While living in a fast paced world where both parents are working, we need to ensure that our dogs are getting the chew time they need as well as the mental stimulation. Luckily, there are so many toys and puzzle games to satisfy their needs to keep our dogs busy for hours.
Dogs need to chew, it’s instinctive. Choosing the right dog toys is essential to being a responsible pet guardian. Some dogs have more of a need to chew than others. Monitoring our dogs’ chewing habits helps us see what kinds of chew toys to provide for them. Things we should be aware of regarding chewing are: the dog’s chewing need and the size of the dog. With regard to safety we must consider a toy’s durability and what it’s made of. Choosing the appropriate size toy/bone for the size of the dog is also important. Equally important is daily exercise and training. If dogs don’t have daily exercise (a physical release) and mental stimulation, they can become more voracious in their chewing needs.
Choosing toys for our dogs seems like a no-brainer, yet for too many, dogs are susceptible to the dangers of toxic or unsafe toys, necessitating very costly trips to the veterinarian, and some times the loss of life. We have all been made aware of how few standards are required of the pet food industry and manufacturers of toys for our children, it’s no different when it comes to dog toys. We as pet owners need to educate ourselves in appropriate and safe toys. Fortunately, there are some companies who have taken the lead in making non-toxic toys and safe products for our pets. Below are some recommended toys and not recommended toys.
- Beef marrow bones are controversial among some dog folks. I still feel they are far better than any store bought synthetic toys. They are jam packed full of nutrition and they can be reused by putting peanut butter (without xylitol), cheese or anything you want to stuff them with and they can be frozen so they are readily available. You can purchase them from your own butchers asking the to cut them exactly the size you need for appropriateness. Marrow bones are distinct from other bones which are smaller and can be chewed up and swallowed potentially tearing the lining of the intestine. A beef marrow bone is the long femur bone of a cow. Dogs can’t break this bone yet they can chew endlessly and happily satisfying their need to chew. Beef marrow bones supply our dogs with a safe and very effective chew toy and they are not laden with chemicals and additives used to prolong shelf life. The only concern one must have when purchasing marrow bones is the size in relation to the dog. Don’t give a German Shepherd a marrow bone that is 1 inch long because they can choke on it and by the same token, don’t give a Yorkshire Terrier a heavy 3 inch bone that he can barely pick up, let alone be able to get to the very scrumptious and nutritious marrow inside the bone. These beef marrow bones can be cooked or given raw. They will eat the inside and outside of the bone clean and your dog will have months of good chew time. I have marrow bones in the toy box that are years old and my dogs still love them. Another benefit to marrow bones from the butcher besides being toxin free is their cost. One can spend $10 on one toxic bone at the pet store, compared to a couple of dollars for a nutritious marrow bone at the market.
- Greenies, the ever famous dental toy. This dental chew toy has been known and reported to cause bowel problems and/or get lodged in the intestines requiring abdominal surgery for removal. Often times these dogs cannot be saved from the resulting blockage. There are countless reports of severe diarrhea, bowel disorders and even death from Greenies, yet they continue to be sold at pet stores as a great dental cleaner. While they may clean your dogs’ teeth the potential danger to your dog far exceeds its promise. Let me give you the ingredients and you can make an informed decision. Greenies are made from processed wheat gluten (wheat protein), glycerin, natural flavor, powdered cellulose fiber, monosodium phosphate, monoglycerides of edible fatty acid, magnesium stearate and chlorophyll. Need I say more?
- Rawhide is another toy that can cause bowel problems and rupture the intestine. Let’s say you have a voracious chewer; a Golden Retriever, Labrador, or Rottweiler. You give her a 6-inch rawhide bone; she goes through it in an hour. Her need for chewing hasn’t been satisfied so she roams around searching for something else to chew and comes back with your shoe. In an effort to save your shoe, you offer up another 6-inch rawhide bone. That too gets devoured in about an hour…. Still not satisfied she makes another round in search something to chew…get the picture? How many rawhide bones might one give a dog with this kind of chewing habit? Think about that for a moment. Let’s be conservative here and say 3 bones a day, that’s a lot of rawhide. Rawhide is treated and preserved with formaldehyde which is a carcinogen. It is not easily digested and may sit in a dogs stomach which may bloat or give them diarrhea or it could get lodged in the intestine. This endless cycle to satisfy a habit could be very costly to the health of your dog and to your purse.
- Nylabones are another very tricky chew toy. I say this because the packaging is very confusing. Just a few weeks ago, a client called me telling me that her 1 year old dog was throwing up. She found pieces of nylabone in the vomit. He was lethargic, not eating and vomiting. When I asked which kind of nylabone it was, she didn’t know. “It was a gumabone, style nylabone.” Follow me here. The Nylabone Company makes two different kinds of bones; one for puppies that is bendable, softer, semi flexible, good for teething puppies but not adult dogs. An adult dog with adult teeth and stronger jaws can chew off a piece too big and swallow it. It can then get lodged in the intestines. You know the rest. On the package, it is not clear that a gumabone is just for puppies. There have been many reported deaths and many lawsuits ongoing against the Nylabone Company yet you will still see them at pet stores. This shows a serious lack of concern and low standards in the pet toy industry. After a trip to the vet and monitoring the dogs vomit and stools for a week or more, the dog was fine but it was touch and go for a while. The owner went through the house and threw away all unsafe toys and replaced them with safe non-toxic toys. Nylabones can be fine, when given appropriately.
- Fluffy stuffed toys are another potential hazardous toy. The material on the inside and the plastic squeaker are what may cause the most damage. Some dogs will never destroy a fluffy toy and have it as a pretend litter mate, cuddling with it and sleeping with it their entire life. I know, I have one that is as old as my dog, 14 years old. Other dogs try to kill the squeaker within minutes ripping it open, spreading it all over the place and often times swallowing it and the stuffing inside. I had a client whose dog became lethargic and wouldn’t eat. After X-rays were taken, a tiny piece of stuffing was found blocked inside the intestine. After a $5000 abdominal exploratory the dog recovered and yes, all of the fluffy toys were removed from that home. Be mindful. Observe and choose the appropriate toys.
- Rope toys are a wonderful interactive and chew toy, for puppies especially. It has three different hardnesses for the different stages of a pup’s development. The knot is the hardest, the frayed ends are the softest and the rest is medium. Again, you must observe the type of chewer you have and if they continue to be destructive, chewing and swallowing bits of rope, this is not an appropriate chew to for your dog. You can even wet and freeze a rope toy for teething pups.
- Tennis balls are an interactive toy not a chew toy. If left around to chew on they can chew the felt off and then break the hard rubbing ball itself. Swallowing a jagged piece of a tennis ball can rip the intestines apart. Put balls away when your done playing.
- Bully sticks are in the not good category and Dr. Kay DVM gives her well thought out opinion on them.
- Puzzle toys are an awesome way to satisfy their need to forage, while stimulation their active mind. Fill with their favorite treats and have yourself a good laugh while your dog is in heaven. In the image below, see a dog with a Wobbler stuffed with kibble treats and K9 Connectables are super puzzlers for dogs.
Supplying dogs with appropriate toys and games will not only keep them busy,it engages them in ways that will make them use their brains. I must also tell you about a fantastic Facebook group called Canine Enrichment. It’s a public group with a ton of great enrichment games, toys and some you can make at yourselves. Stop by, there, you’ll be glad you did.
If you start your puppy off right, your home will never be destroyed and you’ll be laughing… A Lot.
About the author: Jill Breitner, is a professional dog trainer and dog body language expert loving and living her life on the west coast of the USA. She is the author of Dog Decoder, a smartphone app about dog body language recommended and used by veterinarians, shelters, trainers, educators and guardians worldwide. Jill has been teaching gentle handling/basic husbandry skills to clients and their dogs for 40 years, to be your pets advocate for a happier and stress free life. Join Jill on her Dog Decoder Facebook page