A good dog deserves a good bone. 

Ben Jonson, English dramatist and poet

While we appreciate the sentiment, we have a bone to pick with Mr. Jonson. Bones and hard chews are not only one of the most common causes for traumatic dental injury in dogs, but they also cause other potentially life-threatening conditions. Unfortunately, these harmful items are widely available and marketed toward devoted pet lovers like you.

Learn how to provide your dog with a satisfying chewing activity without risking their health and safety with this guide from the Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek. 

Why do dogs chew?

Chewing is a natural behavior that first begins during puppyhood. Puppies use their mouth and teeth to explore and learn about their environment and they also chew on toys or other objects to relieve discomfort during the teething stage when their adult teeth erupt from below the gum line.

After puppyhood, some dogs enjoy chewing as a recreational activity or in response to boredom, stress, or anxiety (i.e., destructive chewing). Chewing is self-rewarding, because the action triggers an endorphin release that helps the dog feel calm and relaxed. 

Do dogs need to chew?

In the right context and with the right item, chewing activities can be used to manage your dog’s behavior (e.g., providing a positive distraction, lowering anxiety, or burning excess energy) or to maintain their dental health (e.g., veterinary-approved dental chews can help reduce plaque and tartar). However, chewing is not required or necessary for all dogs.

When is chewing a dangerous behavior for dogs?

A dog’s unsupervised or inappropriate chewing (i.e., chewing a harmful, inedible, or toxic item) can result in dental damage, serious injury or, in some cases, death. Common oral conditions that result from inappropriate bones and toys include:

  • Choking — Broken pieces or whole bones can become lodged in the throat.
  • Gum laceration — Popular chews can split and splinter, injuring sensitive gum tissue.
  • Tongue entrapment — Hollow bones and rubber toys can entrap a dog’s tongue. 
  • Dental fracture — Hard bones and chews can lead to broken teeth, which can be severely painful if the nerve and pulp are exposed. Fractured teeth must be surgically extracted under anesthesia. Without treatment, dogs will suffer from chronic pain and potential infection.

The wrong chew toy or treat also can lead to life-threatening gastrointestinal issues, including blockages and pancreatitis. 

Chew on this—5 chews to stop giving your dog

You want only the best for your four-legged friend, but that means chews-ing to say “No” to these popularbut harmfulchews.

  • Animal bones — This category includes everything from giant basted femur bones to hollow “shin” bones and soup bones. Bone is the hardest body substance and bones are notorious because they do not yield to your dog’s powerful jaws, and instead can take a bite out of your pet’s teeth. Bones are the most common cause for dental fractures, including the slab fractures, which are a painful break in which a flat section of the fourth upper premolar is sheared off.

In lieu of animal bones, give your dog a flexible dental chew such as Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved C.E.T. Veggie Dent or Greenies dental treats.

  •  Antlers — Dog owners now favor deer, elk, and moose antlers because they are natural and cruelty-free. However, much like bones, antlers are too rigid and inflexible to provide dogs with a safe chewing experience. Instead, antlers commonly cause traumatic dental injuries and pose a significant choking risk when dogs attempt to swallow broken pieces or an extremely small antler.

Safe antler alternatives that your dog can sink their teeth into include flexible rubber toys, such as the Westpaw Zwig and Kong Safestix, while Whimzees BrushZees are edible alternatives. Always supervise your dog to ensure safe play, and frequently check toys for wear and tear. 

  • Hooves — Hooves stink, literally! These odiferous animal parts are unpleasant to the olfactory senses and to your pet’s digestive system, and notorious for breaking into shard-like pieces that cause painful splintering and lacerations in the mouth. Jagged pieces that your dog swallows can lead to internal punctures or blockages.

If stinky treats are your dog’s favorite, consider bully sticks, which are smelly, fully digestible alternatives that become soft and gummy as your dog chews, and will not break.

  • Himalayan yak’s milk chews — These brick-like blocks are made from boiled and dried yak and cow milk. Although yak milk chews are lauded for their odorless and long-lasting properties, these solid chews cause costly dental damage.

Swap these rock-like bars for OraVet Dental Hygiene Chews—these small but mighty treats are clinically proven to clean and protect your dog’s teeth as they are chewed.

  • Sticks — Sticks may seem like a natural chewing option for dogs, but sticks can splinter, allowing pieces to puncture the soft tissues of your dog’s mouth, esophagus, or stomach. Additionally, small sticks can wedge between your dog’s upper teeth or be swallowed whole.

If your dog repeatedly drags sticks from the yard, consider a stick-shaped rubber chew toy instead. Ensure you choose one that is soft enough that you can compress it with your thumbnail, but not so soft that your dog can tear it apart.

At the Animal Hospital of Stoney Creek, we believe every good dog deserves not a bone, but great oral health. So, get chew-sy about your dog’s chew toys, and ensure they are sinking their teeth into something safe. For more information about the recommended dental products, or to schedule your pet’s dental consultation, contact our team.