Lab chewing ball

Chewing is normal and necessary for puppies, who need to gnaw to help their adult teeth break through. Canine adolescence is also a prime time for exercising those jawbones. Once those gotta-chew stages are over, though, the need to gnaw continues for many dogs, especially those who are struggling to find human-acceptable outlets for their energy or to deal with the stress many dogs feel when they are left alone. For other dogs, chewing is just plain satisfying behavior: It makes them happy.

For all ages and stages, you should encourage chewing by providing safe outlets for this normal behavior. That means choosing your dog’s chew toys and treats carefully.

Know the Dangers

Whether you shop for pet supplies online, at a big-box store or at a locally owned independent retailer, you’ll find an astonishing array of chew toys and treats. While some brands (Kong is one of them) stand the test of time and are recommended by veterinarians and trainers alike, others deserve careful consideration before you buy them. In particular, be aware of three areas of concern.

Broken teeth. Think about how the wild relatives of dogs chew, using their teeth to gnaw meat off raw bones. Then look at how hard some chew toys are. Is it any surprise that chews that are hard as rocks can break a dog’s tooth? Look for chews with some “give” in them, even for strong chewers. The money you think you’ll save by buying a single hard plastic chew toy is money you could wind up spending to have your dog’s broken tooth fixed. Buying more chew toys that flex or yield to the teeth is a much better option all around. In addition to hard plastic chews, sterilized bones, antlers and other “natural” chews are too hard to be safe for most dogs.
Google+Internal blockage. This is about matching your dog’s chewing size and chewing style to the right chew toy. Some strong chewers go through chews so quickly that big hunks of the product end up forming blockages in the digestive tract. This can also happen when dogs grind down and swallow an entire chew. Read the labels to make sure you’re getting the right size, and monitor your dog’s chewing to prevent an entire chew from being ingested quickly. Dispose of any pieces that could pose a choking or swallowing hazard, and never leave your dog unsupervised with a chew toy. Finally, watch for signs of blockage, such as vomiting and lack of appetite.

Contamination. Many brands of jerky treats have been recalled but may still be on store shelves. Check the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website for recall information (you can also sign up for alerts). And handle chew treats and toys appropriately, washing your hands after handling to minimize risk to you and your human family. If your dog shows any signs of illness, check with your veterinarian.

Ask the Experts for Advice

Veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists can help you select the right chew toys and treats for your dog. As a veterinarian, I’ve pulled too many of the wrong ones out during surgery and dealt with too many cracked or broken teeth to steer you wrong. Trainers and behaviorists, such as my daughter Mikkel Becker, use chew toys as food puzzles (such as by stuffing a Kong) to help address behavior challenges such as inappropriate chewing or separation anxiety.

Pet care professionals hate to see dogs denied the pleasure of chewing or hurt by bad selections. Just ask! We’ll help you find what's right for your pet.