Chewing and gnawing are natural dog behaviors. For young dogs and puppies, it’s a way of exploring the world (everything goes in their mouth!) and relieving teething pain. For older dogs, chewing combats boredom, relieves mild anxiety or frustration, and can help maintain healthy gums and teeth. As pet parents, we don’t want chewing to become destructive or dangerous to our dogs, but we do want to encourage healthy chewing!
Rules to Follow:
- Chew toys should have some “give” or be able to be indented with your fingernail. NO chew toys that are harder than teeth, such as bones, hooves, horns, antlers, or rocks. These BREAK teeth!
- No chew toys with dangerous materials or ingredients, especially if swallowed.
Safe Dog Chew Toys:
- Durable dog toys that have a hollow cavity can be stuffed with peanut butter (without artificial sweeteners like xylitol, which is toxic to dogs), cheese, soft foods like canned pumpkin, smashed bananas, or dry kibble. When played with, the toys randomly dispense treats.
- For advanced level play, the stuffed toy can be frozen first to make it more difficult to remove the treat. Kong, Squirrel Dude, Goughnut, WestPaw, and Ruffwear are examples of toys and companies with rubber toys like this.
- Make sure your dog’s toy is properly sized for your dog (bigger is better). With consumable chews like rawhides and Greenies, if your dog eats and swallows the chew in less than 10 minutes, it’s not providing the benefit of chewing for maintaining healthy teeth and gums.
More on Non-Safe Chew Toys:
- Consumption of toy pieces or sharp pieces from toys can cause stomach upset, blockage or poke into your dog’s intestinal tract and then require emergency surgery for removal.
- Tennis balls are not recommended for chewing or catch because the rough abrasive surface will wear down your dog’s tooth surfaces. It’s even worse in gritty or sandy soils as the tennis ball acts like a scouring pad, wearing through the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth and exposing the pulp.
- DO NOT GIVE bones (real marrow or knuckle or nylon), hooves, horns, and antlers because they are harder than teeth, cause abnormal wear, and break teeth. While these are marketed as “natural” and dogs love them, they are too hard and break teeth causing pain and infection. Carrots can be great alternatives to horns and bones.
What about dogs who gnaw and shred toys?
Some dogs really like pulling apart and shredding their toys because their behavior is more like what happens to prey. Fleece, squeaky, rope toys, raw hides, pig’s ears, and cardboard are a few examples. Play with these toys needs to be strictly and directly supervised so that pieces can be removed and not swallowed. My own dog really loves large rope toys with knots, but I must be close by to remove the rope pieces after she chews the knots out!
What about working for food?
If you have a young, active dog or a dog from a working breed, it can be more challenging to keep them occupied with chew toys as compared to more sedentary dogs. Dogs are natural scavengers and like to play and investigate. Toys that allow them to work for food provide them with a stimulating environment, both mentally and physically. You can use toys or puzzle feeders that require your dog to manipulate them for a food reward when you are not actively playing with your dog or when it is time to leave your dog alone.
What if my veterinary team said that my dog can’t chew on anything hard while healing from tooth extractions?
While your dog’s mouth heals for the next 2-3 weeks, soft treats such as small meatballs of canned food, mini marshmallows, pieces of boiled carrots, pill pockets may be allowed. Non-mouth activities such as long walks, obedience training, agility classes are other interactive and stimulating activities for you and your dog.
We hope this blog encourages you to go through your dog’s chew toys and throw away anything considered unsafe! If you have any questions or concerns about your pet’s chew toys or overall oral health, consult with your family veterinarian or board-certified veterinary dentist.
Learn more about our Dentistry & Oral Surgery Service here.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Lloyd, my sweet boy who played with the same ball and fleece braid toys for over a decade, and my puppy, Dottie, who destroys and shreds everything!