Don’t Chew On This!

Dogs explore their environment with their mouths, and chewing is a natural instinctive behavior that they need for good mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, chewing can be destructive, which can be problematic for dog owners. One of the best ways to thwart this behavior is to provide appropriate chew toys.

However, not all chew toys are created equal, and some aren’t safe for your canine friend. Let’s look closely at why dogs chew and what they should and shouldn’t chew.

Chocolate lab puppy laying on wooden floor chewing on dog bone

Puppy chewing on toy

Dogs explore their environment with their mouths, and chewing is a natural instinctive behavior that they need for good mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, chewing can be destructive, which can be problematic for dog owners. One of the best ways to thwart this behavior is to provide appropriate chew toys.

However, not all chew toys are created equal, and some aren’t safe for your canine friend. Let’s look closely at why dogs chew and what they should and shouldn’t chew.

Why do dogs chew?

Chewing serves many purposes, including:

  • Investigation — Think of chewing as vital research your dog conducts to better understand their world. They use their mouth and nose rather than fingers to investigate objects in their environment. Some of these objects, of course, end up with a few tooth marks.
  • Pain relief — Like human babies, puppies feel discomfort as their new teeth push through their gums, and chewing helps to relieve some of the pain.
  • Boredom prevention — Chewing is your canine friend’s equivalent to scrolling through social media posts when you want to kill a few extra minutes. Bored dogs are often naughty—barking excessively, digging, and destroying your belongings—so encouraging appropriate chewing is important.
  • Self-comfort — Many dogs resort to chewing to soothe themselves when they are anxious or frustrated.
  • Dental hygiene — Your dog likely doesn’t chew with their dental hygiene in mind, but chewing does help remove some plaque and tartar from their teeth, especially if you choose appropriate chew toys.

What are potential chew toy complications for my dog?

Are you wondering how a little chew toy can harm your dog? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Your dog can ingest broken parts or internal stuffing, which can cause an intestinal blockage.
  • Your pup could choke on broken pieces or too-small chew toys.
  • Hard chews, such as bones, sticks, rocks, yak milk chews, antlers, and rawhides, can damage or fracture your dog’s teeth.
  • Some chews, such as hooves, pig ears, and bully sticks, may be contaminated with bacteria, including Salmonella and E. coli, that can not only cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset, but can also harm you and your family.

How do I determine what chew toys are safe for my dog?

When shopping for chew toys, many options are available. How do you know which are appropriate? When choosing safe chew toys for your dog, consider these factors:

  • Chew style — Every dog is unique, and each pup has their own chewing personality. For example:
    • Passive — Passive chewers are gentle on their toys and may have a favorite plush toy they carry around.
    • Moderate — Most dogs can be classified as moderate chewers who will likely rip apart a soft toy, but not destroy a hard, rubber toy.
    • Aggressive — Aggressive or power chewers tend to destroy toys in minutes and gulp treats whole.
  • Size — Size matters when choosing your dog’s chew toys. A toy designed for a miniature poodle isn’t appropriate for your Great Dane and vice versa. Many toys have size-specific labels, but generally, chews should be bigger than your dog’s snout and slightly wider than their mouth. Pro tip: Chew toys for an aggressive chewer should be one size above their recommended size range.
  • Hardness — Extremely hard chews can break or damage your dog’s teeth. Use these tests to determine if your canine friend’s chew is too hard:
    • Thumbnail test — Press your thumbnail into the chew toy surface. If you can’t leave an indentation, the toy is too hard.
    • Bending test — Your pup’s chew toys should bend slightly.
    • Hammer test — If a toy is so hard that you can’t drive a nail through, your dog shouldn’t be chewing it.
  • Durability — Your dog should not be able to easily rip apart their chew toys, so they won’t ingest broken pieces or inside stuffing.
  • Coating — Avoid toys such as pig ears and bully sticks that are coated or treated with flavoring, which are sometimes contaminated with bacteria and can cause digestive upset.
What chew toys are safe for my dog?

While you have many considerations when choosing your pup’s chew toys, you can find safe, appropriate options that meet your canine friend’s chewing needs. Our recommendations include:

  • Veterinary approved — Look for products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. These chew treats are deemed safe and effective at promoting your pup’s oral health.
  • Going green — Test your pup’s palate with healthy fruits and vegetables, such as baby carrots, green beans, apple slices, and blueberries. However, steer clear of grapes, which may be sweet, but are toxic to dogs and can lead to kidney failure.
  • Puzzle toys — Puzzle feeders require your canine friend to use their brain to get to their food, and make mealtime more interesting.

Still have concerns about your dog’s chewing habits or questions about appropriate dental chews? Reach out to your AAHA-accredited veterinary practice for advice.

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