How to Find the Best Dog Chews

Nearly every dog loves to chew - mine so much so that he once chewed a hole in my drywall. And if you were to visit my house, you'd notice the couch is free of pillows. 

Clearly it's important to direct your dogs natural chewing instinct onto appropriate chew toys.

dog uses pillow for chew toy

There are LOTS of different types of toys to "chews" from (sorry, I couldn't resist). Here's a quick run-down on the pros and cons of each.

Natural vs. Synthetic

Chew toys can be split into two broad categories: natural and synthetic. In the synthetic category, we have things like rubber and plastic toys in a seemingly endless variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. In the natural category, we have things like bones, hooves, pig ears, bully sticks, and antlers.

Before I go any further, I want to clarify something. I am not considering anything your dog happens to chew - plush toys, tennis balls, fetch toys, your shoes - as a chew toy. These things aren't intended to be chew toys so I won't review them here.

A lot of you are searching for an indestructible chew. STOP! These don't exist!

If a dog is really determined, she can damage just about any substance. (Remember my drywall?) Furthermore, if something were really indestructible, it wouldn't make a very good chew toy. How would you like an indestructible steak? Similarly, your dog wants a certain level of productivity during chewing. 

Synthetic Plastic and Rubber Chew Toys - Pros and Cons.

Plastic and rubber chew toys tend to be less costly than natural alternatives, they tend to be clean (no grease or offensive odor), and if made from a strong synthetic material, they may hold up pretty well to chewing. 

What's not so great about synthetic chew toys is that dogs aren't huge fans of them. Intuitively, it makes sense that a dog would prefer a natural bone over a piece of rubber. 

I also don't like that pieces of synthetic toys, if ingested by your dog, stand no chance of being broken down during digestion, potentially causing an intestinal problem. GI issues can be very costly - and life threatening - for your pet. 

Plastic and rubber chew toys also carry a high number of potential risks that aren't well understood.

How do things like Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates affect pet health? These plastic additives have been in the news a lot. The data suggest they're harmful to humans, but nobody knows what they may do to your pet. 

What about lead and other heavy metal contaminates? Yes - they may be in your dog's chew toy as well. Some studies have already identified high lead levels in some plastic/rubber pet toys and in some pet dishes. Of course this stuff isn't added on purpose, but it can be the end result of poor quality control and low cost, large scale manufacture. Because there are no standards for pet toys that would prevent these types of contaminants, the risk of the unknown for synthetic toys is high.

Consider Natural Chew Toys Instead

Nature has designed your dog with a digestive system that can handle most animal based chew toys.  Dogs also tend to enjoy a natural chew toy more than a synthetic one - they smell better and taste better. Some natural chew toys, like bones and antlers, even provide some nutritional value.

Dog boneNatural doesn't mean perfect, though.

Generally, natural chew toys carry a higher risk of bacterial contamination that could be harmful to your pet. Some natural chews are smelly, greasy, and rather unpleasant to have around the house. Also, many natural chews don't last very long (although this is often because your dog enjoys it more than the synthetic alternative and chews it more aggressively). 

With natural chews, you also have to be careful to buy products that are minimally processed. Because of the way rawhide is processed, there's a risk of the material swelling in your dogs digestive system and causing a blockage. 

Another example is cooked bones.  A cooked bone becomes brittle, increasing the risk of splintering and creating sharp pieces that can puncture your dog's digestive tract.  So stick with natural chews that have been processed as minimally as possible.

What's the Final verdict?

Due to the risks of intestinal blockage and potential contamination from things like BPA, phthalates, or lead, we recommend steering clear of rubber and plastic chew toys that are intended solely for chewing.

The rubber treat dispensing chew toys might be an exception, though. Since your dog should push and roll these types of toys more often than directly chewing on them, the risks are lower.  To further lower risks, I also recommend going with a US manufacturer. 

Focus on natural, minimally processed chews.

If you're looking for a quick, natural chew toy, bully sticks are great.  These natural chews are generally considered safe and every dog I've met loves them.  Again, they tend to get chewed up in a matter of minutes or hours, though.

If you want your chew toy to last, then you want a bone. The problem is the safest bones are not processed, which can make them pretty nasty to have around indoors.

That leaves one clear choice: elk antler chews.

Elk antler dog chews check all the boxes when it comes to chew toys. They're natural, minimally processed (only cut and sanded), highly attractive to dogs, long-lasting, and clean. They're also humane, dropped naturally by elk and collected one a year. What more could you ask for?

If you've never tried Antler Chews, rest assured they're NOT a new product. They have been on the market for a while and have earned a lot of rave reviews from dogs and their owners. Antlers are also chewed by wild animals, from rodents all the way up to wolves.


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