Happy Labrador Day!

Hello Again! Well, it's been so long since I updated this blog, I might as well just jump right back in on the question most often heard on this lovely long weekend: "What can my dog safely chew?" As I look up into the troubled eyes of each doting new owner of the inevitably wiggly Labrador puppy in front of me, I completely understand. Your new puppy is experiencing life through his mouth, and nothing is safe from his full expression of the joy of chewing. You've got about 2 years to redirect, distract, refocus and channel that oral trait into something you can live with, and I'll be glad to help you survive them!

There's some confusing information out there about which types of things are safe for your dog to chew, so I sat down on this Labor Day to offer up some links. It's not hard to find articles backing my opinions, except that they all seem to invariably end with something like this:

"Whether or not your dog has problems with rawhide chews, you might want to try a variety of chewing treats and toys, including rawhide, natural marrow bones, and hard rubber toys to fully satisfy your dog’s chewing and other needs." - from the self-referential http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/rawhide-good-or-bad-for-your-dog

Since they'd just gone on for 2 pages about all the perils of rawhide, it seems odd that they'd include them again. I don't recommend rawhides, for all of the reasons from that article, as well as my one core belief about All Things That Dogs Can Chew, which is: if it's not perishable, don't give it to your dog.

Yes, some dogs do safely enjoy chewing on rope, or plastic bones, or rubber balls, or even rawhide, but all of those things can break into indigestible pieces small enough for your dog to swallow. That's what causes intestinal blockage. As for rawhide, not only does it swell up in the belly, but it can contain so many chemicals that it may as well be plastic. For a whole lot more about how processed "rawhide" is made, please take a few minutes to read this informative article featuring that shareable image:


Ok, if so-called rawhides aren't worth the risk, what about those hard rubber toys, such as those Kong™ cones that are so easy to fill with peanut butter? Sure! They make a great distraction/toy, and can safely occupy a puppy's chew urges for quite some time. Excellent crate toy too, but supervise for awhile at first, so you know how your dog behaves with the toy. Also, remember to thoroughly scrub, run it through the dishwasher, and check for any cracks or splits, then throw it away once it's starting to age.

Hard rubber balls can be great fun for games of fetch, just make sure it either has no holes at all, or two holes in it, so that your dog can't get it stuck on lips or tongue. With those caveats, rubber toys can be useful. I use stuffed toys for training, but under supervision, so that none of my dogs run the risk of eating them, and I take them away when they're damaged. These exceptions to my non-perishable rule should always involve supervision, which leads us right back to the original question. What can I safely offer to this rapidly-growing, wagging nose, with the constantly gnawing mouth and giant feet?

Let's get back to those "natural marrow bones."

Discard the word "natural" since bones are already natural, and skip "marrow" for now. Bones! Which bones are safe, and how safe are they? The best rule of thumb to remember is Raw is Good & Cooked is Bad. A cooked, heated, smoked, or pressure-treated bone will shatter into shards, and those shards are what pose a risk to your pup's insides. If you did not get that raw bone from a fridge or freezer, then it's been treated, and is not safe to give to your dog. Raw bones break up into chunks as your dog chews, and depending upon the type of bone and the size of your dog, sounds just like a kid crunching hard candies! Safe bones are too big to swallow, with fat & meat on the outside, and marrow inside. How big is too big to swallow? Wider than your dog's face! The fat, meat, and cartilage attached encourage the dog to nibble with front teeth and grind with back teeth, all of which action scrapes off plaque. Give your dog a raw bone long enough to hold in front paws while navigating those back teeth, and you've just provided him with his own toothbrush.

What about that "marrow" we skipped earlier, isn't bone marrow really good for dogs? Yes, it contains very digestible and bio-available omega 3 & 6, fatty acids which have a positive effect on temperament and learning, especially in young dogs. So a big heavy leg bone filled with marrow is excellent for your dog, right? Yes, BUT! The problem is that a cow's leg bone is harder than your dog's teeth, and can cause cracking. You can always take all those bones back after the marrow has been removed, but there is still a risk of microfractures on the back teeth where your dog was having a great time grinding on the ends. You know your own dog best, and if the bone is small enough to swallow, take it back. If your dog resists giving it back, practice sitting for a different treat, and remove the bone while your dog is otherwise engaged.

The more intense your dog's urge to chew, the more effective a complex-shaped bone will be in keeping her mentally challenged. Avoid heavy weight-bearing cow leg bones, and instead, choose neck bones, vertebrae, ribs, & joints. Leg bones are fine, if they're goat, lamb, pork, deer, or chicken; all of which are softer than beef bones. These are also good choices for any puppy that needs a lot of activity and gets bored easily, like a terrier, or a collie. A frozen raw pork neck bone makes a wonderful crate training treat, and can be completely consumed by most pups over 10lbs - and quite a few under! What can you do with that huge beef marrow bone you have in the freezer? A puppy that still has puppy teeth can happily round down those razor sharp points on that bone all he wants, until those puppy teeth fall out, then take it away to avoid damaging adult teeth. Another great use for big leg or knuckle bones is to boil them down into a bone broth, which can be frozen into cubes as a desert treat for the heat of summer. If you're not sure if the bones you have are safe for your dog, this is the safest way to give your dog the beneficial nutrition that they offer.

These are the reasons that I've been offering frozen raw pork bones from Black Boar Farm in Essex County this summer. They are bones of many different shape, size and density, each bagged in resealable plastic bags for ease of deployment. Yes, they can be a little messy, so it's best to offer outside, on a porch or deck, in a crate, or contained to any washable space. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling any pet food or treats, for your own health and safety.

What else do I recommend that is safe for your dog to eat, from tiniest puppy to oldest senior citizen? Why DogTown Lounge's air-dried raw meat treats; Dried Chicken Fingers, of course! Dehydrated in my custom-built high-volume drier, the @Dryalata™, each raw treat is carefully cleaned, frozen, and placed into a hot wind tunnel at the perfect temperature to create a crunchy, delicious, high-value treat that your dog will enjoy chewing. The length of these treats make them easy to hold onto, so that you can get your puppy's full attention, making that all-important eye contact needed for a positive bonding and training experience. 

I hope this has clarified some confusion about what constitutes a safe and healthy dog chew. As always, feel free to comment, ask questions, send an email, or stop by the farmers market booth. Enjoy a lovely Labor Day!