Hard natural toys designed for chewing
Today's dog owner has a staggering variety of chew toys available. A few of the hard natural chews have a long commercial history while others have only arrived more recently.
Hard natural chew toys made from various animal parts
The above photo of hard natural chew toys includes an assortment of bones, an antler and a hoof.
As you can imagine there are pros and cons to most of these.
Why its important to have a variety of chew toys available for your dog
Some chew toys will fall in and out of favor with your dog. Not every chew toy will be your dog's #1 favorite all of the time. The important thing to keep in mind is that you want variety.
First, a little about why hard natural chew toys?
Chew toys serve a number of very useful roles when it comes to shaping your dog's behavior. Chewing is a way for dogs to relax and you can take advantage of this when you want to work on their quiet time.
A good time to pull out a chew toy is when you want your dog to lay in a designated spot and remain there for awhile. A designated bed is ideal for this. When you first begin, use a high value chew to get them accustomed to chewing in their bed. With repetition you can start to use lower value chews.
The same idea can be applied to crate training. Getting your dog used to being in a crate for short periods of time is much easier if they have something to chew on while passing the time.
For more detailed information on how to use toys for training different types of behavior, see our page related to toys and training behaviors.
Understanding your dog's chewing style is critical for their safety.
The very first thing you must do is become familiar with your dog's chewing style. Observe how your dog chews on different types of toys. Is your dog an aggressive chewer or a gentle chewer? It is essential to understand this about your dog.
You never want to leave them chewing unattended with a toy they can chew into little pieces.
Giving your dog the wrong type of bone or chew toy can kill or cause them serious injury.
For most dog's, one of the many natural chew toys will be at the top of their chewing list. The most ccommon include bones, antlers, rawhide, hooves, ears and bully sticks, but the list continues to grow as more animal parts find their way into the pet market for dogs. For more about rawhide, bully sticks, ears and others see the discussion on soft natural chews.
For this discussion, hard natural chew toys include all varieties of raw and processed bones, antlers, hooves and horns. Edible bones such as chicken wings and other hollow or non-load bearing bones that can be easily crushed and digested are not intended for extended chewing. We will refer to these as treats because they can be chewed up and swallowed immediately.
Pay attention to how your dog responds to different types of chew toys. Like treats, chew toys are ranked from low to high value depending on your dog's preferences.
How to choose from a wide assortment of animal parts made into chew toys.
All varieties of bones, antlers, horns and hooves
Bones are a good option. However, not all bones are created equal. The type of bone your dog will do well with depends on whether they are an aggressive chewer or a more moderate chewer.
Bones that have been smoked, steamed or baked become more brittle. This can present a problem for the more aggressive chewers because they will quickly begin breaking off small pieces which can get lodged in their esophagous or worse. For gentle chewers these are probably safe, but as always, keep an eye on the bone.
Beef bones are available in a number of different forms. The smoked variety are extremely popular with dogs because of their strong aroma. The Sarge by Merrick has a lot of meat and sinew left on the bone and knuckle so it will occupy most dogs for a good length of time. Because much of the knuckle is included, keep an eye on their chewing progress and when they get down to these small pieces remove them. Merrick is a reputable producer of high quality, natural pet products based in Hereford, Texas. The beef bones are sourced local and processed chemical free.
If the Sarge is too much bone, try the G.I. Bone by Merrick which is just a 3 inch section of the femur bone.
If you wish to avoid the mess of smoked bones, an alternative are the cooked beef bones. As a good option, try the large beef bones from Redbarn. Redbarn production is all out of Great Bend, Kansas. Their beef bones are all local and produced naturally without the use of chemicals, preservatives or colors. These bones are available as a hollow Natural White Bone or stuffed with either Peanut Butter, Chicken, Lamb Flavor or Beef.
Raw bones that still have much of the sinew left are probably the best route. The sinew helps to clean between the teeth. The raw, meaty knuckle bones are great for this. The femur bones are also very popular but if your dog has powerful jaws they can easily crush these bones breaking off small pieces.
Some animal bones are harder than others. Bison and beef are extremly hard. Ham and lamb are softer. If your dog is a power chewer, too hard a bone will result in broken teeth. The best approach is size up making it more difficult for your dog to get the whole bone in their mouth, especially toward the back of the mouth. This prevents them from exerting maximum power when biting down. A good choice for a large ham bone is the Hambone Meaty Pork Bone by Merrick.
Antlers are also extremely popular with dogs. Typically, they come from either deer or elk and grow as an extension of the skull. Antlers are considered even harder than the raw beef or bison bones so these should only be an option for the non-aggressive chewer.
Antlers are shed seasonally so most of the antlers used in the "Made in USA" dog chew market are scavanged from areas populated by deer or elk.
Another benefit reported for antlers is that they don't splinter. It is uncommon for a dog to crack off pieces of antler, especially the fresh ones that were shed recently.
Antler composition is high in protein as well as minerals. So, too much of a good thing will lead to diahrea. A common observation by many who use antlers report soft stools if their dog chews excessively on an antler.
Antlers require no chemical processing and at most they are pressure washed before going to market. While antlers may seem a little pricey as a chew toy, they long outlast most other hard chew toys which more than makes up for it.
Are antlers safe for your dog?
Veterinary professionals report a marked increase in slab fractures of the maxillary carnassial teeth which are at the back of the mouth. This is a new presentation and thought to be directly attributed to chewing on antlers.
So if your dog is a gentle to medium chewer, antlers might be a good option for you. Be careful to match the size of the antler with your dog to avoid having them break off the tips and swallow them whole.
Deer antlers are typically narrower and much denser than elk. If your dog takes the antler between the back teeth and tries to bite down hard to break the antler, remove it immediately because breaking teeth is a real possibility. If on the other hand they tend to just gnaw at an end, shaving it down your're probably in luck. Therefore, the thinking is avoid deer antlers and stick to elk if your dog is even a moderately aggressive chewer.
Elk antlers are not as hard as deer because there is a greater marrow to outer shell ratio. Because elk antlers tend to be much thicker, its harder for many dogs to get them into the back of their jaws. Also, the surface of elk antlers tends to be much rougher which the dogs enjoy as they try to gnaw at the surface.
Horns differ from antlers in that they are not entirely composed of bone. Rather, there is a small internal piece of bone that is an extension of the skull which is then covered by a sheath of specialized hair follicles made of keratin. In most cases, either the internal bone has been removed and a peanut butter paste has been put in its place or the horn is left hollow.
This is an important difference because the horns are not solid or as hard as antlers. Instead, they are partially hollow and more brittle. Depending on how hollow the horn is determines how thin the horn wall will be. Goat horns are usually much thicker while beef horns tend to be very thin. Many dogs will easily splinter the horn while chewing it up, especially if they are a more aggressive chewer. So gauge your dog's chewing style carefully when picking out a horn for chewing.
All Natural Beef hooves have also arrived on the market and are available in most pet stores and online.
These products, like the buffalo horns, tend to be more brittle and are easily chewed into splinters. Most dog owners agree, their dogs love them, but many will also point out their dog chews them into small pieces very quickly.
The other important consideration with hooves is knowing their country of origin. Country of origin is required on the packaging and you should avoid hooves that are not labeled "Made in the USA".
Again, confirming the country of origin for any of these chew toys is essential to avoid the risk of exposing your dog to unwanted toxins and preservatives.
In addition to bones, antlers, horns and hooves, there are a whole group of chew toys made from the softer parts of animals. These would include rawhide, ears, bully sticks, trachea and more and are discussed on the Soft Natural Chews page.
Manufactured hard chews from natural ingredients
In recent years a number of products have appeared in the stores which are hard chew toys made from a combination of natural ingredients. Pay attention to size, many of these products come in very small sizes and may be inappropriate for large dogs. For example, the GREENIES Dental Treats, the WHIMZEES Dental Treats and the Himalayan Dog Chews are several products that come in a variety of shapes and are intended to help clean teeth and stimulate the gums while being a healthy alternative.
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