Most dogs love to gnaw away at a toy or two, some gently and some with gusto. As I discussed in my article on what to watch out for in dog toys, this kind of chewing and slobbering activity can expose pups to a whole host of potentially hazardous chemicals, and not all natural dog chew toys are safe. To help your dog stay safe and happy, here are a few not so ‘natural’ dog chew toys to avoid.
In addition to dog chew toys to avoid, we’ve written on how to make your own dog toys if you’re feeling crafty, compiled a list of our favorite flying dog toys, and also put together a list of LeafScore-approved chew toys that are safe.
Antlers and bones
When my dog, Kali, was a puppy, I made the mistake of giving her small antlers to gnaw on, as advised by a well-meaning member of staff at my local pet store. Too late, I realized this was filing down her teeth and promptly removed the antlers (much to her dismay).
After some digging and a lot of guilt, I’ve concluded that, as in Kali’s case, antlers and bones are a flat-out no for almost all dogs. Even the FDA has stepped in to advise us not to give dogs bones, noting that numerous dog deaths and many more injuries have been attributed to bones.
These items are harder than a dog’s teeth and are liable to crack or file down their teeth, especially puppy teeth, which can lead to abscesses and infections that are painful and potentially life-threatening. Even dogs with a very firm bite and strong jaw can have problems with antlers that are, let’s face it, designed to go into battle.
The one exception I’d make is for giving a big, adult, dog with a strong jaw a bone or antler already broken in half where the marrow is exposed. This is a little softer and clearly tastes delicious to most dogs. You’ll want to supervise your dog, though, so you can remove the item if they start gnawing on the harder bone or exterior antler. And, once the bone or antler becomes small enough to swallow, promptly remove it to avoid the risk of choking or bowel obstruction or puncture.
You may also want to check the provenance of the antler or bone. Most antlers are not simply collected in the forest having been naturally shed; they’re a commodity in themselves and, as such, animals may be killed specifically for their antlers and bones.
You will definitely want to avoid giving your dog bones from chickens or any rib bones. These bones are brittle and liable to split, which could cause your dog injuries to the mouth or internal injuries if they swallow shards of bone. Cooked bones are similarly brittle and should not be given to dogs as chew toys.
Now, you might argue that wolves and wild dogs have been chewing on bones for millennia and that such behavior is perfectly natural, and you’d be right. What you might not realize though, is that over hundreds of thousands of years many wolves and wild dogs have incurred horrible tooth fractures or other injuries that lead to infection, sepsis, suffering, and death. Just because no human was around to watch these animals die a painful death in the forest doesn’t mean bones and antlers are safe.
What about sticks?
Now, if my dog had her way (which she usually does), every day would involve at least one round of ultimate Frisbee action on the beach and a good forage for sticks and driftwood to chew on, shred, and have thrown for her to fetch. It’s tempting to say that sticks are the ultimate eco-friendly, non-toxic dog toy, but sticks can be a serious hazard for dogs, conking them on the head, lodging in their throat, and causing puncture wounds and other injuries that can prove fatal.
Veterinarians frequently see dogs with serious, life-threatening puncture wounds to the mouth, eyes, abdomen, and heart caused by sticks. So, while they might seem like a frugal and eco-friendly dog toy option, the reality may actually be rather costly if you consider the potential for expensive vet bills and the loss of your canine companion.
Driftwood and other found sticks can also contain rusty old nails, staples, and other pieces of metal that might injure your dog (or you! Make sure your tetanus shot is up to date!). Also, some ‘sticks’ may be old table legs or other pieces of furniture that have been treated with toxic chemicals including lead paint that are more likely to flake off and leach when exposed to outdoor elements and saltwater. Other types of natural, ‘found’ toys can also pose problems, such as seed cones that become a choking hazard or resinous branches with bark that contains phytochemicals that are toxic to dogs.
Rawhide and pigs’ ears
Rawhide is often seen as a natural treat for dogs and most dogs love this stuff. But, rawhide has been linked to digestive issues such as stomach torsion (which can be fatal), choking, vomiting, and diarrhea. Rawhide may also be contaminated with salmonella and other nasty bugs as well as carcinogens including artificial flavorings and colors like FD&C Red 40 as well as formaldehyde and bleach.
What’s more, rawhide is often a byproduct of the fur trade, so if you wouldn’t buy fur, consider whether you really want to buy rawhide. An old report by the Humane Society of the United States purportedly stated that some rawhide may even contain dog skin from farmed dogs, although I’ve not managed to track down this report myself.
As for pigs’ ears, personally I think these are disgusting, but even if the ethics and the smell don’t prevent you from considering these for your dog, the coatings used on these might. These ‘treats’ are far from natural, with the potential for contamination with formaldehyde and toxic chemicals in flavorings and colorants. These can all cause digestive upset, stain your carpets, and may have adverse effects on your dog’s health in a variety of ways.
Pigs’ ears are also a potential choking hazard and may cause bowel obstruction if your dog tries to swallow or swallows large chunks. And, finally, like rawhide, pigs’ ears quickly begin to harbor various unpleasant microbes and may even be germ-riddled before you get them home from the store. If you have a puppy or senior dog or an immunocompromised dog, these are a definite no.
Now I’ve looked at some of the potential hazards of ‘natural’ chew toys for dogs, you might be thinking that your best bet is to get your pup a chew toy from one of the big brand names instead. You may be surprised to learn that, thanks to the lack of robust regulation over pet products, quite a few of the well known brand names and popular toys also have their downsides. I look at those in some detail here, with insights from my conversations with company representatives.
Where does that leave responsible dog guardians, then? Well, with just a handful of truly eco-friendly, non-toxic dog chew toys to choose from.