What Veterinarians Want You to Look For in a Chew Toy

Chew toys for dogs can be kind of a controversial topic for numerous reasons. There's so much mixed information, especially online, that it's hard to sort through and find a genuinely accurate source. It's so important to be able to stimulate your dog's mind and give them something to do during the day. Safe and effective toys are hard to find, though, so that's why we're here to help you make educated decisions. Enjoy this blog all about safe chew toys and how to find them!

Why Are Chew Toys Beneficial?

Especially when your dog is a puppy, it's important to give them access to toys, specifically teething toys. During their developmental period (for puppies, it is between 2 months to 10 months), it's crucial to allow young dogs to chew on toys and get the relief they need from teething. Teething is very uncomfortable for them, so it is wonderful to build the relationship now with chew toys being a positive association! Do not give them toys that would resemble household objects that they are not supposed to chew on, such as a tv remote plush or a rubber shoe chew toy. This allows your pet to distinguish the chewable things from the non-chewable ones and will make it much easier in the future to build that better habit.

Another reason your puppy might be chewing on everything in sight is a build-up of energy, particularly if they're not getting enough exercise. Puppies (and some dog breeds) have an insane amount of energy, and most need to have near-constant stimulation while awake to be content. If they don't have the correct items to chew on, then why not start on the sofa, right? Providing them with the right things to chew on will give them that stimulation they need while creating a positive connection between the toy and whatever situation they are in. For example, if you give your dog a peanut-butter-filled toy every time they are in their kennel, they might even look forward to being in there. Wouldn't that be great for bedtime!

Puzzle and treat-dispensing toys can stimulate your dog's brain and give them a real sense of challenge and reward. Kongs are especially good because you can fill them with cheese, peanut butter, or treats, and it will take them some time to get everything out of it. If you use peanut butter, its smell stuck on the toy alone could keep your pet coming back even when it seems like it's all gone. Freezing the toy when it is full of peanut butter, cheese, or other things will also make the toy last much longer with your persistent pup.

safe chew toys for dogs

What Characteristics Make a Chew Toy "Safe"?

Chew toys for the use of fun and stimulation are fine as long as they fit the thumbnail test. If your thumbnail can make an indent in the object, it's okay to chew. If your thumbnail bends, it's likely to break teeth. Rubber or silicone is usually a safe option and is pliable enough not to cause damage to your pet's teeth. The size of a chew toy also matters. Too small and your pet can risk accidentally swallowing and choking. Another characteristic to avoid would be any toys with holes. There have been many instances in Emergency Hospitals where a pet has gotten their jaw and/or teeth stuck in a chew toy and either had to be removed by breaking the toy or even surgically.

Some pets like to chew on different textures such as fabric and rope. These we will refer to soft toys. Soft toys should not contain anything that could be ripped off or ingested, such as eyes, strings, tassels, etc. When toys start to become damaged or frayed, you should throw them away immediately. Dogs are notorious for quickly ripping something off and eating it the first chance they get! Each soft toy should be very sturdy and machine washable, so you can decontaminate it as needed. No soft toy should contain beads, packing peanuts, or anything that is not labeled as "safe" stuffing. Although it is labeled as "safe," it does not mean they can eat it as much as they want, and every pet should be monitored when they play with soft toys.

What Toys Should I Avoid?

We gave you some information about what to look out for, but now we will tell you which ones to try to avoid as well. First off, we will discuss tennis balls. Tennis balls can be dangerous for your dog for multiple reasons. The most obvious would be that they are serious choking hazards, especially for big dogs with strong jaws. Tennis balls are made for the tennis court and are quite durable, but they're not manufactured with a dog's piercing teeth in mind. They can easily be popped, and then bits or even whole chunks can be lodged in your pet's throat, blocking the windpipe, or travel down and get stuck in the gastrointestinal tract and require expensive surgery to remove.

Another reason tennis balls are not good for your pet is the dental aspect. The fuzzy texture on the outside is very abrasive and will continually wear down your pet's front small teeth and backside of the canine teeth as they chew on it. This can eventually lead to dental issues such as enamel wear or exposed tooth pulp, which can be costly and painful. As tennis balls get covered in dirt or sand, they get even more sand-paper-like and wear the teeth down even further. If you're going to use a tennis ball, only allow your dog access to them during supervised play. We suggest not using tennis balls, though, and switching to a different kind of throw toy.

Balls for play should be smooth with nothing glued on the outside to reduce tooth wear and should be durable enough to withstand your dog's chewing strength. These, though safer, should still be used during supervised play and not available when your pet is alone to reduce the risk of choking. Also, when you're using balls to play with your dog, they should only have access to one at a time. Giving them more than one will run the risk of one getting accidentally lodged in the back of the throat. All toys should be small enough to fit in your pet's mouth comfortably but big enough to not slip down the back of the throat and get stuck.

You've probably heard some information about rawhide being notoriously bad for your dog. And in most cases, this is true! The big downside to rawhide is its digestibility. Hard-chewing dogs will often break the rawhide into large chunks and swallow them without breaking them down properly into smaller pieces. This could result in either a choking hazard in the throat, esophagus, or gastrointestinal tract. It could also get stuck in the stomach, where it cannot be broken down for a very long time, causing more gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. Smaller and senior dogs will often take off big chunks of the rawhide and eat it more slowly and deliberately. Still, we recommend going with softer chewing options and more easily digestible ones.

Next, we will get on the topic of hard bones. The FDA released this article in 2010 about the dangers of giving your pets "Bone Treats."

The FDA article gives plenty of information on reasons why you SHOULD NOT provide your pet with hard bones to chew on, such as:

  • Raw bones from livestock such as cattle, pigs, or any animal are not safe to give to your dog.
  • A bone could splinter in your pet's mouth, leaving fragments of bones embedded in your dog's mouth, gums, throat, esophagus, or stomach and cause internal bleeding or blockages.
  • The fragments could even lead to a fatal bacterial infection called peritonitis, where they can poke holes in the stomach and large/small intestine.
  • Bones will break teeth, leading to a lot of pain in your dog and very expensive vet bills.
  • Raw marrow bones with a hole in the center could get looped around your pet's bottom or top jaw and are almost impossible to remove without sedation of your pet.

Instead of hard bones, consider a rubber toy that you can fill with cheese, peanut butter, treats, or anything flexible or passes the thumbnail test as mentioned above!

dog dental treats

But What About Keeping My Pet's Teeth Clean?

If you use chewing toys for dental care, it's not the best choice. Items with a VOHC seal (found at VOHC.org) have at least a 20% efficacy but are three to four times less effective than daily brushing or wipes. Hard bones have been shown to be able to remove some plaque buildup from the top of the teeth, but doing so does not stop plaque from forming on the inside of the gums or above the gum line. Plaque buildup can mineralize into tartar in as little as 24 to 48 hours, which then can cause periodontal disease or inflammation of the gums.

Daily brushing or wiping with dental wipes is the most effective way to avoid plaque buildup in your pets. The most important part of that would be to associate the brushing or wiping with a positive outcome, such as a treat or feeding, so your pet is more willing to sit still for a bit! Brushing or wiping should be done at least every other day to prevent plaque buildup on the teeth and can be accomplished in as little as 10-30 seconds per day.

Dental treats such as Greenies or VeggieDents can help passively remove plaque. As your pet chews, they mechanically work on the coronal 2/3 of the tooth. VeggieDents are designed to dissolve entirely even if swallowed, so they should not pose a risk of obstruction. Tartar Shield brand rawhide chews are made from rawhide chews ground up and then stuck back together into a chew format and, thus, are not obstruction risks either. Greenies, VeggieDents, and Tartar Shield products all have or are working on VOHC approval. If you want to give your pet a treat, why not give them something that can aid in dental care?

Final Verdict

Chew toys can be fun for your dogs, and the proper ones can provide mental stimulation, some dental care, and usually just an overall tasty treat for your pet. Many great toys are safe and reliable for your dog, but some require a bit more digging to discover. The trouble with most items is that marketing promotes some things as good when they can really be harmful. In general, if the item has flex or your nail can indent it, it's likely fine. We recommend always doing thorough research before buying and giving your pet a toy.

If you ever have any questions about chew toys, dental care, or anything at all, feel free to give us a call!


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