The Best Dog Chews

The dog chew market is BIG business.  There are lots of great products out there but it can be hard to know what the best thing to give to your dog is. What is safe, what is good for them nutritionally, what is best for their tummy and your purse?  In this article, we try to give you an objective look at the pros and cons of some of the more popular options.

Why Can Chews be Useful?

Appropriate chews can be useful and beneficial for a number of reasons including the following:

Dental Hygiene

Did you know that periodontal disease (bacterial infection of the teeth/gums) is the most common disease in adult dogs?  If left untreated it can cause bad breath, severe pain, tooth loss and in extreme cases it can lead to heart or other organ problems.  

Nothing can work as effectively as regular and thorough toothbrushing and it is a good idea to follow good dental hygiene practices and get your dog used to having their teeth brushed daily from a young age.

Appropriate chews can also aid in keeping teeth clean when given regularly enough.

The chewing action can help to keep tartar from building up and there are also chews that contain specific enzymes that will help with reducing the formation of plaque too.

Chews Can Help to Alleviate Boredom

Chews can help to keep your dog entertained and stimulated.  It is important to ensure that your dog is also getting sufficient daily exercise and other mental and physical stimulation, dog sports, training exercises and brain train games can all be great things to involve your dog in.  

Chews can also be useful if your dog is on crate rest, you have guests and you want your dog to settle for a while or perhaps if there is extremely wild wintry weather limiting how much exercise they can get.

Don’t forget that edible chews can cause your dog to put on weight if given too often.  It is important to ration the chews to ensure you are not causing your dog to become obese as a result of over treating.

Chews Can Be Useful as a Training Reward/Distraction for Certain Circumstances

If you are working on crate training your dog and you want to reward them for settling for a while, giving them a chew as a reward can encourage them to go into the crate.  It can help you build up the time they stay in it and also give your dog a positive association with the crate.

It can also be good to give them if they are slightly nervous or excitable when travelling in a car (as long as they do not suffer from travel sickness).  This will generally only work for mild cases of anxiety though as extremely stressed dogs will usually be too worked up to take treats or chews.

Perhaps you are working on getting your dog to settle in a dog-friendly restaurant or cafe or you want to encourage them to settle when you have visitors. Maybe you want to give them it in a vet waiting room to ensure they have positive associations with visiting a place that can potentially be scary.

Some Popular Chew Options

All chews carry an element of risk and we always recommend supervising, but the following options are natural, digestible and not so hard that they are likely to cause a blockage or damage to the teeth.

Bully Sticks

Probably the most popular natural dog treat around, despite what they are made from.  There is no nice way of describing Bully Sticks, sometimes also called Pizzles, given that they are pieces of Bulls penis!

A good quality pizzle can be quite a long lasting chew. It does, of course, depend on the individual dog.  The super power chewers can get through an average Bully Stick in 5 or ten minutes but for some dogs, it can take around half an hour or even more to get through one.  They do vary in size, quality and aroma (they can be pretty whiffy) and there are also some chews that are made up of braided pizzles and these will last even longer.  They are very digestible and providing your dog does not have an intolerance or allergy to beef they tend to be a good chew option to introduce for your dog.

It is always good to buy your Bully Sticks from a reputable brand that obtains their supplies from an ethical source.  The brand Best Bully Sticks are well known and regarded for their good quality, sourcing and manufacturing processes.

Fish Skin Chews

Fish Skin chews are very popular if your dog has an allergy or intolerance to red meat, poultry or grains, which are contained in a lot of dog treats and chews.  They are also good if you have a dog that is on a diet and you are looking for something lower in fat.

Whilst these are classed as chews they are often more like a longer lasting crunchy biscuit so, for dogs that are not aggressive chewers, they may last a bit longer but generally, they do not survive as long as the likes of Bully Sticks.

They come in a wide variety of shapes but often the strips are the most popular style.  There are a number of brands that supply these types of chews and, again, it is always good to make sure you purchase from a supplier that selects their fish from sustainable sources.

The Honest Kitchen Beams Ocean Chews are a popular choice and well reviewed.  Just watch where you let your dog eat these as they are a bit whiffy!

Digestible Animal Body Parts

There are a lot of air-dried animal body parts that can make good natural chew options.  Ideally, you want to select items that are not too hard as they can pose a choking hazard and, if a big piece if swallowed, it is not so easy to digest.  Some popular options, if you are not too squeamish, include beef trachea, tendons, chicken feet and more.  Look for products that are from reputable brands and ethical sources.

Always supervise your dog with these types of products.

Carrots

Looking for something super healthy, quite long lasting, inexpensive and easy to digest?  Why not give your dog a raw carrot to gnaw on. Okay, some super fussy dogs will not be sold on it but they are great for dieting dogs, they are generally gentle on the tummy, they do not smell, will not leave greasy stains on your carpet or furnishings and if your toddler picks up a piece it is not going to be as unhygienic as them trying to chew on a Bully Stick!

They can also be popped in the freezer and they can make a good teething stick for puppies or help keep your dog cool on a hot day.

Do still keep an eye on your dog as, if they break a large piece off and try to swallow it whole, it could present a choking hazard.

A carrot can be a great healthy, inexpensive alternative to a normal dog chew

Sweet Potato Chews

Dog chews and treats made out of sweet potato are becoming more popular.  They are healthy, low fat, easy to digest and great for dogs with allergies or intolerances and they are only made from the one ingredient.  The dehydrated chew versions, whilst obviously not as long lasting as the likes of a Bully Stick, can be good for puppies, elderly dogs or those that are not power chewers.

Sam’s Yams Sweet Potato Dog Chewz are a popular brand, made in the USA and well reviewed.

What Chews Carry a Greater Risk

There are some chews on the market, even those that are very popular, that can actually pose a more serious risk to your dog’s health.  We have highlighted some of the more controversial chews on the market to allow you to make a more informed decision about whether you want to give them to your dog.  There is no absolute right or wrong answer. It is all about personal choice.

Antler Dog Chews

In the last decade pieces of deer antler as a dog chew have grown in popularity immensely.  Initially, they were only seen as a good thing. They are extremely tough so they last a lot longer than most other edible chews, they are able to be obtained without any cruelty through the natural shedding process, they do not smell like some other natural dog chews and they are so tough that they are ground down very gradually and so big pieces will not break off meaning that there is very little risk of choking or a blockage occuring.  There are some dogs that are not so keen on them as they cannot eat them the same way as they would other chews or because they are fussier and they are not super tasty, but generally, the initial reviews were great.

What’s not to love about that right?

As they grew in popularity there were an increasing number of reports of dogs breaking or chipping teeth on the antlers because they are just so hard.  Not only can this be painful for your dog, it sometimes can go on unnoticed for a while and then it can lead to gum infection and sometimes surgery is required to remove the tooth or correct any problems.  This can be expensive and it is obviously putting your dog through a procedure they would not have needed otherwise.

Many vets, especially those that specialise in dentistry, are strongly recommending that people do not give these types of chews to their dogs.

If you want long-lasting and safe, why not invest in a Kong or another stuffable dog toy?


Deer Antlers as dog chews have become popular because they are long lasting and do not present such a choking hazard.  They are so hard though that they can cause damage to your dog’s teeth

Horns and Hoofs

Buffalo horns and filled hoofs are also another popular choice.  Again these are unlikely to splinter or have pieces that will break off and they are very long lasting.  Like the antler though, these do carry a risk of your dog cracking or breaking a tooth on them because of their density.

Bones – Particularly Cooked Ones

Raw bones are very popular, especially given the growing trend in raw feeding.  There are raw bones out there that are relatively safe to give. Raw chicken bones are popular as they are less dense than some, meaning they are less likely to cause any tooth damage and they are also easier to break down and digest.  They still should always be given supervised and there are some vets that are not keen on dogs having any sort of raw bone. This will be a judgement call the individual owner will have to make.

Cooked bones though are widely regarded as being too dangerous for your dog.  The bones become brittle once they are cooked and can easily break off in sharp shards and these can be very dangerous for your dog.


Care and consideration is needing when deciding whether to give your dog a bone and NEVER feed cooked bones to dogs, it is extremely dangerous

Rawhide

Rawhide has probably become one of the more controversial dog chews of recent years.  I must confess to having previously given them to my dogs with no ill effects but there have been a number of reported chokings, blockages and even exposure to dangerous toxins through feeding hide chews.

They are very difficult to digest and this means that if a bigger piece is ingested it can sometimes become stuck and this can prove to be life-threatening in some cases.  Some dogs will break off a piece and it will get stuck in their throat and, if it goes too far back, it can prove difficult and sometimes, without veterinary intervention, impossible to get out.  There are also suppliers of hide that use dangerous chemicals to treat the hide and these can pose a health risk to our dogs.

Whilst there are still a number of vets that feed hide to their own dogs, there are an increasing number that are advising against feeding these types of chews to your dogs.

If you do, make sure it is from a reputable brand with transparent sourcing methods, that you always supervise very carefully and, if your dog is greedy and will pull off big chunks, then you would be better giving them a safer alternative.


Rawhide chews have become increasingly controversial due to the choking hazard they present, the difficulty some dogs can have with digesting them and the toxic chemicals that have been used to treats some brands of hide

Yak Chews

This is another one that has become more popular in recent years.  It is made out of a combination of yak and cow’s milk and can be quite a long lasting chew that does not have any nasty additive and they are often sourced from Farmers in the Himalayas so they have good Fair Trade appeal.

Sometimes they can break off into sharp pieces though and these can be swallowed whole and pose a choking hazard.  

If you do feed these to your dog, make sure you supervise carefully and always remove the end before it becomes a stump they could easily swallow whole.

The chews can be put into the microwave for a few seconds and they puff up into a crunchy biscuit-like treat and this is obviously a safer way to feed them to your dog.

Be Aware of Sensitive Tummies

Whatever type of chew you are giving your dog, it is always a good idea to introduce them to your dog gradually and watch out for any tummy sensitivities.  Big chews especially may just be too much for a dog with a sensitive tummy, especially if it is a product that they would have to work harder to digest anyway.

Supervision is Important

Supervision with any chew is always recommended. No matter how seemingly safe they are, all it takes is one minute for your dog to decide to swallow a big piece of something and for this to present a choking hazard.

Young Puppies Should Stick With Safe Chew Toys

For young puppies whose digestive systems are perhaps not as robust and who may not have got the knack of really chewing properly, we would always recommend waiting until they are older before introducing harder edible chews.  If you want to give them something to satisfy that teething urge then stick with a carrot, a knotted up and frozen tea towel or a hard wearing treat toy that can be stuffed with tasty goodies instead.  Investing in a Kong or a West Paw Designs Tux or another interactive treat toy is a really good investment at this stage.


Offer your dog safe chew toys as an alternative to edible chews whilst they are going through the puppy teething phase

Elderly Dogs May Require Sometimes Softer

As your dog gets older, their teeth may not be in such pristine condition anymore.  They may have suffered from some wear and tear, they may even have had some teeth removed. Sometimes older dogs may no longer be able to manage with the super tough chews that they used to have.  You may need to start giving your dog slightly softer, easier to digest options that they can manage to eat without such a great effort.

Watch Out For Guarding of Chews

Some dogs that are absolutely fine with food and treats may actually take to guarding the longer lasting chews.  Because they can’t be gobbled down straight away, the dog has them for longer and they may worry that this prized and super tasty chew is going to be taken away from them so they guard it in an attempt to ward off any attempt to move it.

This is not good behaviour to encourage.  Not only is it not fair on your dog to be in a heightened state of anxiety like this but the more it goes on the worse it can become, they may get more aggressive with their guarding and they can also start to guard other things more too.

It is really important that you help your dog understand that you are not a threat and that, if the chew is removed it is not a bad thing and actually other good things will come if they give it up (like a super tasty treat).  For more guidance on how to deal with this issue in the right way see our article on resource guarding.

If your dog starts to guard their chews, it is important that you start working on helping them understand that giving up the chew willingly will mean that more good things follow for them (photo credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-bone-pet-puppy-canine-963970/)

Every Dog is Different With Their Chewing Power

Don’t forget that every dog is an individual and what works best for one dog may not be right for another.

Some dogs have super powerful jaws and a very strong desire to chew and they will need plenty of tough and interactive chew toys and even things like Bully Sticks may not actually last all that long for them.  They may have a big, thick pizzle and it is gone within five or ten minutes!

There are other dogs that are not aggressive chewers and the same Bully Stick could maybe be with them for a few days.  They may just gently nibble on the end now and again.

Some dogs are particularly fussy and only want super tasty, super moist training treats and won’t be tempted by any chew.

You are just going to have to go through some trial and error and you can’t always go by what your dog-owning friend has recommended for her dog.

Watch Your Dog’s Waistline

Don’t forget that chews, especially bigger ones, that are given regularly can have an impact on your dog’s waistline.  Given that dog obesity is such a big problem in North America, you really need to be mindful of how often you are given them and balance it up with an appropriate amount of exercise and the right portion of a balanced diet.  Although some people will cut back their dog’s daily food ration to allow them to have a chew without putting on excess weight, you don’t want to cut it back so much that they are losing out on the more important nutrients they will get from their normal food in comparison with a chew.

Tough Treats Toys are Always a Great Alternative

Not sure if you want to give your dog any harder chew, perhaps your dog has a very sensitive tummy,  serious allergy or a dietary related medical condition and you haven’t found anything that will work for them?  Maybe you don’t have the budget to be topping up on expensive dog chews all the time for your dog.

Investing in some good, interactive and tough treats toys is always recommended.  Not only can you select some very well reviewed ones that will withstand the jaws of even the most powerful chewers, but if you have a few to rotate and you stuff them with inventive fillings or even just some of their own food soaked (a great option if they are on a diet or have allergies), then you can keep them entertained for hours.  It is also better in the long term for your purse strings even though the toys are more expensive than a chew, they will last for years to come.

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