Bones, rawhide, synthetic bones, or toys – which to ‘chews’?

When you walk into any dog food shop, you (and your pup) are probably overwhelmed with the massive choice of treats, snacks, and chew toys. There are bones that fit into the palm of your hand and others that are the size of your forearm. Then there’s the synthetic bones and the ones that they store in the freezer. On top of that, you have knuckles, antlers, necks, and all sorts of other nasty but apparently delicious snacks.

I think “spoilt for choice” might be the right phrase here!

With so much variety, it’s difficult to figure out which is best. You may even leave the choice up to your pup. But dogs don’t know what’s best for themselves. They’re just thinking with their taste buds. They’re literally kids in a sweet shop.

So when you and your dog can’t decide, what do you do?

What shouldn’t you pick?

There’s controversy in the veterinary world with advice AGAINST giving your dogs a bone as the risk outweighs the benefit and usually suggest synthetic instead.  Personally, as long as you select a bone appropriate to your dog and never feed COOKED bones, I don’t agree. Despite the raw diet not being right for my George in my opinion, I still give him allergy-friendly (i.e not the animals he can’t eat) as they help keep his teeth clean. The action of chewing stimulates saliva enzymes which help prevent plaque build-up and gum disease. Not only that, bones are a great source of essential minerals and other nutrients. And, of course, they bloody love it and we’d kill to see them happy.

Instead, you can take steps to make their chewing sessions as safe as possible. As above, never give cooked bones to your dog. The cooking process makes bones weaker, which makes them more likely to break into smaller pieces. This means they can easily cut your pup’s mouth and throat, get lodged in their oesophagus or cause damage to their digestive tract. No pawrent should have to give their pooch the Heimlich or pull bones from their throat. So bones must always be raw.

In a similar vein, never give your pup pork bones. The uncooked flesh of pork can contain a nasty parasite called trichinella spiralis. This can cause the infection known as trichinosis. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Left untreated, trichinosis (also known as pork roundworm) can be fatal. 

But it’s transmitted through pork meat – why are we so against pork bones? Simply put, it’s better to be safe than sorry. We’ve heard too many stories of doggos developing this infection from chewing pork bones so it’s just not worth it.

Finding the perfect bone

Let’s start with choosing the right size. As funny as it may look to see a French bulldog try to tackle a bone the size of a tree trunk, it can actually damage their teeth. And giving a tiny bone to a larger dog raises the risk of choking.

There’s no official rule to help you choose the right size. A good rule of thumb to follow is if it’s smaller than their head, it’s too small. That may sound a bit OTT, but if it’s the size of their head, they’ll never be able to swallow it. 

Once you’ve figured out the size and the animal it comes from, you need to choose a shape. Round bones or ones with lumps or bulges at either end are your best bet. They’re harder to break and a challenge to squeeze into their mouth. Win-win.

But even if you choose the wrong size by a little, it’s not the end of the world if you keep watch while they chew. Yep, we have to monitor them when they’re chewing bones. Or anything, really. Even the best, toughest bones can crack into smaller pieces and find their way into your pup’s throat.

Many pawrents limit chew time to around 15 minutes too. Most doggos will chew all day if you let them. Setting a time limit stops them from hurting themselves. And when you’re out of the house, you should hide bones in hard to reach places. You don’t want them getting their paws on them while you aren’t there to keep your eye on them.

Because the bone will be raw, you’ll need to bin it after three or four days. That’s if you refrigerate it in between sessions. If not, that same bone may only be good for a few hours. After that, it becomes a health hazard – not to mention the fact it’ll start to stink your house out. Trust me, it’s not a good smell.

The rawhide problem

If you notice any symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea, you might need to find something else for your dog to chew. The same goes for pups with sensitive stomachs or other stomach problems. Sadly, bones just aren’t suitable for every dog. No matter how much they might enjoy chewing away on them. And raw diets, even when it’s just an occasional bone, can be really harsh on their tummies.

With this in mind, you might be considering alternatives.

Rawhide is one of the most popular, if not the most popular chew for dogs. But when you Google it – and take out the Wikipedia page for the Clint Eastwood TV show – almost all the results are a bit bleak.

“Is rawhide bad?” 

“Can rawhide kill dogs?” 

“The dangers of rawhide.” 

I think that speaks volumes.   

Rawhide is made of hide or animal skin. It sounds perfect, but it quickly softens and stretches when it’s wet. And what’s wet? Your dog’s saliva. There are hundreds of stories about pups choking on rawhide, particularly bulldogs. This is because they typically have a stronger chew compared to, say, a chihuahua. They can easily break pieces off and try to eat them.

Rawhide should be chewed and broken down slowly, but the force from the jaw of a larger dog can easily snap pieces off which then stick in their throats. Rawhide is generally considered to be safe for smaller dogs and weaker chewers, but it’s still hard to digest. So chewing off and eating it is a big no-no as it’ll struggle to pass through their digestive system.

Since it’s so hard to digest, rawhide can last in your pup’s stomach for months. Sometimes they need surgery to remove the chunks and, in worst cases, blockages can cause death.

But that’s not all. Rawhide goes through a nasty process before it finds its way to the shelf of your local pet shop. 

Rawhide is doused in chemical preservatives to keep it from spoiling during transport. Then it’s soaked in even more chemicals to strip all the hair and fat from it. Hydrogen peroxide and bleach  mask the smell of what is essentially rotting skin. Finally, the use of synthetic flavouring and colouring are there to make it taste and look better. 

We’re strictly “no nasties” here at Swagwags. So this entire process is exactly what we’re against. Since it’s got so many negatives against it, we’d advise staying as far away from rawhide as possible.

But this type of process isn’t unique to rawhide. Other chews go through similar treatments too. This is why we prefer natural products that don’t have any added artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, or chemicals.

Synthetic bones

The rawhide process may put you off dog treats and chews entirely. But there are other options out there that are more than suitable for your pooch. You could even take matters into your own hands. There are many easy, tasty snacks you can make for your dog at home

Or keep it simple and get your pooch a toy like a KONG. KONGs are ridiculously popular for a reason. Dogs love them, their humans love them, and they’re bloody tough. They’ve earned their title as one of the best toys for dogs. And with a KONG or similar toy, there’s no panic about food poisoning, splintering, or choking. And it’s really funny watching them desperately try to get a snack out of it.

For non-food toys, a good old football will do the trick too. But we do advise against rope toys. It’s easy for them to rip strands off and swallow them.

Finally, let’s look at synthetic bones.

These are generally safer because they won’t splint, are less likely to lead to choking, and don’t carry harmful bacteria. But dogs can still break and eat them, harming the digestive tract. So they might not be the best choice for those with a strong jaw.

Synthetic bones also come in plenty of flavours and sizes. And there’s the added bonus of not having a rotting carcass in your living room. They’re also specifically designed to support a healthy mouth and are usually low in calories. 

But synthetic bones may have artificial flavours, so that’s something to bear in mind when browsing synthetic bones in the pet shop.

While the choice is up to you, chew toys are the safest option in terms of preventing choking and keeping their mouths safe from cuts. As well as this, they don’t carry harmful bacteria like salmonella and it’s harder for your pup to break pieces off for them to swallow.

This still doesn’t mean they’re entirely safe. It’s important to regularly inspect anything you give your dog, looking for chunks that might break off. Even though toys are considered safer (emphasis on safer) there is always a risk that your dog could choke. This is why it’s essential to watch over them during a chew session and to remove toys and chews from their reach when you aren’t there. 

We know you want the best for your pooch. We do too. That’s why Swagwags kibble is free from any artificial colours, flavourings, and preservatives, and contains only quality cuts of meat. Order your nutritionally complete kibble to your doorstep today.

If you’re ever concerned about potential allergies, take one of our sensitivity tests. It’s non-invasive and takes 5 minutes to do – a small price for perfect pup health!