Don’t Give A Dog A Bone…

Knick-knack paddywhack don’t give a dog a bone.

There is not a single type of chew toy or bone for dogs that is totally safe. While adult humans continue to choke to death on such benign things as breakfast cereal and hot dogs, we can’t expect otherwise.

This unfortunate fact makes it difficult for vets to recommend appropriate dental chews for our canine patients. Still, I often advise clients to carefully try giving their dogs rawhides. In more than 15 years of busy practice, I have never seen a serious problem with them. One of my own dogs gets stomach-upset from rawhides – a minor issue – but they’re off his menu as a result. It’s a shame. They kept his teeth in good shape and now I ought to be brushing them more.

I get a lot of sceptical looks when discussing rawhide chews because most of us have seen and heard of dogs trying to swallow them in big chunks. Never give your dog anything to chew when you aren’t watching him closely. If he persists in choking himself or gets aggressive about guarding them, take rawhides off the list. The problem is, there aren’t many other things that satisfy the urge to chew, are attractive to dogs and help clean teeth without a high risk of breaking them.

You do have to pick the right shape, size and style of rawhide. Avoid anything big enough to block an airway or bowel – like the ones shaped like bones with knots on the ends. Flat strips are usually safest.

To avoid dental fractures, one veterinary dentist is fond of advising against any chew, rawhides included, that would cause pain if you got whacked in the knee with it. Even some rawhide strips are thick enough to fit that category, although they can be softened in water if you can bear the mess afterwards.

Some dog owners still like to give their pets bones, as in beef shins and such. To put it bluntly, bones are really good for business at vet clinics. At our practice, we extract at least a couple of teeth broken by bones every month. These are usually the most important chewing teeth in the mouth.

There’s a common misconception that bones are safe if they aren’t cooked because the raw ones don’t splinter. While it’s true about the splintering, raw or not, bones break teeth in dogs that chew aggressively. The same is true of antlers which have become a popular item. They break teeth.

Another category of dental-care chews includes firm rubber toys such as the beehive-shaped Kong. Stuffed with kibble, popcorn or a smear of peanut butter, Kongs can keep dogs interested and chewing for long periods. Just remember the main point here – there is no totally safe chew for dogs. I’ve seen xrays of Kongs in stomachs. They were chosen as the right size for the smaller dog in the house.

A list of chews and other products proven to help with dental care is available on the Veterinary Oral Health Council’s website at or ask your vet for advice. Keep in mind, whatever chew you choose, your dog’s habits or just plain bad luck may make the product dangerous. If you are looking for the safest, most effective way to clean a dog’s teeth, get out a brush and some doggy toothpaste. Do not use human toothpastes as they contain fluoride which is quite toxic when swallowed.

A last note – cookies don’t clean teeth and usually just add unnecessary calories to your dog’s diet.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton, Ontario
November 2012