By Rick Woodford, a.k.a. The Dog Food Dude
Gnawing a bone or toy is a dog’s favorite hobby. That’s great––chewing is mentally stimulating and great for dental health. But which chewable options are the best for your dog? Here’s a rundown of common chew toys to help you shop smart:
ANTLERS: They’re natural, last for weeks with the average chewer, and are one of the most beneficial treats you can give for dental hygiene. Some antlers are cut to expose the interior, and these generally get consumed quicker. I prefer buying pieces a couple sizes up than the recommendation; you spend a little more and it lasts much longer, plus it’s less likely your dog will ingest large pieces because they don’t splinter as easily as bones.
BULLY STICKS: They have an eye-rolling origin (they’re the reproductive parts of bulls), but dogs love them. They usually last less than an hour and cost less than a couple of dollars; even better, they’re non-staining. I wouldn’t recommend these for vigorous chewers, as they’ll likely be ingested quite quickly.
CHICKEN JERKY (MADE IN THE USA ONLY): Made of dehydrated chicken, this jerky is almost all protein and thus highly nutritious. However, check the label to ensure that the product is made in the USA so you can trust its quality. (I recommend Kona’s Chips for a safe, healthy option).
HIMALAYAN DOG CHEWS: These are basically a hard cheese, which is natural but potentially high in calories if your dog is an avid chewer and is likely to consume the chew all at once. However, these are a good choice for the casual chewer. Himalayan Dog Chews are non-staining and have little smell. Microwave small pieces to create a puffy treat, rather than letting your dog swallow it whole.
KONGS: For most dogs these last forever. However, they’re not all that interesting unless you stuff them with something. And please, not cheese or peanut butter. My book (Feed Your Best Friend Better) has many alternatives that are more nutritious.
MARROW BONES: Good for the average chewer, these last longer than smoked bones and are generally inexpensive. Get them straight from your butcher, and keep them in the freezer so they stay fresh.
SWEET POTATO CHEWS: They’re natural and most dogs love them (they never last very long at our house). Though they are rather expensive if you consider how quickly they are devoured.
TENNIS BALLS: For many dogs, nothing would make them happier than a bag of tennis balls. They’re a great choice––they last forever, and can go in the wash periodically for cleaning (great for cleaning off all that drool). It’s okay if your dog shreds the fuzz off the ball, but throw it away before he can eat it.
GREENIES: I’m on the fence about these treats. They’re fortified with vitamins and minerals, but your dog’s food already has that covered. There are a lot of different ingredients including rice and wheat flour so they may not be good for dogs with dietary sensitivities. They’re low in calories, but also quick to consume, and don’t last long enough to really benefit your dog’s dental health.
PIG EARS: While dogs love these treats, they pack a whopping 300 calories per ear, and unfortunately, they don’t last long and don’t do much for dental hygiene. I give these to our dogs as a very occasional treat.
ROPE TOYS: These are a great way to get your dog to floss, however super destructive dogs can tear them apart in minutes and swallow long strands so you have to be careful and watchful.
STUFFED TOYS: In his short time at our house, Flynn has torn apart every stuffed toy we have, and my latest hobby is picking up polyester fill from the floor. So now, as soon as a toy is opened, I take the remaining stuffing out and replace it with socks tied in knots––it keeps Flynn safe from ingesting the polyester fill (but still fully occupied, since he loves to try and get the socks out), and I can wash everything periodically.
CHICKEN JERKY TREATS FROM CHINA: Just because they haven’t been recalled doesn’t mean treats made in China are safe. Too many dogs have fallen ill because of these treats––avoid them.
COW HOOVES: Although dogs love them, these treats are really hard, they smell really bad, and I’ve stepped on them more than once in the middle of the night and had quite a painful surprise. Cow hooves are prone to splintering, which creates sharp edges that can cut your dog’s gums and inner organs. Stick to antlers and marrow bones, instead.
RAWHIDES: There’s little nutritional advantage, they have a tendency to get gross and slimy, and there’s a danger of dogs ingesting large pieces that can cause digestive problems serious enough to warrant veterinary care. Plus, they often cause diarrhea.
SMOKED BONES: These stain––a lot. I might buy these as a birthday present for our dog, but it’s strictly a once a year treat that has to be consumed outside.
Dogs who are adamant chewers intent on destruction should be watched carefully to ensure that they do not break teeth or ingest large pieces of items. If giving hard items like antlers or bones be sure to supervise extra carefully.
Rick Woodford, a.k.a. “The Dog Food Dude,” is an expert on pet nutrition and wellness. He is the author of Feed Your Best Friend Better: Easy, Nutritious Meals and Treats for Dogs (available for purchase on Amazon), a comprehensive collection of simple and nutritious recipes perfect for the busy pet parent on a budget.