The Trendy Dog Chew That’s an Extreme Choking Hazard

Story at-a-glance -

  • In the second half of her two-part video on the dos and don’ts of recreational chews and bones for dogs, Dr. Becker discusses the various types of dog chews on the market today.
  • Rawhide chews are processed skin, and while some types are safer than others, they all carry a higher choking and intestinal obstruction risk than other types of recreational chews. Tendon chews are a very popular item right now, but the ones you buy for your pet should be labeled as to their country of origin and location of processing. And we recommend the very longest size chew.
  • Pizzles (made from penises) can be dangerously small even for the tiniest dogs, and pig ears are a common location for hormone implant injections in live food animals. Feeding these products to your dog could lead to a buildup over time of concentrated residues that could be harmful to your pet’s health.
  • Some chews are fully edible and can be a good choice for certain dogs, including scarfers. Some edible dental bones may contain questionable ingredients, so read labels carefully. Synthetic chews made of rubber or plastic are not recommended, especially with such a wide variety of healthier options available.
  • In multi-dog households, monitoring dog-to-dog interactions when offering recreational bones and chews is extremely important. The most coveted resource of the dogs in your home is often a favorite bone or chew. Never underestimate how protective a dog can become when another dog or person tries to “steal” his bone.

By Dr. Becker

This is the second half of my two-part video on the dos and don’ts of chews and bones for your dog. In part one I discussed how to select appropriate bones or chews for your dog, the best bones for scarfers and aggressive chewers, the various types and sizes of raw bones, and recreational vs. edible bones.

In today’s video I’ll be discussing the various types of dog chews on the market.

It seems over the last 100 years or so, human food manufacturers have figured out how to market almost all leftover animal body parts to the dog treat industry, from traditional beef rawhides to the now-popular pizzles, tracheas and flossies. All types of skin, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue and cartilaginous body parts are made into dog chews.

Rawhide Chews: There's Nothing "Raw" About Them

Let’s start by taking a look at the oldest chew on the market, the old-fashioned rawhide. The name “rawhide” is technically incorrect. A more accurate name would be processed-hide, because the skin isn’t raw at all. But the term “rawhide” has stuck.

Rawhide dog chews are processed skin, and although some are safer than others, for example, the organic variety, rawhides carry a higher choking risk than other types of recreational chews due to their consistency. Rawhide chews start out hard, but as your dog works the chew it becomes softer, and eventually he can unknot the knots on each end and the chew takes on the consistency of a slimy piece of taffy or bubble gum. And by that time your dog cannot stop working it -- it becomes almost addictive.

At this point, there’s no longer any dental benefit to the chew because it has turned soft and gooey, and in fact, it has become a choking and intestinal obstruction hazard. Once your dog has worked a rawhide chew until it is soft, I recommend you take it away, set it aside, and let it harden back up before offering it again.

Rawhides come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny twists to giant knotted bones. They also come all natural, bleached (which is pure white), or basted. Rawhides that are basted or flavored have been treated with dye, coloring, and probably preservatives. If you opt to offer rawhides to your dog, you should supervise chewing sessions.

You should also make sure the product comes from U.S. (or other safe countries of origin, such as Canada or New Zealand) animals, which will mean they will cost about four times as much as a bulk, non-U.S. rawhide chew. It should be manufactured in the U.S. and should not contain added coloring, artificial flavorings or preservatives – so make sure to read package labels.

If you have an aggressive chewer, get the biggest all-natural rawhide available. Rawhide chews need to be larger than the size of your dog’s head, and once the rawhide has been chewed down to about half its original size, you should consider discarding it and getting a new one. This means you’ll be wasting about half of every chew, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Better to toss out the remaining rawhide than end up at the emergency veterinary clinic because your dog has an intestinal obstruction.

Trending Now: Tendon Chews

Tendon chews have become very popular in the last several years. These chews are long and slender, and dogs love them. Like rawhides, these types of chew can also become very soft and pliable as your dog works on them over time. Because they are ropey, and some of them are very small, long and thin, they present a significant choking risk for most dogs. The nice thing about these chews is they come from a variety of different animal sources, but the small ones are risky for even the tiniest dog.

You can find tendon chews in small, medium and extra-long sizes. As with rawhides, I recommend buying these chews from stores with good product turnover. The chews should be labeled as to their origin and ingredients, and I recommend getting the very long ones so that when your dog works them down you can discard them rather than risk your dog swallowing the last of them whole. If you don’t know what your dog might do with the remaining remnants of a chew – whether she’ll keep chewing as the piece gets smaller, or she’ll decide to swallow it whole – you should take it away when it gets to that size.

Pizzles: Private Parts

Pizzles, or penises (I’m showing a pig penis in this video), can be very small and I don’t allow even my smallest dog, a 10-pound Dachshund, to chew something that small. It’s just too risky. I know him well enough that if I gave him a pig pizzle and then tried to take it back after he whittled it down, he’d play “Catch me if you can.” I’d never catch him and while he was running from me, he’d be chewing and swallowing what was left of the thing. So even for my gentle chewers, I buy very long tendons and when they wear them down, I give a “Drop It” command (a very important command in my house!), then I pick them up, toss them in the trash, and offer them a new chew the next time around.

As a good point of reference, I recommend you remove any chew product once you can’t see it sticking out two inches on either side of your dog’s mouth. If you see your dog chewing away and you can’t see much or any of the product sticking out of her mouth, there’s significant risk she could choke or swallow the remainder whole and cause an obstruction in her GI tract. It’s important to try to get that small piece away from her so you can throw it away.

Pig Ears: A Common Location for Hormone Implant Injections

Pig ears have historically been very popular dog chews. My concern with pig ears, or ears from any mass-produced food animal, is that the ears are a very common location for hormone implant injections (in live food animals). If this is the case with the ears you’re offering, your dog is consuming an abnormally high amount of concentrated residues from that particular body part, which over time can be detrimental to her health. If you’re able to find ears from free-range, organically raised animals, then obviously you can avoid the problem.

Are Your Dog's Chews Attracting Opportunistic Bacteria?

Remember that all meat chews and bones that are stored at room temperature have the potential to grow opportunistic bacteria over time. You’ll see some products marked as having been irradiated to remove potentially harmful bacteria. Some people feel more comfortable purchasing irradiated bones and chews, and some people don’t. If you don’t, it’s especially important to know the source of the product, the supplier, and the turnover time before you offer these items to your pet.

If you opt to buy frozen bones (which aren’t irradiated), once the bones thaw, you must be aware of the potential for bacterial growth because they can attract bacteria over time at room temperature.

Fully Edible Chews: Ideal for Certain Dogs

Some of the newer chews on the market don’t contain any animal parts at all. Most are made with milk, which is an animal byproduct, or compressed vegetables. These are an excellent choice for pets who’ve had dental work, have tender mouths, or are scarfers. These chews are designed to be consumed in their entirety. If you’re trying to train your scarfer not to scarf his bones or chews, these are nice, because you can hold one end of the bone while your dog chews the other end. They come in all different sizes, small, medium and large, and when you hold one end while your dog chews the other, you can control the pace at which your dog chews. Also, if a small piece is broken or chewed off, there’s no danger in your dog swallowing it.

I don’t recommend offering these chews to scarfers without someone holding the other end, because they will attempt to swallow them whole, which is obviously a choking and GI blockage hazard.

Some of the edible dental bones on the market contain questionable ingredients. They’re typically a green color and are sold in most big box stores. With these, you need to read the label very carefully. If you’re going to feed an edible dental bone, you should be able to pronounce every ingredient on the label and feel comfortable with it.

Himalayan chews are made from yak milk (actually a cheese) that has been sun-dried to make it very hard. This is one of the more unique chews available on the market today and it’s great for dogs that can’t eat certain types of protein. The nice thing about all these different varieties of chews is that you should be able to find a chew with a protein that your dog with food allergies or sensitivities can tolerate.

Synthetic Chews: Not Recommended

There are also a variety of synthetic chews made of rubber or flavored plastic that you’ll find in most big box stores (next to the green edible dental bones). I’m not a fan of rubber or plastic chews. Common sense tells us that feeding a dog rubber or plastic isn’t the healthiest option available! Thankfully, because there are so many natural chews and bones available, there’s really no reason to offer synthetic products to your dog.

A Final Word About SAFELY Feeding Recreational Chews and Bones

As you can see, in addition to scrutinizing labels and feeling comfortable with the quality of the product you’re buying, it’s also very important to pick the correct size and type of chew, and to moderate the time and frequency of chew-fests according to your dog’s personality, health, and the interrelationships among the dogs in a multi-dog household. Monitoring dog-to-dog interactions when offering bones and chews is VERY important. The most coveted resource of the dogs in your house is almost always a favorite bone or chew. Never underestimate how protective a dog can become when another dog – or human – tries to take it (“steal” it).

If you’re not sure how your dogs will react to the introduction of bones or chews, it’s always best to physically separate them for chew-fests, either in their own individual crates, or in different rooms of the house, or by putting one dog outside with his bone or chew while the other enjoys his inside.

Most dogs produce massive amounts of saliva while they are enjoying their chew, so take care where you give a bone or chew to your pet. Anywhere near your new white carpet isn’t recommended, because it WILL be ruined! Remember to collect all the chews when you’re finished supervising a chew session, and ALWAYS supervise every chew session.

Last but not least, hard as it is to believe, some dogs shouldn’t be offered bones or chews at all. Sometimes the risks simply outweigh the benefits. For instance, if your dog has needed surgery to remove tennis balls, pairs of socks, rocks, Kong toys, etc., chances are he’ll swallow whole whatever bone or chew you give him. So I recommend not giving him another opportunity to return to surgery! If your dog has fractured her teeth in prior chewing sessions, offering her more opportunities to inflict dental damage isn’t a good plan. So knowing your dog’s personality and using plain old common sense is important in deciding what to offer your dog when it comes to recreational chews and bones.