Why Do Dogs Love to Chew?
Chewing is a natural instinct for dogs. Their mouths are a primary way they interact with the world they live in, and chewing allows them to explore. Puppies tend to chew quite a bit more than adult dogs to relieve the pain of teething. And in some cases, a chew toy may hold a positive association for your pup, and when he plays with it the pleasure centers in his brain light up.
Unfortunately, dogs can also begin destructively chewing when they become anxious, bored, stressed, or are in need of comfort. The beauty of the right dog toy is that it can be multifaceted—both keeping them entertained and helping to alleviate behavior issues.
Dog Teeth Are Different than Human Teeth
It’s probably not a surprise to hear that the makeup of a dog’s mouth is quite different than ours. That’s because the teeth of dogs have developed to hunt and tear through the food they catch.
But you might not know that dog teeth have five to ten times less enamel than human teeth. And just imagine, we humans might easily break a tooth chewing on a piece of ice!
Fractured teeth are one of the largest concerns surrounding safe chew toys, especially since many dogs will happily chew until the cows come home. Studies show that up to 10% of dogs will experience a fractured or broken tooth in their lifetime.
So how do you offer a safe chewing outlet for your dog when not all toys are created equal? As local vets in Gilbert, AZ, our team at East Valley Animal Hospital would like to share some of our wisdom and experience when it comes to choosing safe dog chew toys.
Things to Consider When Choosing Safe Dog Chew Toys
What kind of chewer is your dog? Is he a nibbler, a destroyer or an inhaler? Some dogs just instinctively want to attack a chew toy. These dogs need a toy that is long-lasting and safe for them to go to town on.
Does the toy present a choking hazard? Some toys can be torn or broken into pieces that present the possibility of choking. That doesn’t mean you should always avoid these toys, but you will want to supervise your dog when they are playing with them.
Can the toy cause dental trauma? As we mentioned above, dental trauma is a significant concern with it comes to unsafe chew toys. Before you buy a toy, consider if any aspects of the toy could cause fractured or broken teeth, or whether there are sharp parts that could impale your dog’s mouth or throat if swallowed.
Is the toy safe if bits of it are swallowed? If your dog enjoys tearing toys apart and then eating them, you’ll want to pay extra close attention to the material the toy is made from. Some materials are harmful to ingest, like those that could have chemicals embedded in the toy’s material makeup. Those and other toys can be damaging to a dog’s GI system.
Unsafe Chew Toys for Dogs
1. Bones & Antlers
Sure, dogs in the wild may chew on bones. But those bones are raw and tend to be softer than cooked or synthetic bones and antlers. There’s also not as much time for a dog in the wild to get bored and chew on bones for hours on end, wearing down their teeth. And dogs in the wild have shorter lifespans than domesticated dogs. In part, this can be attributed to dental health.
Another danger with bones is that they can splinter and pierce the mouth or break and become a choking hazard. Chicken bones are particularly hazardous in this respect.
2. Tennis Balls
A little bit of fetch in the park from time to time won’t really do much damage to your pup’s oral health. The real harm of these popular, dog play toys is when they carry them for prolonged periods of time or chew them to pieces. The rough and abrasive nature of gnawing on the tennis ball’s fuzzy exterior can lead to tooth pain and other dental problems. Tennis balls can also pose a choking risk if your dog likes to tear them to pieces. And if the tennis ball they love to chew on or carry around is the one you use for fetch, that means they are potentially chewing on gravel and other substances that can irritate or cause dental harm.
3. Ice Cubes
Some dogs love to chew on ice. And it might seem like a great treat to cool them down in the hot summer months. But the larger and the harder the ice cube, the more potential there is for fractures or broken teeth to occur. If you want to use ice cubes as a way to ensure your dog gets a little extra hydration, consider using ice chips or breaking the ice cube into pieces that are small enough not to pose a choking hazard.
Safe Chew Toys for Dogs
1. A Kong
The Kong dog toy is the king of dog toys from a veterinarian’s perspective. They are 100 percent safe for dogs to chew on, and they also provide dental health benefits. When your dog chews on a kong, they are scrubbing harmful bacteria and plaque from their teeth. Kongs can be used as a treat when Fido is a good boy, and they can be used when training your dog in developing good behavior.
2. Soft, Fluffy Toys
From a dental trauma standpoint, soft toys are a pretty safe bet. However, as with all chew toys, they should be supervised to ensure Fido doesn’t swallow any part of the toy. Squeakers and random toy parts can be a choking hazard and are not generally kind to a dog’s GI tract. We also advise checking all dog toy labels before purchasing them to ensure they don’t contain any harmful substances like chemicals.
3. Tug-of-War Toys
Dog-safe rope toys are excellent for that game of tug-of-war with your energetic pup. However, if your dog loves to chew on his rope toy, he may end up swallowing strands of the rope, which can be extremely harmful to his intestines. In this case, opt for a hard rubber toy that can be used in tug-of-war.
Signs Your Dog Might Have a Tooth Fracture
If your dog has fractured or broken a tooth, you can bet they will try and hide it for as long as possible. That’s because dogs in the wild avoid showing weakness for survival reasons. To the trained eye, however, dental issues are not too difficult to spot.
Some signs of an injured tooth include:
- Chewing on one side
- Dropping food from the mouth when eating
- Excessive drooling
- Grinding of teeth
- Pawing at the mouth
- Facial swelling
- Shying away when the face is petted
- Refusing to eat hard food
- Refusing to chew on hard treats or toys
If you notice any of these signs, we highly recommend making an appointment for your four-legged friend to receive an oral exam. If you have questions about whether or not a chew toy is safe for your dog, don’t hesitate to give your local vet a call.