Most dogs love to chew, which is great as long as they have appropriate items available for their chewing pleasure. Puppies chew things in order to explore their world and to help relieve the discomfort of teething. As adult dogs, chewing provides healthy mental stimulation, exercises the jaw muscles, help keep teeth clean, and chewing (as well as barking) releases endorphins, which makes a dog feel happier. These are all good reasons for you to provide safe healthy chews for furry friend.

Regardless of the type of chew, always monitor your dog while he’s chewing. If you’re trying a new type of chew pay close attention to how your dog “attacks” it. Some dogs may fling a marrow bone across the room in an impatient attempt to get the marrow out faster. Gulpers can swallow incredibly large pieces that can lodge in their throat, choking them. Aggressive chewers can break or wear down their teeth, causing them pain and you expensive dental bills. Be sure to match the chew to the size of your dog and his chewing style. Never allow your dog to chew sticks (splinters can get embedded in the gum, check, throat, etc.) or rocks, which will crack teeth.

Raw bones are part of the ancestral diet of dogs. In the wild coyotes, wolves, and dogs eat all of their prey: meat, bones, and organs. Bones contain needed calcium and bone marrow is rich in collagen and other immune-boosting nutrients. Never give a dog cooked bones! The cooking process changes the molecular structure of bones making them brittle and prone to splintering. Be sure to cut off any scrap meat clinging to a bone, even a ham bone, if you want to share it with your dog.

There are two types of raw bones: edible bones and recreational bones.
  • Edible bones are the hollow, non-weight bearing bones of birds. They are soft, pliable, and easily crushed in a meat grinder. Chicken wings and necks, turkey necks, and oxtails (usually they come from cattle, not oxen) are edible bones.
  • Recreational bones are marrow-filled thick bones, and are meant to be gnawed on, not consumed. Recreational bones include knuckle bones, femurs, and marrow bones.

Raw bones Tucker’s, Primal, Northwest Naturals, and K9 Naturals all package a variety of edible and recreational bones suitable for dogs of all sizes. Look for them in the freezer case.

Raw bones can be messy. You’ll want to keep your dog outside on or an easily cleaned mat while he’s busy chewing. When your dog has finished getting all of the goodness out of the bone, discard it. 

In an ideal world, a dog will peacefully and slowing gnaw on a rawhide bone, causing it (and the residual process chemicals) to melt in his mouth. However, in reality, most dogs aren’t that patient. In their hasate to consume the chew dogs frequently break off and swallow chunks of rawhide. Chucks of rawhide are not easily digested and may cause intestinal blockages. It’s also not uncommon for dogs to swallow whole strips of rawhide and choke on them.

Dental chews are commonly designed to promote dental health, with some containing additional ingredients for other benefits. Read the ingredients on package. Although high quality dental chews can be pricey cost is not always a good indicator of quality. There are some dental chews made primarily of cheap grains that are expensive but not digestible. Ingredients matter much more than the cute shape of the chew. Pet Naturals of Vermont, Terrabone, and CloudStar all use quality ingredients in their chews.

Pig, cow, and lamb ears, bully sticks/pizzles, and tendons are all common chews. These animal parts are composed primarily of cartilage, and cartilage is a good natural source of glucosamine chondroitan. As with all chews select the right size of chew for your dog. You may think a big chew is more economical for a little dog, but unless you know can control chew time and when to take away the chew, stay with a size that fits. Too much of any treat can spoil your dog’s appetite for dinner, and maybe breakfast, or even lead to digestive upset. Look for pizzles that have been properly cleaned such as Artvark and The Natural Dog Company. These chews really don’t smell once they start being chewed.

Elk and deer antlers (in some areas you might find moose and reindeer antlers) are also natural chews. Antlers can be ideal for the puppy who needs to chew a lot. They can be pricey, but elk antlers last much longer than other chews. Be sure to select the right size for your pooch and discard the antler if your chewer begins to break pieces off of it. This shouldn't happen, but it may if your dog is a very aggressive chewer.

Rawhide chews are made from the inner layer of cattle hide, and are a by-product of the leather industry. Since there are very few US tanneries, rawhide chews are usually a product of China, even though the cattle are commonly US in origin. Fresh rawhide is treated with chemicals such as lye to cause the different layers of skin to separate. Some layers are used to make leather goods, and less desirable layers are processed into various types of dog chew. Even if you select a premium US-made rawhide, they are still a by-product of a chemical-intense manufacturing process.

The bottom line with bones and chews is this: the vast majority of dogs, especially those who don’t get enough physical activity, LOVE to chew. You’ll need to find them appropriate chews or else they’ll find something to chew that you may not want chewed. With this in mind, select chews that are appropriate for their size and style of chewing, and when possible, couple this with a chew that includes a nutritional component.

One final note: Don’t forget to consider calories per chew, especially if you’re watching your dog’s weight. Makers of “formed” chews often include the calorie count on their package. Ears, bully sticks, tendons, etc., contain a variable amount of calories. Marrow bones are very high in fat. Regardless of what chew you give your do, practice moderation — you don’t want your dog filling up on a tasty chew instead of his dinner.