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Choosing the Best Dog Chews

Treats for Dogs to Gnaw On

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Golden Retrievers Playing Tug of War with Dog Toy Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Chewing is a natural behavior for all dogs. It allows them to explore the world around them, exercise their jaws and even clean their teeth. Most of all, it engages them mentally and alleviates boredom. However, when dogs lack the proper items to chew, it can lead to destructive chewing and other behavior problems. Providing plenty of dog chew toys is one way to allow your dog to fulfill his natural desire to gnaw on things. Supplying your dog with tasty, edible chews is another way.

With so many types of chews on the market, it can be hard to decide which are safest and healthiest for your dog. While no chew is without risk, some are healthier than others. Owners should always supervise their dogs while feeding chews to ensure they do not ingest large pieces (which can cause gastrointestinal obstruction) or injure themselves (some chews can lead to broken teeth or oral injuries). When it comes to choosing the right chews for your dog, use this guide as a tool.

Dog Chews to Avoid

While no dog chew is 100% safe, some are especially dangerous. As a rule, any chew that is indigestible has a high chance of causing gastrointestinal blockage (or indigestion at the very least). If you think the chew is too hard for your dog to bite off a chunk and swallow it, then it's probably too hard for you dog to chew on. Very hard chews can cause tooth fractures or oral injuries. As a rule of thumb, any chew that would hurt if you banged it on your knee is too hard for your dog.

Animal hooves, antlers and bones (particularly cooked bones) pose the most significant risk to your dog's teeth and GI tract because they are very hard AND indigestible. If your dog doesn't break a tooth first, he could managed to snap off a piece and ingest it.

Rawhide is a somewhat controversial chew. Though many dogs will do fine with rawhide, it's important to know that large pieces of rawhide are not easily digested and can cause GI blockage or irritation. Additionally, rawhide is often treated with potentially harmful chemicals. There are a few exceptions, though. Some types of rawhide are specially designed by vets with safety and digestibility in mind. Ask your vet for more information about safe rawhide that can help keep teeth clean.

Digestible Dog Chews

There are many chews on the market today that are considered safer for dogs because they are digestible and not too hard for teeth. It is important to remember that large enough chunks from digestible chews can still cause GI upset or blockage. Always supervise your dog after giving him chews. If he seems to be swallowing large chunks, take the chew away. Furthermore, if he develops vomiting, diarrhea or other signs of illness, see your vet right away.

Obviously, the positive ting about digestible chews is their increased safety. However, the downside is that they don't last very long and tend to be more expensive than bones and hooves. To save money, try balancing between chew toys and edible chews. Aggressive chewers might do well with something like a food-filled Kong Ultra (compare prices) in addition to the following digestible chews.

Bully Sticks are one of the most popular dog chews today and one of my personal favorites to give my dogs. Made of beef pizzle (yes, that means penis), they are dense, flavorful and come in various sizes. Bully sticks are among the longest lasting of the safer chews, and dogs love the taste and texture. For aggressive chewers, braided bully sticks tend to last longer. The negative thing about bully sticks is that they can be a bit costly and they stink pretty badly. Try low-odor bully sticks (compare prices) to save your nose!

Beef Tracheas are just what they sound like. Sometimes called "windies" or "moo tubes," beef tracheas are primarily made up of cartilage and contain glucosamine and chondroitin, which benefits the joints. I have found that beef tracheas last almost as long as bully sticks, but it really depends on the dog. They can also be more costly than bully sticks, though they do not tend to stink quite as badly.

Other Animal Parts can be good or bad depending on the source. When in doubt, ask your vet about the safety of a chew. As a general rule, safer animal part chews include aortas, tendon, gullet, and tripe. Ears are more controversial as they are closer to rawhide as far as digestibility goes (plus, pig ears especially tend to contain a lot of fat).

Flavored Dental Chews like Greenies or N-Bones are made of digestible ingredients like wheat gluten, corn starch and meat or poultry meal. Thought completely edible, these ingredients are not ideal for dogs on a strict grain-free diet due to allergies or owner preference. These chews also tend to go very fast, especially around aggressive chewers.

Remember that there is no one chew that is right for every dog. For overweight dogs or those with sensitive stomachs, it may be best to stick with chew toys. For healthy but selective dogs, you might need to try a few different types of chews before you discover what works best for your dog. Overall healthy and non-discerning dogs will probably enjoy a little bit of everything. Just make sure no treat or chew makes up more than about 10% of your dog's diet.

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