Is your dog dining on the kitchen table, or tearing the upholstery from your ottoman? If so, you need to redirect their gnawing in a positive, safe direction. Unfortunately, a trip to the pet store to select a proper chew toy can leave your head spinning—amid hundreds of animal parts, synthetic bones, and flavors, how can you know what’s safe and appropriate for your dog? 

You shouldn’t need a degree in chew-ology to shop for a dog treat—Colony Veterinary Hospital has composed the following cheat sheet, so you can easily bone up on all things chew-toy. 

Chewing benefits for dogs

Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs, who are oral by nature, and explore their environment through smell and taste. Chewing also helps reduce stress and anxiety, which is why many dogs resort to this activity when they are uncomfortable and uncertain.

Healthy chewing can provide dogs with:

  • Mental stimulation
  • Improved dental health
  • A satisfying outlet for excess energy
  • A healthy distraction while crated or confined

Reasons why dogs chew inappropriately

Inappropriate chewing is a common complaint among dog owners, but a close look at the dog’s home environment and daily routine will typically explain the cause, and suggest the solution. Many dogs chew because of:

  • Boredom or isolation
  • Separation anxiety
  • Lack of supervision or training
  • Insufficient physical exercise 
  • Teething

Why the right dog chew toy matters

Improper or dangerous chew toys put your pet at risk for serious injury. Many pet chew toys make safety claims, but are actually inappropriate for dogs. The greatest risks from inappropriate chew toys include:

  • Choking — Dogs may chew off, swallow, and choke on large pieces.
  • Harmful ingredients Chews made outside the United States or the European Union are not held to strict safety standards, and may contain unsafe chemical preservatives or coatings.
  • Oral trauma — Sharp edges and shards can cause gingival lacerations, while solid and unyielding textures may fracture teeth.
  • Pancreatitis — Rich, unusual foods can trigger painful pancreatic inflammation.
  • Intestinal blockage — Large pieces can lodge in the stomach or small intestine, and require surgical removal.

Successful chew sessions for your dog begin with you

Because no chew toy is 100 percent safe, always monitor your dog with any new product to ensure appropriate chewing behavior. Chew toys can be a dog’s prized resource, and lead to conflict, aggression, and resource guarding. Follow these guidelines, to help your pet’s chewing experience end with success instead of stress:

  • Separate — Separate all pets to prevent resource guarding or fighting.
  • Supervise — Regularly monitor your dog’s chewing progress.
  • Set a timer — Limit chewing time to 15 to 30 minutes. 
  • Offer a trade — Never reach for your dog’s chew toy, or manually take it from their mouth. Instead, toss a high-value treat a few feet away. If the treat is enticing enough, your dog will drop the chew to retrieve the treat.

What to look for in a safe dog chew toy

To be considered safe by our Colony Veterinary Hospital team, a chew toy must pass the following tests:

  • The fingernail test — The chew’s surface should yield slightly to pressure from your fingernail. A chew you cannot indent could break your dog’s tooth.
  • The kneecap test — If striking your knee with the chew would hurt, the toy is too hard.
  • The stress test — A chew should flex when bent. Rigid chews can shatter, split, lacerate the esophagus, or fracture teeth.
  • The size test — The chew should be available in several sizes. Appropriate sizing prevents choking, and makes the experience more enjoyable for smaller dogs. 
  • The made-in-China test — Always ensure the chew was not made in China. Unfortunately, many China-made pet treats have been implicated in pet illness and death.

These criteria eliminate many popular dog chews. Colony Veterinary Hospital strongly recommends avoiding rawhide bones, antlers, hooves, yak milk chews, pigs’ ears, and raw or cooked bones. 

Recommendations for safe and healthy dog chew toys

If you’re wondering what could possibly be left, the answer is plenty! Many safe, digestible, and appropriate chews are available for your dog to enjoy. Let’s take a look at some of our favorites:

  • Kong and similar toys — The non-toxic texture gives a satisfying flex when your dog sinks their teeth in, creating gentle friction against the tooth’s surface. These fun rubber toys are often hollow, allowing you to fill them with a tasty treat. Toys from Kong, West Paw, and Planet Dog are all BPA and phthalate-free, and made in the United States.
  • Dental chews Only products that bear the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal are proven effective at removing plaque and tartar when used daily. Dogs who are power chewers will not derive long-lasting activity from these softer chews, but still receive dental benefits. We recommend C.E.T. Veggie Dent, OraVet Chews, and Greenies Dental Treats.
  • Frozen vegetables and fruit — Try freezing whole carrots, banana or apple slices, and berries, or blend with non-fat plain yogurt and freeze in popsicle molds for a nutritious and delicious treat. 

The next time you’re tempted to impulse-purchase while you wait at the pet-store checkout, consider how the dog chew measures up to our criteria—if you can’t indent it or bend it, for your dog’s sake, put it back.

For more recommendations on the best, safest chew toys, and improving your pet’s dental health, contact Colony Veterinary Hospital.