Dogs need something to chew on, but how safe and effective are the chew items being marketed today? Several years ago there was quite a scare in regard to the presence of arsenic in rawhides and melamine in China-sourced products. Here are five tips for the best chew selection.
Consider the source
It is best to buy American made for this type of item because American manufacturers are keenly aware that the pet-loving population is concerned about safety. However, there is no guarantee that American made means safe. Any company can become profit-driven or be misinformed as to what is safest or healthiest for a dog. There are differences of opinion in this arena as well. One man’s steak is another man’s hamburger! Visit the manufacturer’s website and Facebook page to get a sense for their reputation and priorities. If organic and non-GMO and BPA free are important to you, then be sure the producer of your dog’s chew things cares about these characteristics as well.
Consider your dog’s size
Choking is always a concern. Be sure the chew item is big enough to not be gulped and caught in the pharynx. Take the item away when it gets small. If it is an edible item, be sure it will be chewed and ingested slowly over time. Too much of a good thing can cause a bellyache due to over indulgence.
A small dog could have fun with a small or large rubber chew toy. A large dog could ingest and choke on a small rubber chew toy or develop an intestinal obstruction.
A raw marrow bone that is too small and flat can get lodged in the throat or caught on the dental arcade. A marrow bone that is too large will be filled with too much marrow and will cause diarrhea. In this case, simply thaw the bone and spoon out and discard some of the marrow.
Poultry bones can be safe and healthy if they are the right size and uncooked. Cooked bones become brittle because the molecular structure changes. They are not digested properly, so they are more likely to lodge or perforate the gut lining if they have been boiled or smoked. Whether your dog is little or big, a chicken neck may be appropriate if he is a chewer and not a gulper. A raw duck neck is slender and long: great for most medium to large dogs. Turkey necks in my opinion are too large of vertebrae for all dogs. These are the type of bone most likely to lodge. Do not feed turkey necks.
Biscuit-style chew bones vary in size and quality of ingredients. Because these are edible, the ingredients and digestibility matter most.
Consider the ingredients
Biscuit-style chew bones, which are edible, often do not last very long. Those that do may be less digestible. Therefore, a small piece is likely to leave the stomach too soon and lodge in the intestines. Or it may roll around in the stomach, causing indigestion and even vomiting. If your pet vomits, or if large, discernible bits are seen in the stool, then this chew item is being poorly digested. This can even occur with tough, fibrous, dehydrated veggies.
Most biscuit-style chews are starch-based. Realize this if you are trying to avoid feeding starch to your dog. The starch source might be potato, tapioca, wheat, corn, rice or another grain. These ingredients can be an excessive source of calories as well as potential allergens. They might be a source of unintended gluten or GMO-laden food. Gluten and genetically modified foods can irritate the bowel and wreak havoc with the immune system.
Consider the processing
The best chews are all natural or even organic. Avoid those that have been chemically processed. Cowhide — typically rawhides — are not so raw. They have been bleached or processed in other ways to make them look clean for the human consumer.
Smelly, natural, brown/tan, bully sticks, tendons and tracheas are more natural, healthy choices for our carnivores! Beware of today’s FDA-initiated efforts to sterilize all our foods. Many natural pet products are now being irradiated. This process can damage proteins, making them toxic.
Purchase chew toys made from a quality rubber, not PVC-laden vinyl. Fiberglass-covered tennis balls wear teeth flat and can contribute to lip fold dermatitis. Ropey pull toys are often made with toxic dyes and are notorious for becoming entangled in the intestines.
Always monitor how your pet handles a chew product. Ultimately, your pet needs to be able to count on you to keep him safe and healthy!
Jodie Gruenstern,DVM,CVA is a UW-Madison graduate and has been practicing veterinary medicine in Muskego, Wisconsin since 1987. She is a certified veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist by the Chi Institute. Dr. Jodie is the owner of the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, an integrated small animal practice. She has been an advocate for natural pet care through writing, speaking, radio, television and the manufacturing of unique products. Dr. Jodie is founder of the non-profit iPAW: Integrating People for Animal Wellness.