My first dog, Otis, loved rawhide chews. But when I learned that many rawhide products were contaminated with chemicals, I made it a priority to only buy high-quality bones from reputable stores. When my second dog, Honey, joined our family, we realized quickly that rawhide chews of any quality gave her tummy troubles, so we ditched the idea of rawhide altogether.
Fast forward a few years, and now we have Henry in our pack — a dog with an aggressive chew drive. His favorites were any of my kids' hard plastic toys, my husband's work shoes, or the pillows on our sofa. It was time to reinvestigate dog chew options.
Rawhide chews are great for a dog's teeth and jaw muscles, they help to relieve anxiety, and they provide the perfect option to keep pets from chewing on household items. But many veterinarians steer clear of recommending them because they can be a choking hazard, they can cause digestive issues, and the cheaper versions can be contaminated with toxins. As Darcy Matheson, the author of "Greening Your Pet Care," explains, arsenic and formaldehyde are sometimes sprayed on rawhides as they are removed from the animal. Gross.
Fortunately, there are a number of natural options that fit the bill without the dangerous side effects. You may want to talk to your vet to see what she thinks. There's the possibility of tooth damage with some of the harder chews and some pets may have digestive issues when they chew too much. Of course, never leave your pet unsupervised with any toy or chew.
Naturally-shed antlers: Many pet food stores sell deer or elk antlers that have been shed naturally by the animal. They make for long-lasting dog chews that are also eco-friendly (they are unprocessed and require no chemicals or artificial colors) and humane. Matheson recommends naturally shed antlers in her book:
"Free of preservatives, chemicals and additives, antlers from animals like deer and elk make a fantastic natural chew that gives your dog’s teeth a great cleaning. As your pup grinds down the antler to get to the marrow inside, the antler gently massages their gums and cracks away plaque and tartar on the teeth. It also contains naturally-occurring minerals to aid health like calcium, potassium, iron and zinc."
Raw bones. Kimberly Gauthier, the blogger behind the dog nutrition site Keep the Tail Wagging, gives her four dogs raw bones when they have time to work on them outdoors while she supervises. They last a long time, but can become a choking hazard when they get too small, so it's important to keep an eye on them while they chew. Also, some bones may be too hard for some pups, so be sure to take a bone away if it seems your dog is struggling.
Bully sticks. Also called bull pizzle, these chews are made from the, um, "manly" parts of a bull. The cons of these chews are that they can be expensive and also rather stinky, but if you buy the long sticks, they do last a long time and many dogs absolutely love them.
Dried fish skins. These one-ingredient treats offer a lean source of protein for dogs along with essential fatty acids. There are several products on the market made from different types of fish (such as catfish and salmon) so you might need to try a few kinds before finding one your pet will like. Like bully sticks, they can be (not surprisingly) smelly as well as expensive.
Himalayan dog chews. Made from yak's milk, Himalayan dog chews are basically like hard cheese rinds for dog. Many dog owners love these chews because they are low-odor and easily digestible. They are on the more expensive side though and may not last as long as some of the other products. But for chewers who like lots of options, these might be good for an occasional treat.
Whole food dog chews. While they won't last very long, whole foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, white potatoes and apples make great, low-calorie chews for dogs. Be sure to remove any seeds or sharp edges and take the chews away when they are small enough to become a choking hazard.