Like most dogs, my dogs love chewing things. I am really careful about what I give them to chew, and I supervise. Over the years, I’ve heard some horror stories related to objects that dogs have chewed. A young Mastiff puppy that I had bred and sold chewed a stick—just a regular stick. Unknown to her owner, the stick pierced her soft palate, which led to a brain infection that killed her. She wasn’t even a year old.
A friend’s two-year-old dog Golden Retriever died after having surgery to clear a bowel obstruction caused by his swallowing pieces of Nylabone—generally considered a “safe” chew toy.
When Kochi, my Shiba Inu mix was about 16—and a bit diminished—I discovered him nearly choking on a bully stick that he was chewing, and was trying to swallow it as he chewed it. When I pulled it from his mouth, the part he had swallowed and was choking him was about six inches long, fortunately still attached to the unchewed end in his mouth.
I’ve heard of dogs that have asphyxiated when they caught a ball that lodged in the throat and couldn’t be removed in time. Horror stories for sure, but with a purpose. Being aware of the possibilities of worst case scenarios enables us to take steps to avoid them. So here are some “safe” and “unsafe” chew items.
Rawhide chews: At the top of my list of chew toys to avoid are rawhides and pigs’ ears. Oh, I know … your dog LOVES them. Love doesn’t matter if your dog chokes, or develops an intestinal blockage caused by rawhide pieces. But worse still is the fact that these products are by-products of the leather industry. They are treated with chemicals like bleach and other toxic chemicals.
Bones: My dogs love bones—and happily spend hours chewing them. Raw bones, not cooked bones. Cooked bones can splinter, creating the potential for intestinal perforation or blockage. Plus there is no nutritional value in cooked bones, which are depleted of anything valuable for the dog. Marrow soup bones, available from most grocery stores, are a good alternative—raw, not cooked. Avoid short bones and select ones that are longer. Short bones can get wrapped around your dog’s lower jaw and may have to be sawed off.
Toys: I’ve had many dogs that will play with plush, squeaky toys. In fact I had (past tense) a toybox that held toys I’ve had for up to two decades. I no longer have these toys because Brio, my Basset Fauve de Bretagne, loves tearing things apart. He removes squeakers, pulls out eyes, and destroys all soft toys. Obviously there is danger to a dog that will remove, and possibly swallow pieces of toys, so once Brio started dismembering toys, I stopped letting him have them. Their toy box now contains only hard toys.
Balls: With the caveat from the story of the dog that choked to death when the ball lodged in his throat, balls are great fun. Playing retrieve with your dog is a great energy outlet. Just be careful to select a larger ball, and don’t throw it directly at your dog’s mouth.
Bully Sticks: Bully sticks are a safe, healthy chew toy. But after the dog has chewed the stick to a short length, it becomes a choking hazard. I was always careful to remove the stick when it got too short. When a dog can no longer hold the stick between his paws, he may swallow it, which can cause choking or an intestinal blockage. Recently I was introduced to a really cool product called Bully Buddy https://www.bowwowlabs.com/. My staff told me about this when one of our customers brought it with her dog when he was staying with us. The Bully Buddy holds the tail end of the bully stick in place so it cannot be swallowed, but the dog can chew it into the smallest nub. Our customers often introduce us to cool new products. I love that! I bought two sizes of Bully Buddies for my dogs, so they can each have their own, to be able to safely chew the bully stick end.
Whatever you give your dog to chew, always supervise. Dogs love chewing and derive benefit from the activity. We want them to have that enjoyment, safely and without the possibility of harm.