the-best-dog-chews-1118607. Accessed April 14, 2019.