Our Pledge To You

Health

Keeping pets safe from toxic dog chews and toys

The author's dog Luna chewing on a rawhide treat. | Jenniffer Weigel

The author's dog Luna chewing on a rawhide treat. | Jenniffer Weigel

A funny thing happened when I posted a photo on social media of my rescue dog eating a very large rawhide treat after the holidays.

“Take that thing away!” a friend wrote. “You’ll hurt your pet!”

The negative comments were plentiful, so I started doing some research. Turns out there are many toxic pet toys and products –– with rawhide leading the pack.  

“Rawhide is so dangerous and it’s shocking to me that this isn’t mainstream knowledge,” said Dr. Natasha Lilly, who works at Full Circle Veterinary Center in San Luis Obispo, California. “They’re not ‘raw’, by the way. They are highly processed and full of chemicals. And they are not digestible so they can cause an obstruction, and if there’s an intestinal blockage, then emergency surgery is needed.”

Marty Grosjean, founder and president of the Colorado-based pet supply company Only Natural Pet agrees.

“We don’t sell rawhide and never will,” said Grosjean who started his company 15 years ago to create safe, toxic-free pet supplies. “In addition to it being a choke hazard, it’s empty nutritionally, and the way it’s made is with very heavy chemicals. It’s put in an acid solution to get rid of the hair and then a bleach solution to turn it white, so it’s full of preservatives. Plus most of them are made in China and they are very lax in their regulations for dog products. Add all that together and it’s nothing you’d ever want to give your dog.”

But rawhide isn’t the only dangerous chew for dogs.

Many of the toys have synthetic stuffing which is toxic, and aggressive chewers will ingest them, Grosjean said.

John Lieu, owner of the pet community website BarkThink, said it’s hard to please different sized dogs that are under the same roof. 

“My terrier isn’t going to like the same toy as my big dog,” Lieu said. “And the smaller dogs won’t be destroying the stuffed toys in the way an aggressive chewer will. Sometimes you can come up with an item that’s really durable and tough but it’s so durable that the dog isn’t interested in it for long. But dogs will share toys so you have to be responsible with what you bring into the home so you don’t put your animal at risk.”

The experts agree that finding real bones and natural animal parts are the best choice.

“I like raw marrow bones,” said Lilly. “They are high in fat so they shouldn’t have them all the time, or you can scoop the marrow out and fill it with something more natural like pumpkin filling, and then freeze it. And they can be an obstruction if too small, so a general rule of thumb that I like to follow is that it needs to be about the length of the head of the dog that is chewing it. Knuckle bones are good that way too.”

Grosjean said said cow tails, pig ears and esophaguses are good alternatives. “While they are digestible unlike rawhide, you’ll want to throw them out when they get small so they don’t cause an obstruction,” Grosjean said.

Lieu suggests the “bully stick” because they are large enough for big dogs to stay interested and last a long time.

“I also like Himalayan dog chews which are made of yak milk,” Lieu said. “And once you get down to the last few pieces, you can actually put it in the microwave for 30 seconds and it expands like popcorn and you can give it to your dog and they can eat it. It’s basically cheese.”

Antlers of a deer or elk are also recommended.

“Find one that has been cut in half or in quarters because that leaves the marrow exposed and there are a lot of great minerals in there,” Lieu said.

But be careful with antlers for your aggressive chewers, said Lilly,  because “they might cause your strong dog to chip a tooth.”

And while higher quality items may cost a little more, they last longer.

“Look for organic cotton toys or chew resistant ‘tough’ toys,” Grosjean said. “Choose toys made of canvas, hemp, organic cotton, so if they do ingest it, there is a lower probability of it causing problems for their digestion.”

Lilly encouraged pet owners to actually take the time to read the labels on whatever toys or products they buy.

“If there aren’t ingredients listed, you can look at sourcing, and the warnings… at the end of the day, these dangerous things are on the shelves and they stay on the shelves despite the E.R. visits and surgeries and the things that we see clinically,” Lilly said.