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.
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.