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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Safe Chew Toys

Regular reader Stefanie sent in this question....

What are the safest dog chews on the market?  I usually give my dog Nylabones to chew on - but I notice that in addition to the traditional rawhides, Greenies, and other processed chews - there are bully sticks (which I didn't know what these were made out of until just today and was a little taken aback), deer antlers, and even Himalayan (hard cheese) dog chews - which are safest or are any of them?  

There seems to be a lot of debate among veterinary professionals as to the best and safest chew toys on the market.  I'll share my opinion and what I tell my clients.

I am definitely against using any kind of really hard substance to chew on, especially antlers and bones.  I know that it's rather stereotypical to give dogs bones, as you see it in cartoons and movies.  They also really seem to like them and these products are easily available in any pet store.  However, bones and antlers can cause severe fractures of the teeth, especially of the upper molars.  The broken tooth is not only painful but can lead to abscessing of the tooth root. I've also seen bones get stuck on the teeth and even cause constipation.

Hard rubber toys like Nylabones run a smaller risk of breaking teeth.  The material is not digestible, but in small pieces will pass through the dog safely.  The risk comes if the dog breaks off and swallows a large enough piece to cause an obstruction.  Even so, I do let my dogs chew on these products, though I check the toy regularly to make sure large sections aren't coming off.

In my opinion there is a lot of misinformation about rawhide chews.  I have never seen a case of rawhides getting stuck in the intestines, and they won't sit there indefinitely.  I've never even talked to a colleague who has seen this happen.  However, there are a few things to be careful of.  Some dogs will be sensitive to the material, resulting in diarrhea or even vomiting.  This isn't truly dangerous but is obviously something people want to avoid.  The only real big risk is if the dog swallows the knot or strip whole.  You need to watch your dog's chewing habits and make sure they aren't prone to doing so.  Since the material won't dissolve in the stomach a large enough rawhide could cause an obstruction.  The one time I did see a potentially serious rawhide issue was when a dog swallowed the knot whole.  The owner brought her in and she vomited it up in the lobby without any treatment.  However, that could have been a surgical case.  I had to stop giving rawhide strips to one of my dogs because she would stick it half-way down her throat while she was chewing and I was worried that she would swallow it.  Otherwise I don't mind rawhides.

Greenies developed a bad reputation over five years ago because of some isolated cases of dogs swallowing large parts of the treat and developing intestinal obstructions.  Some of these cases resulted in surgery and even death.  After this became a national problem (even though it happened in less than 1% of dogs) Greenies changed the formula so it would actually dissolve in the stomach.  After talking to a rep at a conference I took one home, set it in a glass of water overnight, and was pleasantly surprised to see it come apart easily the next day.  Greenies are also one of the best treats for dental care, so I fully endorse them.

In general I approve of softer treats specifically designed for dogs as long as that individual doesn't develop any particular digestive problem.  However, you should always watch your dog very carefully to make sure they are chewing slowly and not taking off large chunks.  If too large of a piece of any treat is swallowed, it can be potentially dangerous.  And stay away from anything that is harder than the dog's teeth.


  1. I recently wrote on this topic too, also by request!

  2. Thanks for covering this topic. I rarely give my dogs chews, partially because I didn't know which I could trust and partly because it makes my slower chewing dog's fur on his paws and chins all matted. Now I know I can at least trust the occasional greenies or rawhide before the dogs are due for a bath.

  3. Thank you. I found this very helpful and reassuring. I recently purchased a rawhide in a well-known pet store and I was lectured by an employee. She apparently thought that I was a horrible person for buying a rawhide and insisted that I purchase an elk antler. My dog has at least two dozen toys to chew on and he will only occasionally pick the rawhide to chew, but he never eats big pieces of it. In fact, this was only the second one I have purchased and it was only because the other one was starting to look gnarled. I can't possibly see how it could be doing any damage. I think I'm just going to buy everything online from now on.

  4. I have been buying the smart bones not rawhide and the dogs really like them also the better than ears chews

  5. I have been buying the better than ears and recently started buying the smart bones or dream bones they are not made from rawhide I like both of these. Rawhide makes me nervous the dogs always seem to choke while eating them.

  6. So what brands are recommended? I want to give my dog the ones that dissolve in the stomach if swollowed but am unsure of what brands offer this.

  7. I don't have specific brands that I recommend, other than Greenies which are good for the teeth. ANY toy or treat can cause problems or obstructions if swallowed whole or in large pieces, so be sure to always supervise your dog.

  8. Dr. Bern, the person above mentions "Smart Bones." Have you heard of them and if so, do you think they are a safe choice for dogs?

  9. thank you I am glad I found this. I see so many products like the antlers which are new. I give natural rawhide stips/chips. I can cut the thin ones for smaller pieces. The thick ones I give to I the big dogs who devour them easily. One of my dogs does swallow before it is all soft. She comes to me and pushes my hand. I open her mouth and pull it out. Soon she is back. It is like a game. Once it is soft I bend it small so she can swallow it. Different flavors do cause diarrhea. Pork ones are not really good. Too much grease I guess, I was thinking of trying the antlers. But you have enlightened me and I will keep up what I do now. Thanks