Should you give your dog antlers to chew?
Are antlers a safer option to other chews on the market?
Are all antlers the same?
How are antlers “graded” and what does it mean?
Dogs are natural chewers. Whether it’s a puppy exploring his new world through his mouth, or adult dogs chewing to release pent-up energy and/or stress, most dogs enjoy this instinctive behavior.
While almost anything is better than your K9 destroying your expensive leather shoes or couch to indulge their need to chew, are all chew treats created equal (and safe)?
Are all Chews Created Equal?
After the shocking revelation in 2007 about the toxic, Chinese-made dog treats sickening and even killing pets (dogs and cats); dog owners everywhere became more concerned and vigilant about the treats they were offering to their dogs.
When even more information came out about all the potentially deadly chemicals used to mass-produce rawhide in China, “safe” choices became even further limited for canine guardians. (Not to mention numerous horror studies about rawhide pieces becoming stuck or causing obstructions requiring surgery to save a dog.) Click here to learn the harmful truth behind making rawhide.
Are Antlers a Safer Option?
So, what about something more “natural,” like antlers from wild deer or elk?
Like most subjects about dog health, “expert” opinions about whether antlers are a completely safe chewing option falls between both ends of the spectrum. From slick marketing campaigns raving about the wonders of antlers for your dog’s chewing pleasure to so-called dog experts decrying even the thought of offering an antler to your dog to chew. While the controversy rages on, educate yourself on the pros and cons of antler chews for your dog.
Factors to Consider
Deciding whether an antler chew is good (or not) for your dog involves a number of factors, including:
- What kind of chewer your dog is;
- Your dog’s current dental health;
- The “grade” of antler you are planning to give your dog to chew; and
- The supplier/distributor of the antler chews and whether they sell cheaper, low-grade or inferior products.
When you know better, you can make better choices for what to safely offer your dog to chew. Knowing your own dog is the first place to start. Is your dog a heavy or aggressive chewer? The chewing needs or habits are vastly different for a Chihuahua versus a Rottweiler. Smaller teeth and jaws cannot stand up to extremely hard objects like antlers.
Also, consider your dog’s current dental health. Have they suffered from dental issues that would rule out giving them hard items to chew?
- Loose teeth?
- Teeth fractures or breakages? (According to Embrace Insurance Company, up to 20% of dogs will suffer a fractured tooth.)
- Symptoms of gum disease like receding gums, bone loss, gingivitis and periodontitis? Gum disease can make teeth unstable and incapable of standing up to chewing. (Did you know that gum disease, is five times more common in dogs than in humans?)
Not sure if your dog’s teeth are healthy? Click here to learn more.
If you have determined your dog’s dental health and chewing needs can tolerate hard chewing, keep reading to learn more about antler chews.
What IS an Antler?
Antlers come from moose, caribou, elk, reindeer and deer. Typically, elk antlers are the easiest ones to find.
It’s also believed that antlers do not splinter or chip as easily as some other bones or toys. While antlers may seem similar to “horns” … they are actually different. Cow horns are made from a substance call keratin; similar to our nails and hair. They also have a lining of bone inside them.
Antlers, on the other hand, are made from real bone and cartilage with a marrow core. They are actually a bony outgrowth of the animal’s skull. Since they are actual bone, they are also very hard. Antlers are typically shed each year allowing a new set to grow in their place. Antlers (unlike processed bones or rawhides) also offer nutritional value in the form of:
- Chondroitin Sulfate
- Iron and Zinc
For dogs fed a raw diet, bones are important to their diet. But, it is not necessary for them to eat very hard bones (like antlers or weight-bearing leg bones).
Grading Antlers: What it all Means
Antlers are “graded” on five different levels. Before you buy any kind of antler for your dog to chew, below is what you need to know first.
Grade A+ Antlers
These are the highest quality and most pristine antlers, previously reserved for high-end craft and artisan use. They constitute less than 5% of all antlers each year. Only a few stores and distributors are focused on selling antlers of this caliber.
Grade A Antlers
These antlers comprise the top 10-15% of all antlers each year. They have been shed during the current – or previous – year. These antlers will appear a little more on the light-brown side; as they have been freshly shed and have had only minimal exposure to the elements.
Grade B Antlers
This grade of antler comprises the bulk of all antlers sold online by the “high-end” brands. These antlers are easily recognized as they will be white from sun bleaching which also means they are dried out. They may also show visible marks of rodent chewing. These antlers are approximately one to two years old. While they may be sold by well-established brands, it does not mean they are “safe dog chews.” While they are not the worst of the antlers, they are definitely not the safest for your dog based on their age and being dried out which means they could splinter or chip much more easily.
Grades C and D
The final two grades are combined together because, for all intents and purposes, these antlers are “junk” and definitely not safe for your dog. These antlers are not only white from years in the sun and exposure to the elements; but there is also a white powder that can be easily scraped off the surface. In addition, the antler has almost a coral-like porous crystalline structure to it, due to having lost too much moisture. This makes it even more susceptible to breaking, splintering or chipping even with minimal effort. These antlers are commonly sold in the big-box pet stores and outdoor sports stores.
A Few Final Cautions
- Make sure any antler product you buy and give to your dog is sourced from the USA (preferably from organically raised animals). Note: China does chemically process and ship antlers to the United States.
- Also, make sure you buy the right size antler for your dog (one that cannot be easily swallowed).
- Do not give puppies any kind of antlers to chew on. (The high protein content can cause stomach upset and diarrhea.)
- And finally, if you do decide to give your dog an antler chew (or any other chew as well), always supervise them to keep them safe! No chew product is 100% safe and healthy for every dog. Digestive or dental issues, possible choking (in the mouth or throat) and intestinal obstructions are always a risk.
- Check with your veterinarian first before giving your dog any chew product.
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