Overwhelmed with the Vast Amount of Chewing Products? Let's Figure it Out! by Deborah Shores, DVM

Photo by: White Oak Pastures
With February being National Pet Dental Health Month, let’s discuss the pros and cons of bones and dental treats for your canine. Many products are available on the market, all promoted with the idea of your dog “cleaning” his/her own teeth by chewing on a bone or treat, helping to remove plaque and tartar. Dental treats can also be helpful in massaging the gums, creating stronger gums and teeth. Some dental treats are marketed in a way that may make owners believe that these products eliminate the need for frequent brushing or dental appointments — although many of these products may help your dog’s overall dental health, they are not a replacement for dental care and cleaning performed by a professional.

Visit any pet store and you will likely be overwhelmed by the vast amount and variety of chew items. Selecting the right product for your pet is important. Rawhide products are generally some of the most popular chew toys and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as twisted and braided ropes, thin discs, and shaped to look like specific items. Pig hooves, bones, ears and snouts are also available. 

First, before you jump in and start buying, let’s make sure these products are safe for your dog. It all depends on the product and its manufacturers. Many products are labeled “all-natural,” however this phrase is used loosely since is no legal or regulatory definition. Labeling a pig ear as “all-natural” may simply be referring to the fact that the product is a natural animal product. The term “all-natural” does not account for chemicals, preservatives, or anything else that occurs during processing. Often animal products are mislabeled, called “100% cowhide,” despite the treatment process which often contains multiple chemicals. Almost all animal products need to be processed and treated to ensure shelf life. Lastly, because these chew products are not considered “food,” there are hardly any regulatory guidelines and the products don’t receive much review by the Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

Rawhide chews tend to be the most popular. Rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry; the top grain of hide is tanned and constructed into leather products, while the inner side is used for rawhide. Rawhide bones relieves boredom and helps with dental health; removing plaque and tartar and strengthening teeth and gums.

Unfortunately, rawhide is not all good — it can pose a choking hazard to some dogs, resulting in intestinal obstructions and perforation. If you decide to go for a rawhide treat for your pet, consider his or her “chewing style” and personality. For example, an excitable 6-month old Labrador retriever who “gulps down” everything edible (or inedible) may try to swallow a piece of partially chewed rawhide, resulting in choke or an intestinal blockage.  If you have a dog who doesn’t get too excited about food and will spend a long time chewing things into little bits- rawhide may be a good option.

The presence of chemicals in rawhide is also worrying. During the treatment and production process, the hides are often treated with formaldehyde and excessive amounts of lime to preserve the hides, as well as to remove the hair from the hides. Some companies use arsenic to perform this process. Contamination is also an issue. Rawhide chews can contain trace amounts of chemicals or bacteria. Salmonella or E. coli contamination can occur. Hydrogen peroxide is used to whiten and eliminate bacteria, however some products are actually “painted” with titanium oxide.

Rawhide is also a direct by-product of animals from factory farms, or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation). Many people have an issue with the way these animals are treated and raised and may be unwilling to support these farms. 

Whenever purchasing rawhide bones for your dog, be cautious and careful to select a product that seems to be the highest quality. There are some smaller farms that produce high quality rawhide treats for your pets and these companies may worth checking out as an alternative to pet-store brands of rawhide.  A great source coming onto the natural pet products scene is White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. Within the next month they will launch their 100% grass-fed, home-cured rawhide treats for sale online. Check them out at www.whiteoakpastures.com. Contact them directly for sizes available and pricing. 

Virbac, a company specializing in veterinary oral health products, makes a rawhide chew that has a coating of an all-natural enzyme. This enzyme is also found in many dog-safe tooth pastes. It helps to fight bacterial build-up and breaks down tartar on your dog’s teeth. Their chews are made in North America and France. 

Pig ears, pig snouts, pig hooves are other popular chews. These products consist mostly of cartilage and fat. Although your dog will most likely enjoy these, they do not offer the same teeth cleaning and strengthening benefits of rawhide. Hooves may pose a risk of splintering and causing broken teeth. Gastrointestinal blockages can also occur. 

Although chews and bones for your dog can be beneficial, it’s important to do your homework and choose high-quality products that are safe and healthy for your particular dog. If you have any questions about bones or dental treats for your canine, just ask me

About Dr. Deborah Shores

Dr. Deborah Shores is a graduate of Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She has many years of experience working in animal hospitals and clinics from Virginia to South Carolina, treating mainly dogs and cats. She has a special interest in nutrition and holistic veterinary medicine and plans to pursue an acupuncture certificate at the Chi Institute in Florida.

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