Chewing can support a dog's dental health, provide mental stimulation and help relieve stress and anxiety. But what type of chew is best?
Your dog looks up at you, their curious nose and sad eyes poking up over the table, where everyone’s enjoying an amazing spread of mashed potatoes, yeast rolls, green bean casserole, and turkey with homemade stuffing.
Would it be so bad if you gave your dog a bone? Just one turkey leg with a little bit of meat on it?
Sorry to say, but yeah, it’s not a good idea. It’s a bad idea. We don’t want your pup to miss out on the festivities and delicious holiday dishes, but we also don’t want you and your dog spending the next several hours at the emergency vet.
We’ll explain why it’s best for your dog to skip those turkey bones, but we’ll also check out some made-for-dog bones and natural chews and let you know how those stack up.
You should never give your dog cooked bones of any kind. Period. That includes turkey bones and other bones from your table as well as smoked, baked, or otherwise cooked bones that are supposedly made for dogs.
Once cooked, bones break apart and splinter easily. If your dog chews on a cooked bone, it can break into sharp pieces causing damage to your dog’s mouth, esophagus, and intestines. Other risks include choking, vomiting, diarrhea, intestinal blockages, and rectal bleeding.
From 2010 to 2017, the FDA received reports on 90 dogs that became ill or had severe injuries from bones that were marketed for dogs, plus another 7 reports of mold or splintering that pet parents noticed before their dogs were hurt. And these are just the reported issues on smoked and baked bones such as ham bones, pork femur bones, rib bones, and smoked knuckle bones. Sadly, 15 of these dogs died from eating a bone treat that was marked and sold for dogs.
Many dog parents wonder about raw bones. You may have even read that raw bones give your dog certain nutrients or help keep their teeth clean, or that they’re safer than cooked bones.
It is true that they are much harder to break than cooked bones as they are not prone to splinter. it. Many bones that are sold for dogs to chew on come from sheep or cows because pork bones splinter too easily, and chicken and turkey bones are too small for dogs to eat safely.
It is important to keep in mind that raw bones still come with many of the same risks of cooked bones. Raw bones are also very hard and dogs can easily break doga teeth when chewing. Yes - wolves and other wild canids will occasionally gnaw on a raw bone, but they are wild animals that have not been bred for generations as pet dogs. While our dogs are still related to wolves, they are very distant cousins. Additionally, wild canids were found to have dental pathology which for a pet dog would mean surgery and most likely teeth extractions.
You hear a lot about rawhide, but what is it, exactly?
Rawhide is the inner layer of skin of a cow, pig, or sheep. Many rawhide bones for dogs are made from cow skin. To make a rawhide chew, the skin is processed with harsh chemicals to remove fur and fat. The outer layer is usually used for making belts, shoes, or other leather goods.
The end product for dogs is a hard rawhide that they find tasty and satisfying to chew. A big problem is that rawhide is difficult to digest, and large pieces if swallowed could cause an intestinal blockage.
Rawhide chews are the byproducts of leather manufacturing, which tend to use a lot of chemicals to treat the hides. These chemicals can be dangerous for dogs, and there could be artificial coloring that can upset a dog’s stomach. And then there’s the risk of damaging their teeth while chewing.
It seems too good to be true–a rawhide-free “collagen” chew that is the closest thing to rawhide. But if you really look into what these chews are made of, you’ll get the explanation that it’s the inner layer of skin from an animal. But that’s what rawhide is, too.
There doesn’t seem to be much standardization in what different manufacturers consider to be rawhide vs. collagen, so it’s hard to determine just how different they are.
You might want to double-check if there’s a tannery at the same address as the one listed for the chews. Unless you’re prepared to do a deep dive into a company’s process and ingredients, you might also want to skip collagen chews.
Take a closer look at the ingredient label for treats labeled as “Beef Cheeks” - oftentimes it is made of “beef rawhide” or “beef hide,” which is just rawhide. Others say “beef cheek” or “beef cheek meat,” but that is often the skin that’s under the hide, which sounds a lot like rawhide.
Unlike traditional rawhide, pig ears are a byproduct of the farming industry, not the leather industry.They do not go through the same harsh process as rawhide. And by using the ears for dog treats, less of the pig is wasted.
Pig are made of skin and cartilage and are high in protein and fat. You might want to only give your dog pig ears occasionally so that you don’t run the risk of your dog getting pancreatitis from the fat content. Also, make sure that what you think is a pig ear is not actually rawhide that’s been shaped to look like one.
Additionally, pig ears have had warnings issued about them in 2019 from the FDA and CDC because of Salmonella infections. With all the recalls, the agencies paired up to warn pet parents not to buy them, and to urge companies to stop selling them.
Four months later, the FDA updated their advice after the CDC said the outbreak seemed to be over with. Basically, they’re saying to buy them at your own risk, and they urged companies to step up their processing methods to make sure they kill any bacteria.
Pet treat manufacturers have put a great deal of effort into figuring out how to give dogs the full rawhide experience without the rawhide. So they’ve come up with “rawhide-free” treats. They look and feel like rawhide, but are made with other ingredients that are super tasty but much easier for dogs to digest.
Make sure there’s no mention of animal skin on the label so you can be 100% sure you’re not getting rawhide. And because these chews have the same texture as rawhide, you still need to supervise your pup while they have them to prevent choking incidents. Even “digestible” chews can be a choking hazard. It is best to never leave your dog with an edible chew unsupervised.
If you don’t know what a bully stick is, you may want to Google it first. Or we can save you that trouble and tell you that it’s a bull’s penis. Wherever you stand on whether this should be sold as a dog treat, dogs love them. They are very high in protein and easy to digest.
However, you’ll need to do your research and look for products with good customer reviews. You want sticks that last and that dogs like, but also don’t smell horrible. Some real reviews out there for various bully sticks have mentioned things like “smells like a dead animal,” “turn your stomach awful,” and “stink to high heaven.” Trust the people. Or splurge on the ones that are labeled “no odor” or “low odor.” Also, always ensure that the pet products you buy are not made or sourced from China. Companies should be able to tell you exactly where their ingredients are sourced.
It turns out that the best thing for your dog to chew isn’t a bone at all, but a non-consumable chew toy. These toys are designed to withstand repeated chewing and offer a safe way to satisfy your pup’s natural instinct to chew. When chew toy shopping, keep in mind that the safest chew toys are ones you can imprint with your fingernail. Veterinary dentists favor chew toys like stuffed KONGS over bones too– they could be worth a try! Stuffing a Kong with peanut butter, sweet potato or a myriad of other dog-safe ingredients then freezing it is a safe, healthy way to provide stimulation and chewing opportunities for your pup.
It is important to weigh the real risk of tooth fracture or other potential hazard before giving your dog a bone. Tooth fractures mean pain for your pup and then eventually costly surgery and anesthesia for tooth removal–so if avoidable, opt for the chew toy over a bone. You’ll still have a happy pup and less risk overall.