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What’s It To Chew?

That title is pretty horrible. I couldn’t help myself. Very sorry. But, not really.

My rampant love for raw meaty bones (or rather my dog’s) begs some questions. The world of the dog chews is not limited to raw meat and femur bones. In actuality, they are the exception. When shopping chewing options for their dog, most people do not go directly to the freezer case. This is unavoidable. Raw meat is not without its limitations. Bacteria. Location. Longevity. Not appropriate for all occasions and circumstances. Yet, chewing is still an excellent way to keep your dog quiet and busy when you need it. Just not always with a slimy knuckle bone.

All those other products on the market – the rawhide, the rings, the dentals chews – most of them are no good. Worse than no good. They are disgusting, poorly processed, and potentially dangerous. If you are lucky, they’re just a big fat waste of money. Sorry to be the one to break it to you. But, (again) not really.

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An assortment of well-loved recreational standbys in our house, where we prefer our chews not sprayed with preservatives and processed in parts unknown. Although spending a little time fermenting out in the yard, is perfectly acceptable. I’m going to once again reference the oracle that is The Whole Dog Journal. If you consider yourself a dog nerd of my caliber, check it out. While I don’t agree with them entirely, they’ve a great article on Finding the Right Rawhide Chew For Your Dog. It covers some great little known facts when it comes to chew choosing (fun to say). Facts about…

Sourcing and Ingredients. Most rawhide comes from Mexico, a byproduct of the furniture industry. From Mexico to China for processing into the bones, knots, rings, and shoes we love to buy our dogs. Mexico to China, that’s a long way. Necessitating a lot of ‘chemical intervention’ to keep things from going south while they’re heading east. Wonderful preservatives sitting for weeks at a time on skin. How well do you think those hides are rinsed and cleaned before processing? Since they are to become ‘just dog chews’, my guess has always been not very well. There are made in America options, and if you insist on rawhide, you should insist on those. Rawhide isn’t alone, many of these chews contain questionable ingredients – artificial colors, liquid smoke, potato starch, and Dog knows where the base ingredients came from in the first place. Pig ears smoked to oblivion, “Moo Tubes” (Cow trachea), and pressed meat from a variety of sources. These are what you create from the bottom of the barrel, and then disguise. I can not even tell you how many times I personally have read about recalls for these items, seen moldy products – freshly wrapped and ready for sale mind you – or just generally been disgusted by contents.

Choking Hazard. I almost don’t want to bring this up because its not limited to lower quality products. All chews are a choking hazard, its just a matter of degree. I consider rawhide one of the worst culprits, with its slippery, slimery, swollen, undigestible chunks. End pieces or large chunks of anything (even my beloved raw bones) present a choking hazard. The same is true for most items made of animal material. Easy for a dog to swallow, hard to pass. This is my PSA for supervised chewing. Watch your dog. Know if they have a tendency to swallow end pieces, and take the item away when it gets within that size range.

Nutritionally Void. This is not diet enhancement. I’m always amazed at the people who go out of their way to research food and nutrition, complaining (just a little) about the price, then stockpile preservative laden, nutritionally devoid chews just before hitting the register. You aren’t undoing all your hard work, but you are exposing your dog to a bunch of chemicals and ingredients not present in their normal diet. Ones you probably don’t want. In addition, certain items aren’t helping. Pig ears are very fatty. Beef allergies are extremely common (and most of these items are beef based). Dogs are dogs. It is their nature to love the grossness, but do consider their inclusion part of a regular diet.

Money Wasted. The almost universally popular Bully Sticks, aka the Beef Pizzle, aka Cow Penis. Possibly my favorite on-going questions at the Pet Store, ever: “What’s a Bully Stick?” To which you can only answer, “If you had a Bully Stick, what part would it be?” Once again, processing and sourcing are questionable. But my problem here is with the expense of the thing. Even if I find one that doesn’t stink to high heaven (a for real problem, believe me), is manufactured somewhere local-ish, and is of reasonable size for my medium-size dogs, it’s going to cost me $16.95. Totally worth it, assuming my dogs love it (they do!) and it lasts longer than 20 minutes (oops!). Bully sticks are very yummy (yep, yuck), but not all that dense. Dogs get better and better at plowing through them the more often they are received. If I’m using these chews to buy peace and quiet, I can get a lot better bang for my buck.

Now that I’ve thoroughly trashed the plastic wrapped, smelly, common place options available to most everyone, lets go back to what I consider worthy of my money, without being overly harmful.

Antlers. Making a major entrance into the pet supply world over the last couple years, these are all they are cracked up to be. And then some. Look for naturally shed, and collected in your region. They are very long lasting. The interior core is what the dogs are after. The primarily calcium and mineral substance crumbles out like sand, creating basically zero choking hazard. Smell has been known to vary. I’ve never had a problem. For dogs new to the antler, start them with a ‘split’ version, cut lengthwise to expose more of that core. They don’t last as long, but give the dog an opportunity to figure out the wonders of the antler without getting discouraged. Typically sold by weight, I look for price per pound (not per ounce) to get my money’s worth. The ones pictured above have been hanging out at my house for months.

Fido Bones. This is will seem odd as yes, my dogs are ingesting plastic nylon. I know it. They were our go-to option pre-antler, and we keep them around because dogs love them. First, Fido Bones are not their inferior competitors. In my experience, Fidos last longer and are more appealing than a traditional bone shape. Small pieces of plastic do come off. Usually about the size of a grain of rice. They pass and they always have, causing me less concern than the average dog toy. Fido’s are made in America. The more they are chewed the better my dogs like them. Chewing creates grooves on the end of the bone, making them rough, enticing, and great for dental health. My dogs chew the ends with blissful expressions on their face. If you are worried about sanitizing, a run through the dishwasher now and then does the trick.

Himalayan Dog Chews. Not pictured, and the only ‘consumable’ making my list. They are manufactured overseas, hence the Himalayan. The ingredient list is simple: Cow Milk, Yak Milk, Salt and Lime. And that’s it. Consider them a very hard, preserved, smokey cheese. The smell isn’t terrible, pleasant even, and almost irresistible to dogs. A great, gentle option for puppies with delicate systems. Like the Bully Stick, dogs seem to get better at chewing these. Once the novelty wears off, they don’t last long. I opt for the gianormous size and only use them in desperate times, when I want dogs completely engrossed, but can’t do super nasty.

My picks all have things in common. They are very hard. I know where they come from. They are substances I may not be thrilled with (nylon), but I don’t feel pose an immediate hazard to my dogs. Those are really the key points. A lot of items could be ok, if we take the time to familiarize ourselves with their processing, origins, and purpose in life. A habit of appropriate chewing should be developed in all our dogs. It’s our biggest natural ally in dental health, with the fringe benefit of keeping dogs out of our hair. It doesn’t have to come at the expense of exposing them to noxious chemicals and questionable ingredients.

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Comments

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

… and I just learned a new euphemism for ‘cow penis’. (Although technically shouldn’t that be ‘bull penis’?) Awesome! I had no idea it was a doggy delicacy.

The only thing Tess is chewing on these days is raw chicken parts. Antlers sound interesting. How much do you pay per pound?

dogsordollars
Reply

Good point on the bull penis. And delicacy doesn’t even cover it. I don’t think most of America realizes what their dogs are chewing on the couch or the carpet or god knows where. Makes those raw bones look pretty tame.

Anything under $20/lb is a good price for Antlers these days. Most places I see selling them by the ounce, equates to about $30-$35/lb. I used to be able to find them for about $15/lb, but with popularity the price has gone up. I’ve contemplated keeping my eye on Craigslist and using a ban saw.

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

Eeep! That’s expensive. Maybe not so much on the antlers.

I have become convinced that I should try to feed both dog and cats more raw meat and less ‘meat cereal’. So despite the factory farming guilt issues, I snapped up a few whole chickens when Fred Meyer put them on sale for $0.88/pound.

Since I went pescetarian in college more than twenty years ago, I’d never cut up a whole chicken before. Fun times. In one bird I found a pair of organs that looked like little cream-colored kidney beans — so of course my first guess was that they were, in fact, kidneys.

But Google image search reveals that no, they’re rooster testicles. [blinkblink] I had no idea.

(Cats eat rooster testicles just fine, in case anyone was wondering.)

dogsordollars
Reply

Having recently seen multiple sets of rooster ‘kidney beans’ I know exactly what you are talking about, and yes they are remarkably similar.

Karawynn @ Pocketmint
Reply

Personally, I would choke on $20/pound, but if you don’t, and since you have such a large pack: I see that if you buy 4 pounds of antlers from this site (http://www.elkantlerdogchews.com/) it comes out to $19.50 including shipping. In case that helps.

dogsordollars
Reply

So the $20/lb thing is a little scarey, I agree, but these things last and last and last. Compare them to the $16.95 pizzle example, 20 minutes vs months in my house. Also, for me its all about hand picking them. You want more marrow, less calcified outer, plenty of access points to that marrow, and a marrow of a specific quality. The consistency of those innards effects the weight and the price drastically. I’ve occasionally struck out and brought home an antler no one was interested in, but not usually. Once I figured out what my dogs were looking for, they are used for a very aggressive chew for first week (weeks?) then used regularly for months in the house and yard. A much better deal, usage wise than the pizzle or the himalayan if you ask me. People often balk at the price, but I’d say you can get a decent medium antler for $15-ish.

Tracy Warren
Reply

The antler was a no go at my house. Makes a lovely sound when thrown in the air and hitting the hardwood floor though. The dogs have shown very little interest in it. Himilayan chews are the fav – I usually buy one jumbo at $15 and they share for about 3 or 4 days. I just can’t buy two at a time – oh man that’s $30 bucks. Do you know where they can be bought any cheaper?

dogsordollars
Reply

And you have little dogs, with little antlers. Try having somedog proudly drop it at (on) your feet. Youch!

SMB
Reply

Fabulous! Thanks so much for providing links. I have a new puppy (Pit mix) and he’s still teething. He loves to chew.

dogsordollars
Reply

Congrats on your puppy! For a pit mix, investing is some good chews is going to save you countless bucks in home and wardrobe repair. ;)

Jenny
Reply

I have had the hardest time trying to get my dog to chew on anything that isn’t rubber. He’s never had any interest in rawhide bones… I’ve tried bully sticks, which he was very excited about for 2 whole minutes. And then I just had cow penis sitting on my floor. I have not tried antlers yet… and thanks for the advice on the split version – I think I’ll try those. For now we use the West Paw Hurley, which is the only toy I’ve found that Riley can’t chew through in a matter of days. And I love all things West Paw, so I feel good about spending $14 on a rubber bone :).

dogsordollars
Reply

Ditto on the love for all things West Paw. So nice to see another fan! And when he does chew through that Hurley, you can return it for one free replacement. If you are so inclined…

Liz
Reply

I have a new pitbull-Rottweiler mix puppy (9 months) and you can believe he chews like a champ! What age would you recommend I introduce these more indestructible, natural things like antlers and Himalayan chews? I want to get him something that will entertain him, but I don’t want to hurt his teeth or other development. Thanks!

dogsordollars
Reply

9 months is plenty old enough for the types of chews mentioned above. I’ve recommended them (with great success) to dogs much younger. With a juvenile pitbullXrott , whatever it takes to keep them entertained. :)

Liz
Reply

So Nico the destroyer demolished the antler within two days of having it (my boyfriend’s 4-year pitbull), but my love-bug puppy didn’t mind. I am constantly amazed at what pitbulls can eat – they’re like the goats of the dog world. Nothing is safe, and there is NO bone that will last long. But they both loved the antler. And the Himalayan chew survived mere minutes with Nico…

Crystal Wayward
Reply

Forgive me if this is in a post I’ve missed, but where do you stand on the all-popular Kong? It has been a lifesaver (and moneysaver) with the Machete, and I recently invested in a bigger one and a tiny one so that all the dogs can have one. (However, the Machete remains the most enthusiastic.) I love that I can just stick the Kongs in the dishwasher. And I’ll feel even better about that once we switch to homemade dishwasher detergent in a few weeks. (Just trying to get through the last of the commercial chemical-y stuff.)
We’ve also had an elk antler tip around for months, as well as a couple raw bones that they cleaned out yet continue to work on when bored.

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