Unlike humans who keep their teeth clean by brushing regularly, dogs chew on bones to remove tartar buildup and debris from their teeth. Bones are not only fun to chew but they give a dog something to do which keeps him mentally happy.
Safe Dog Bones and Bone Alternatives
A smart pet consumer should be aware of the many types of chews on the market. While there unfortunately are many readily available products that are unsafe, luckily there are just as many, if not more, healthy alternatives.
These are real animal bones that you can obtain from any butcher shop or many grocery meat sections. While you absolutely should not give a dog cooked bones, there are many raw bones that are safe with supervision. There is some risk of dogs fracturing their teeth on particularly thick bones such as weight-bearing bones. Try to find bones that fit the size of your dog to be safe. If you have a dog that has problems guarding bones, you may want to avoid using real bones in favor of the artificial substitutes. Some examples of bone sections that are good for dogs are marrow bones, ribs, kneecaps and femurs. Knuckles bones can be good for larger dogs.
Bully Sticks and Other Tendons
A very popular choice among dog owners are bully sticks which are made from dried beef tendons from a bull's private parts. Dogs love bully sticks and they have the added benefits of not staining your carpet. Bully sticks are pure protein so they're digestible. Some people find the smell of bully sticks unpleasant and there are varieties sold with less odor. If your dog loves bully sticks, there are other types of tendons available that are equally good for dogs, including tracheas or "moo tubes." For an extra long lasting chew treat, stuff a trachea with peanut butter, low fat yogurt or smashed bananas and freeze it before giving it to your dog! If you're turned off by the look of tendon chews, an excellent alternative is bully slices. These are cowhide slices coated with the same ingredients used to make bully sticks. Same great taste without the unappealing look!
Water Buffalo Horns
These big dark curved horns are a great choice for dogs provided they meet certain criteria. The horns can be stuffed with a food treat and frozen, such as peanut butter, mashed sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin. They are not a good choice for dogs that are extreme chewers as they can splinter and break into little pieces that can be swallowed by accident.
Himalayan Dog Chews
These chews are made from yak milk from Nepal that is hardened and makes a great chew for your dog's teeth. They are 100% organic so your dog can digest pieces that break off. The milk in these chews is lactose free so you don't need to worry about diarrhea or food allergies. The downside to these chews is that they can almost feel harder than some bones, which means they may be too much for your dog's teeth. Some dogs also don't show much interest in them, most likely due to the fact they do not smell or taste like a treat derived from an animal.
Antler chews have become a popular alternative for bones in recent years. These antlers come from deer and elk that have naturally shed them. Some types can splinter, especially if they're older or come from deer, so as always dogs should be supervised when chewing them. Antlers tend to be pricier than other types of bones and not every dog loves them due to their lack of a strong odor, so it's best to buy one and have your dog try it before you buy several.
Another type of chew that is naturally derived from an animal are dried fish skins. Aside from the fact that these are completely digestible, they're also quite healthy with Omega 3 oils to help your dog's skin and coat. The skins are usually taken from salmon and cod that are specially dried and treated just for dogs. These treats are also a good choice for dogs with food allergies and limited ingredient diets. A downside is they definitely do not last as long as other types of chews and some people do not care for the fishy odor (and their dog's breath after they've had a few!) Because these do contain oil, they can stain your furniture and carpet so make sure your dog is chewing them in an area where this won't be a problem.
Other Safe Dog Chews
Several companies make dog chews that are safe and are made from natural or dog-friendly digestible ingredients.
- Manufactured bones are real bones prepared especially for dogs and may contain special coatings to make them particularly attractive. Pet 'n Shape manufacturers several all-natural bone products which are safe although they caution that you should remove the bones as soon as the dog has chewed it down to a swallowable size. These bones are taken from free-range cattle and roasted. Although they're cooked they're safe for dogs. The bones are made in several sizes for all types of dogs.
- Nylabone and Benebone are two popular manufacturers of nylon bones which made from pure nylon. Unlike rawhide, they will not splinter or break into chunks. They shred off in tiny particles that pass through the digestive system and are made with the most aggressive chewers in mind. When the nylon bone is chewed into a stump, throw it away and buy a new one to prevent a choking hazard. Nylon bones come in many flavors and sizes to accommodate any size or breed of dog.
- Cornstarch bones are made from cornstarch and are perfectly safe for your dog to eat, provided that he or she does not have food allergies. Nylabone makes cornstarch and wheat starch bones that are completely free of preservatives and contain no animal by-products. The one concern about these bones is that if your dog is an aggressive chewer and bites off a chunk, they can accidentally swallow it and it becomes a choking hazard. Supervision is important when giving your dog any type of chew!
- Better than Ears are imitation pig ears that are low fat and highly digestible. They are made from healthy products such as soy flour and wheat bran. They come in several flavors including smoky bacon and peanut butter. Better than Ears are also available in a Hip & Joint and Skin & Coat formula to provide your dog with extra supplements for their specific health needs.
- Faux rawhides are products designed to look and feel like rawhide but are made up of healthier ingredients. An example are DreamBone DreamSticks, which are made from meat and vegetables and also come in grain-free formulas.
- SmartSticks are another popular faux rawhide choice and are made with meat, vegetables and peanut butter. These types of chews are flavored and come in different shapes and sizes for all kinds of dogs. While many dogs love them and they are much safer, they also can be higher in calories so these need to be given to dogs with moderation.
- Ice bones are not exactly a bone but rather a mold you fill with water and put in your freezer. A bone-shaped block of ice is actually a great chew toy for a dog. Puppies that are teething will like the ice bone because of the soothing effect of the ice on their aching gums. Dogs in the summer will enjoy chewing on the ice bone as it will keep them cool and entertained. Just make sure your dog is chewing this bone some place where it can get wet, preferably not on your bed!
Less Than Desirable Dog Chews
You'd be surprised to know that there are many products on the market for dogs that are not only unhealthy for them but could be potentially dangerous.
Rawhide is a prime example of a potentially dangerous dog treat. Some known problems with rawhides and dogs are:
- There is a choking hazard associated with rawhide. Pieces of rawhide can be easily broken off by aggressive chewers and accidentally swallowed and get stuck in your dog's throat.
- Pieces of rawhide can actually scrape a dog's throat and esophagus on the way down to his stomach.
- Even if a rawhide is swallowed and passes through the esophagus without getting stuck, it can potentially create a physical obstruction once it reaches the intestines.
- Rawhide production is not regulated in many countries and this can mean that toxic products like arsenic are used as a preservative.
- Rawhides also bring a risk of salmonella and E. coli bacteria which can be dangerous not only to your dog but to you as well from handling the rawhide.
Cow hooves are another body part that your dog will probably love but you may want to avoid. Cow hooves can splinter and have sharp edges so they aren't the best choice for aggressive chewers. Some people also find the smell of chewed cow hooves repulsive so this may be an issue for you (although your dog probably won't mind at all!). There's also a risk of salmonella with cow hooves.
Pig ears are dried ears taken from a pig. Besides looking exactly like what they are, pig ears can cause blockages. Pig ears have the potential to cause harm to people as well. In 2019, the FDA placed an advisory stating pork-related dog bones and chews may contain salmonella. So, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly if you are handling pig ears.
Feeding Bones From the Table
Knowing that natural dog bones can be safe for dogs might make you think it's ok to feed dogs bones that you have available while cooking. This can be safe depending on the type of bone. Some precautions to observe are:
- Do not give your dog pork, chicken, turkey or other poultry bones, regardless of whether they are cooked or raw.
- You should also never give them cooked beef or fish bones.
- Bones should be taken away from the dog after about 15 minutes and placed back in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them from spoiling. You can give them to your dog again and repeat the process but be sure to throw them out after no more than four days.
- The size of the bone should fit the size of the dog. A thick knuckle bone is too much for a Chihuahua and likewise, a smaller bone might be hazardous to a big dog. As a rule of thumb, the American Kennel Club advises that a bone should be larger than a dog's muzzle.
- Do not cut the bones into smaller pieces and give to your dog. This can quickly become a choking hazard.
Tips on Dog Bones
- If you feel your dog must have rawhide, consider purchasing compressed rawhide. Compressed rawhide is better than regular rawhide because it is made from layers of beef hide and formed under extreme pressure. This creates a very dense dog bone. Compressed rawhide lasts three to five times longer than regular rawhide.
- Always look at the ingredients when you purchase dog bones to be sure they are chemical-free. Also, if they appear greasy, that is usually an indicator that they are not the healthiest thing to put in your dog's mouth.
- As a rule of thumb, always observe your dog's behavior with a new treat. If you think it may be dangerous for your dog to chew, go with your gut instinct and take it away. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Always supervise your dog with any type of chew so you can remove it if it gets too small and becomes a choking hazard.
- Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling any item your dog has been chewing.
- Finally, if you live in a multi-dog household, make sure that it's safe to give bones to your dogs. Some dogs will guard bones and chews and it can even lead to serious fights. You may want to crate each dog while they are enjoying a chew to keep everyone safe and happy.
Giving Your Dog a Bone... or Not!
Although no bone or chew is truly 100% safe, there are definitely better choices than others. Speak to your veterinarian if you're concerned about your dog chew choices and always supervise your dog's chew time to make sure you've chosen the best options for him to enjoy.