Hello everyone! This week I want to talk about digestible versus indigestible CHEWS. It gives us many headaches when people ask us for plastic or rubber chew toys for their dogs with the intention of letting them eat it. These indigestible products can cause many digestive problems when consumed. Large pieces can get lodged in the gut and create blockages in the digestive tract. There are many natural, digestible alternatives that dog owners can feel good about giving their dogs.
Let’s look at some of the indigestible chews…
Plastic, nylon, or rubber toys: These products are very common and usually what people buy for their dogs because they last a long time. Some most people are familiar with are Nylabone nylon chews and Kong rubber toys. Many of these types of toys, especially the cheapest brands, are made in China and can contain harmful chemicals. The materials used to make these toys are completely indigestible and can cause bowel obstructions. Small pieces can usually pass through but can still become lodged in the intestinal walls. These types of toys are great for fetch or tug, but not chewing with the intention of eating. Always supervise pets when giving these products to ensure they do not eat or swallow chunks.
Just so you know, right on Nylabone’s packaging of their indigestible products is this disclaimer “Not intended to be eaten or ingested.” They are meant to be replaced once they start to break down.
Raw Hide: This is probably the most popular dog chew on the market, which is rather disappointing. They are inexpensive and can last a while, which is why people like them. However, the can be very harmful to dogs. Rawhide is indigestible, so like the plastic and rubber toys, can become lodged in the digestive tract, causing blockages. If a blockage is not dealt with quickly it can put your dog’s life at risk.
Let’s quickly go over what rawhide actually is. Essentially, it is a by-product of making leather. Cow hides are tanned with chemicals to remove fat and hair, and then soaked to make separation of the layers easier. The outer layers are used for leather, and the inner layers are used for rawhide. This inner layer is then washed with chemicals and whitened, which can be done with bleach (definitely not something you want your dog ingesting). They are then cut, shaped, dried, and often painted with colouring. Not only is the rawhide itself pose risks, but it is treated with many toxic chemicals during processing.
Stuffed Animals: Stuffed animals are great for playing with, carrying around, and using for tug of war. However, many people allow their dogs to eat them, or avoid buying them because their dog will eat them. It is always recommended to supervise play time with stuffed animals so that you can stop your dog from consuming pieces. Swallowing pieces of the stuffing or outer cloth can cause blockages in the digestive tract since they are not digestible. Make sure to use dog-specific toys or baby toys (not ones with beans!) since they are less likely to contain harmful dyes. This is because they are expected to be put in their mouths.
Now let’s go over some safe, naturally digestible alternatives…
Antlers: Antlers are an amazing chew for several reason. First of all, they last for a very long time if you get the right one (we still have the same one from 3 years ago!). Naturally shed antlers are harder and denser than harvested and will therefore make a longer lasting chew. However, both have the same health benefits. Most antlers will be from elk, deer, or moose. There is very little risk of dogs choking since the way they chew antlers is to slowly wear away at the end. If your dog loses interest, you can soak the antler in cold water to release the smell of the marrow. Antlers are also great for cleaning teeth since they can scrape off plaque. You can give them to puppies to teeth on as well. In addition, antlers contain a compound called Bone Morphogenetic Protein which regulates bone growth. This is very beneficial to growing puppies!
For those worried that their dog will break a tooth on an antler, the dog has to put an intense amount of force on the antler in order to cause damage to themselves. If your dog has a dental disease that weakens the teeth, then this puts them at higher risk. You know your dog best. If you think that your dog will put so much pressure behind biting the antler or if they have weakened teeth, then choose a softer alternative. As always, take the antler away from your dog once it gets small enough for them to swallow.
Horns and Hooves: These chews make a great alternative to rubber and plastic. They break of small pieces but are digestible and safe to consume. Horns and hooves are made of collagen and have a nail-like consistency. Collagen is great for joint health and makes a good addition to any dog’s diet. Horns and hooves can also last quite a long time, from weeks to months depending on the thickness and how heavy a chewer you have.
Dehydrated/Smoked Ears, Pizzles, and Pig Skin: These products are either smoked or dehydrated and dogs love them! They generally only last 10-30 minutes, depending on the size of the chew and your dog, but make great teeth-cleaning treats. If you are looking for a consistency similar to rawhide that is hard and gets soft over time, try looking for smoked pig skin. They are usually pressed and have a brownish tinge but make a great alternative and are completely digestible and safe!
Make sure if buying these types of chews that they are made here in Canada! Products that are smoked or dehydrated cannot be imported and are often radiated instead. Yes, this means that these products are treated with radiation – sounds healthy, right? Not. Luckily, these products are marked by a round symbol that states “Treated with Radiation,” making it easy to avoid these products. Look for the symbol on dehydrated and smoked product packaging.
Smoked Bones: Dogs LOVE smoked bones! They can last weeks, are beneficial to the immune system, and actually smell pretty good. The marrow is quite high in fat, so make sure they pace themselves since this can sometimes give dogs the runs if they eat a ton at once. Bone marrow is also where white blood cells are made, making consuming it beneficial to the immune system. There is a big difference in quality of smoked bones. We advise not buying pork or lamb since they are brittle and can shatter too easily since they are so thin. This is the same reason that chicken bones should not be eaten once cooked. Beef bones are much thicker and stronger and often break off in chunks rather than splintering. Some of the cheaper brands of beef bones can splinter since they are too dry, so make sure you are buying from a good company to avoid risks.
One common misconception is that dogs can’t digest bone. However, they can, and bones make a great source of many minerals, including calcium and phosphorus. If the bone gets too small and you are worried about them choking on it then you should take it away. Always supervise chewing. When buying bones, like mentioned above, avoid products with the symbol indicating they are radiated. Bones wrapped in plastic are treated with this radiation and artificially flavoured with smoke flavor and colour. Instead, look for bones exposed to air, such as those in netted packaging or in open baskets. Naturally smoked bones will grow mould if not exposed to air.
Raw Bones: Raw bones are a great source of many minerals, just like smoked bones. They have many of the same benefits of smoked bones but are not preserved so they go bad quickly if not kept frozen. Simply put raw bones back in the freezer once your dog has had a good chew session. Since they are raw and have not had any moisture taken out, they are stronger than smoked bones. Because of this you can feed pretty much any kind of bone to your dog, including chicken necks and limbs. The extra strength means they are much less likely to splinter and can instead be chewed down by your dog’s teeth.
Yak Cheese: Also known as Everest chews, or Himalayan yak chews, these make great natural chews. As long as you get one appropriate for the size of your dog, they can last weeks and dogs love the taste. They are made of lactose-free petrified yak cheese and so you don’t have to worry about any lactose-intolerance. Dogs generally slowly chew at the end and wear them down. They are completely digestible and become softer once worked with saliva for a while since they are a dried product. Once the yak cheese chew has been worked down to a small chunk, put it in the microwave for a minute to soften it as an extra treat for your dog, they will love it!
Beware of imitators! Some companies are coming out with plastic flavoured as yak cheese and packaging their product to look like pure yak cheese. Nylabone’s Yak Cheese Flavoured chew is an example. Make sure you read the label and ingredients!
Hope this information can help some of you pet parents choose a safe and digestible chew!