I love chew toys. Not for me, mind you, but for my dogs. I recommend nearly all dog owners invest in a variety of interactive, engaging and just plain fun tooth and tug toys for their dogs.

Chew toys help keep the teeth and gums healthy and strengthen jaw muscles. They also serve as important environmental enrichment aides and provide essential mental stimulation.

Here’s a simple guide to what makes a great, and safe, canine chew toy:

Where’s it made?

One of the first attributes I look for in my preferred dog toys is the “Made in America” label. Call me patriotic or paranoid, I still favor products made on American soil. In addition to boosting our economy and promoting our own expertise, I simply trust American-made products more than others. I also believe in supporting local businesses whenever possible.

What’s it made of?

When choosing your dog’s chews, keep in mind there are few, if any, protective government regulations ensuring safety and quality in dog toys. Try to avoid rubbery plastics made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or vinyl. Many vets, including me, are concerned that as a dog chews and grinds on the plastic, the resulting heat can potentially liberate harmful phthalates.

There are plenty of high-quality, durable and safe chew toys to choose from. Many of the better – and safer – chew toys will state “phthalate free” on their label. I also choose chews made with FDA-certified nontoxic dyes. In general, chews made from natural rubber are a solid choice.

What else to avoid?

Beware of hard plastics that can crack and shatter teeth. In general, if you can’t dent or leave an impression with your fingernail, it’s probably too hard. If you have a puppy or senior pet, even softer chew toys are needed to protect weaker teeth and sensitive gums.

Rawhide is another material I avoid. First, many rawhide chews present a choking or intestinal obstruction risk. Been there, treated that too many times. Second, many rawhides are byproducts of the international fur and leather trade. Finally, rawhides may be coated with potentially toxic chemicals and originate from foreign countries, with little, if any, oversight or inspection. If you give your dog a rawhide, please do your homework and choose carefully.

Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

Is it environmentally friendly?

Don’t forget our environment when selecting your dog’s toys. If given the choice between regular or recycled materials, I select recycled, upcycled and reclaimed. Manufacturers understand that a landfill overflowing with discarded doggie plastics isn’t good for our planet and are offering better choices than ever. I’ve also been impressed with some of the newer hemp-based chew toys; so far they’ve proven to be incredibly durable and safe.

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What about bones, hooves and pig ears?

Bones, hooves, pig ears, pizzles, antlers and more are often tempting choices for dog chews. My main concerns with these picks are:

1. Breaking a tooth. I’ve seen it far too often with all varieties of hooves, antlers and chew bones, even the largest ones and those advertised as “safe for teeth.”

2. Choking. It happens, especially if a dog chomps them in half or gnaws off and swallows a fragment.

3. Splintering. Despite many claims to the contrary, any bone can potentially splinter, resulting in serious, even fatal, internal injury.

4. Contamination. Pig ears, bully sticks (a polite way to describe a bull’s penis bone offered as a chew toy), pizzles, (see previous, usually only smaller) and even certain antlers have been recalled for bacterial contamination, chemical treatments and other production and packaging hazards.

Chew toys can be an important enrichment tool for your dog. Plus, they’re fun. I rotate my dog’s toys every couple of days to keep them fresh and inviting. I regularly wash and rinse them well and keep them sanitary and undamaged. I urge you to replace your dog’s toys at the first sign of wear, breaking or cracking. So use these tips to let your dog tug and chew away – safely!

May 16, 2016

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