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A vet's guide to safe dog chews for aggressive chewers

safe dog chews for aggressive chewers
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Finding safe dog chews for aggressive chewers can be a daunting task. Even the best dog chew toys available on the market can become the casualty of an overzealous canine's jaws and it's not always easy to know what kind of edible chews will keep your pooch free from accidental injury or acting out destructive behavior.

When choosing a chew for your aggressive chewer, you’ll need to know about the different types of chews available, including the pros and cons of each type. 

This article will give you some tips for picking a safe dog chew for your aggressive chewer; from identifying the safest thing for a dog to chew on to how you can reduce the risk of injury to your pooch (and their toys!) come playtime. 

What's the safest thing for a dog to chew on?

Dog chews come in many forms, but edible and non-edible chews are the two main categories. Non-edible chews are made of a material such as rubber, nylon, or plastic that is not intended to be consumed. Edible chews provide your dog with entertainment and a delicious treat. 

For aggressive chewers, non-edible chews are often a safer choice. Some of these chews have compartments where you can store treats for your pet. This is a great way to give your dog a tasty treat without the risks that come with many edible chews. These toys often provide an added level of difficulty for your pet and require them to work for their food. This is a great way to make the softer dog treats last a little longer for aggressive chewers. 

What are the risks of edible dog chews?

For aggressive chewers, picking a safe edible chew can be difficult. Aggressive chewers often don’t know their limits and can be destructive. Soft chews, such as dental treats, are gobbled up quickly and provide very little entertainment for your pet. 

However, harder chews are not always the answer. Many hard edible chews pose an increased risk of injury and can be difficult for your pet to digest. Bones can splinter and harm your pet’s mouth and digestive tract.

While this is more commonly seen with cooked bones, it is still a risk when feeding raw bones to an aggressive chewer. Likewise, aggressive chewers are more likely to consume these edible treats quickly. These chews can be very rich and are meant to be eaten over time. Consuming the chew too quickly can cause diarrhea and other signs of digestive upset. 

Let's take a closer look at some of the chews that are currently on the market...

Antlers

In recent years, elk antlers and other types of antlers have become increasingly popular in pet-supply stores as a chew toy for dogs. On the plus side, the risk of bacterial contamination or toxicity associated with antlers is low, compared to bones and some other types of chews. On the downside, however, antlers are very hard and unyielding. Chewing antlers can easily lead to dental fractures, especially of the carnassial teeth (the large chewing teeth on either side of the upper jaw, below the eye). Carnassial fractures are painful for your dog and typically require extraction of the affected tooth or advanced dental procedures (such as a root canal). Additionally, swallowed antler fragments can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction. Therefore, many veterinarians recommend against the use of antlers as a chew toy. 

Bones

Bones have long been regarded as a “typical” or “traditional” chew toy for dogs. Unfortunately, there are a number of health risks associated with the use of bones as a dog chew. Giving your dog uncooked bones can lead to food-borne infections, such as Salmonella and E.coli. Bones can also be very hard, causing tooth fractures. Finally, swallowed bones and bone fragments can cause gastrointestinal obstruction. Some individuals cook their dog’s bones to reduce the risk of food-borne illness, but cooked bones are more likely to splinter when chewed. These splinters can cause significant damage to the oral cavity and the intestinal tract, making cooked bones an especially risky option. 

Nylabones

Nylabones are a popular chew toy for dogs. However, like antlers and bones, Nylabones often have a very hard consistency, making them a source of dental fractures among dogs. When purchasing a Nylabone for your dog, look for a soft, flexible Nylabone chew. These chews have some “give” when they are chewed, decreasing the risk of tooth fractures. Even soft Nylabones are not entirely free of risks, though. If your dog chews through a Nylabone and swallows a piece, this could cause an intestinal obstruction, requiring emergency surgical treatment. Soft chews are the best Nylabone option, but they should only be used under close supervision.

Yak chews

Himalayan yak chews are made by boiling yak and cow milk, then drying it over a period of several weeks to create a firm chew. While this might seem to create a natural chew that would be beneficial for dogs, it’s important to understand that yak cheese is very hard once it is dried. Therefore, yak chews can pose the same risk of dental fractures as antlers and hard Nylabones. On the plus side, yak chews are intended to be digestible. If your dog does break off a fragment of a yak chew and swallow it, a gastrointestinal obstruction is unlikely. 

Tendons

Beef tendon chews may be a bit safer for your dog’s teeth than hard chews, assuming that the tendons are processed in a way that still allows them to have a little bit of give. Evaluate tendon chews on a product-by-product basis. You’re looking for something with a jerky-like consistency; if the tendon chew is as hard as a bone, it could pose a risk to your dog’s teeth. Like any other chew, tendon chews should only be offered under supervision. When the chew becomes small enough to potentially swallow, take the chew away to prevent ingestion and a possible intestinal obstruction. 

Dental chews

Dental chews are probably your dog’s best option, but only if you select the right chew. While there are a wide variety of products marketed as “dental chews,” only a small number of dental chews actually have proven oral health benefits. When shopping for a dental chew, look for a seal indicating that the chew is “VOHC accepted” or select a chew from this list. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal indicates that the product has undergone testing to verify its claims of supporting dental health. However, it’s important to note that the VOHC seal only reflects dental benefits and safety. Even products with the VOHC seal could cause an intestinal obstruction if ingested, so it’s important to monitor your dog closely and take chews away when they become small enough to swallow.

How to pick the safest dog chews for aggressive chewers

safe dog chews

(Image credit: Getty Images)

1. Consider how hard it is

When looking for a safe dog chew, it is critical to consider how hard it is. Chews that are too hard can cause fractured teeth and other injuries to the mouth. It is best to pick chews that have some give in them. One way to test how hard a chew is is to tap it against your knee. If the chew is hard enough to hurt your knee, it is too hard for your pet. 

Another test you can do to test the material of dog chews is the fingernail test. When you press your fingernail into the chew, you should feel some give and be able to cause an indentation. Much like the knee cap test, if you cannot do this, the chew is too hard for your dog and may cause injury.

For a non-edible chew, consider toys made of durable rubber. These chews are sturdy and hold up to the wear and tear from aggressive chewers. Use the fingernail test to make sure the rubber is not too hard. Avoid chews that are made of hard plastic or have no give to them. 

2. Pick an appropriately sized chew

When picking a chew for any dog, size is essential. Dog chews that are too small for your dog do not last long enough and can become a choking hazard. This can be of particular concern with aggressive chewers. Aggressive chewers tend to devour chews quickly and may accidentally inhale a smaller chew in their excitement. 

Most chews have a size and weight recommendation on the label. Never pick a chew labeled for dogs smaller than your own. When in doubt, go for the larger chew. Selecting a chew designed for a slightly larger dog may be more durable and last longer with an aggressive chewer. If you are using an edible chew, be cautious in how much you allow your dog to eat in one sitting. 

3. Supervise your pet

All dog chews have the potential to become dangerous for your pet, especially when you have an aggressive chewer. You must understand the risks when introducing your dog to a new chew. As mentioned, these risks include injuries to the mouth, choking hazards, and potential ingestion. Examine the chew closely and pay attention to any warning on the packaging.

If your dog is normally rough on chews, ensure they only have access to the chew under supervision. Keep a close eye on your dog and remove the chew if the chew becomes too damaged. While the tips in this article can help you pick a safer chew, no chew is without risk.

Best dog chews

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Be careful with all dog chews

Finding a safe dog chew for an aggressive chewer can be a difficult task. These dogs can be quite destructive when it comes to their chews and go through them very quickly. Not only can this behavior be frustrating, but it can also put your pet at an increased risk of injury.

If you have concerns about whether a chew is suitable for your dog, consider discussing it with your veterinarian. Veterinarians often deal with the injuries associated with dog chews and can help you determine what is appropriate for your dog. Hopefully, these tips will give you something to consider the next time you look for a new chew for your pet. 

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at www.theveterinarywriter.com and at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eracinedvm/