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Antlers for dogs: Our vet breaks down the pros and cons of this popular chew

Antlers for dogs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Antlers for dogs can seem like a great option when it comes to keeping your pooch occupied and their teeth clean. But had you ever thought about whether they could be doing more harm than good to your furry friend’s teeth? Antlers are incredibly hard, which means they take a lot of chewing before they disintegrate, which might seem like a good quality in a chew! But what are the risks associated with antler chews? And are they suitable for all dogs, or should dogs of certain ages and sizes avoid them altogether? Let's find out!

Pros and cons of antlers for dogs

Antlers are a naturally tough consistency. This means that they provide good friction against the teeth without the addition of any additives and preservatives. Because they are made of bone, they don’t contain the fat and calories of other chews, so your pooch won’t pile on the pounds. Their firm nature also means that they will keep your dog entertained for much longer than some other softer chews before they disintegrate. They are also a source of minerals, including calcium, making them a healthier option than some other chews.

With so many potential benefits, you would be forgiven for thinking that antlers are the perfect choice for your pooch. However, there are some potential dangers when it comes to antlers. 

Firstly, antlers are so hard they can crack or fracture your dog's teeth. Not only are broken teeth painful, but they can also become infected. Therefore, if a tooth has become damaged and the pulp cavity exposed, it must either be extracted or a tooth canal performed. When your dog chews an antler, large or sharp pieces of the antler can break off. These fragments might cause a gut blockage or even pierce the stomach or intestines. If your dog does get a gut blockage, or the guts become damaged by pieces of antler, they may need an operation to remove the blockage and repair the damage. Unfortunately, if bacteria from the gut have leaked out into the abdomen, the infection can be fatal.

Are puppies allowed antlers?

Just like human babies, puppies have small temporary teeth that are replaced at around six months old by adult teeth. These temporary teeth are very fragile, with short roots, and could easily be damaged by chewing on firm objects like antlers. Another reason antlers are not suitable for puppies is that a puppy's jawbones are still growing and may not tolerate the force of chewing on an antler. For similar reasons, small breed dogs are also more susceptible to damage to their teeth and jaws, so choosing an appropriately sized antler or avoiding them altogether is essential.

At what age can puppies have split antlers?

Although many split antlers are suggested to be softer and more suitable for puppies, they are still a risk. So, it wouldn't be advisable to give a puppy any antler chew until their adult teeth have come through entirely and their bones are more mature. Therefore, a minimum age of eight to ten months would be sensible.

Which antlers are best for dogs?

Antlers for dogs: Dog chewing on antler

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Antler chews will never be entirely safe for any dog, and the risks of damage to the teeth, mouth, jaw, or guts will always be there. However, if you choose to give your dog antler chews, there are some ways to minimize the risk. Firstly, you should always supervise your dog if they have an antler chew to ensure that they don't choke or swallow any loose pieces. It's also very important to choose the right antler size for your dog, as smaller dogs could have issues with large antlers. Finally, check the antler regularly for signs of cracks, damage, or sharp edges, and dispose of it if there are any weakened areas.

Since many of the risks associated with antlers are due to them being so hard, you might wonder how to soften deer antlers to minimize the risk to your dog. Understandably, you might think you have to boil deer antlers for your dog. However, the risk of boiling antlers is that they can become more likely to splinter, and these shards can block or damage the intestine.

How long do antlers for dogs last?

Antlers for dogs can last between six months to a year, making them long-lasting entertainment for your furry friend. However, during use, they might become damaged and weakened, at which point they should be discarded. Preventing your dog from using an antler if it is visibly cracked or splintered will help to reduce their risk.

So, are antlers safe for dogs?

Although there are potential benefits to giving your dog antlers, there are also many health risks associated with them. So, the best advice is to avoid them altogether and use a safer alternative. There are better ways to keep your pet’s smile healthy and shining bright, including toothbrushing and feeding dry kibble. On the other hand, if you do want to give your dog antlers, make sure you're there to keep an eye on them and that you dispose of the chew if it starts to look like a hazard. That way, you'll be making sure your canine companion is as safe as possible.

Dr Hannah Godfrey is a small animal vet with a love of dentistry and soft tissue surgery. She lives in Wales with her partner, son, and their two cats.