Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chew This, Not That!

With National Dental Health Month right around the corner, it seems fitting that we should talk a little bit about what types of chew toys are good for dogs.  The only problem is that not all dogs are made the same.  The chewing needs and tolerance for a Staffordshire Terrier are quite different from that of a Cocker Spaniel or Dachshund.  And the types of toys that will hold their attention can vary as well.

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“Natural” products always seem to be crowd pleaser for a lot of dogs, but they are not all equally palatable--literally.  Pig ears tend to be very fatty and diarrhea is a common consequence to their consumption, and therefore something I would avoid.  I liken it to eating a bag of pork rinds.  These may be tasty, but not so good for the digestive tract.  Bully sticks have become popular again, but do you really want your dog chewing a bull penis for an hour? And for the smaller dogs, oftentimes the bone fragments come through with significant irritation to the colon/intestinal tract.   Some dogs are such aggressive chewers on hooves and antlers that they actually fracture their teeth chewing on these.

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At the other end of the spectrum, soft toys with stuffing and squeakers can also create a problem if they are taken apart and the pieces are then ingested.  The stuffing/matting in these toys can be difficult to pass and get caught in the intestines.  The squeakers are particularly unforgiving and can sometimes lead to obstructions that have to be corrected surgically. 

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So what can you give your dog then?  The short answer is “it depends!”  For most dogs, the Kong toys are good, relatively indestructible, and safe toys to have.  Lining the insides with a little peanut butter (little is the key word), or some wedged in milk bones, or “Kong filling”, will make them more interesting, and can be engaging for a long period of time.  Nylabones, gummabones, and Galileo bones are generally safe to use because they are not edible per se so they last longer.  Sometimes to get a dog interested in these bones you have to hold one end until they start to make a dent in it.  After that, it becomes a real job for some dogs and can take weeks to months to “finish” the job.  One should throw these away when they become small enough to accidentally swallow whole. 

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Rawhide can also be enjoyable and good for their teeth.  The size and shape of the rawhide are important to consider. The flat or rolled strips are probably the safest, but one should observe your dog to be sure they actually chew them rather than try to swallow them whole, or bury them in the yard.  Avoid rawhide with knotted ends, as the end can come off and be accidentally swallowed whole.  If a rawhide is not chewed up first, it certainly could cause an obstruction.  Some are also coated with flavoring which can stain a light colored carpet or cause indigestion.  Also, there are some dogs with food allergies that cannot have these items.

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Greenies are good if your dog chews them, but if they are swallowed in large chunks or whole, they can lead to esophageal or intestinal tears or blockage.  This is more of a concern for smaller dogs.  The important thing to remember is that whatever chew toy you pick for your dog, watch them first to be sure they chew it as intended, and that they don’t have indigestion afterwards.

 Chewing is an important activity for dogs.  It often keeps them from gnawing on your furniture or on your feet!  If you hold one end of a chew toy, it can be a connection between you and your dog in a safe and fun way.  But an important thing to teach your dog is to release the toy when necessary.  This is something that is easy to train your dog to do with a replacement of a treat.  "Release" or "Leave it" are important commands whether it is a toy or an expensive new shoe that needs to be released!