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7 Chew Toys That Can Damage Your Dog’s Teeth

A pug with a giant bone

Chew toys are a great way to help your dog beat boredom and keep her teeth clean. But, the wrong chew toys can cause more harm than good. We often treat dogs with broken teeth, oral injuries, and enamel damage caused by chewing on inappropriate items. Help protect your dog’s pearly whites by avoiding these seven damaging chew toys.

#1: Bones 

Many owners think meat bones are a safe, natural chew toy for pets; however, chewing on any hard material can fracture a tooth. Dogs love bones, and can become so focused on gnawing off every last bit of tissue that they fail to notice a cracked or broken tooth.  After the bone is gone, and the injured tooth begins to ache, your dog may suffer silently and fail to alert you to the pain. 

Some people believe that fresh bones from the butcher are softer, and therefore safer, but you should never give your dog any type of bone, because they all can cause tooth damage and other problems. Ring-shaped bones can get caught behind a dog’s lower canine teeth, entrapping the end of the lower jaw, and requiring removal under anesthesia. Dogs can chew bones into small pieces that they ingest, potentially causing a life-threatening intestinal blockage. Poultry bones, which splinter and may puncture your dog’s stomach or intestinal wall, are particularly dangerous.

#2: Antlers

Deer antlers are a popular pet-store product advertised as a safe alternative to bones for your dog to chew. Unfortunately, antlers are made of a material similar to bone, and as hard as bone. Deer use their antlers to defend themselves and battle other bucks, and their hardness makes them formidable weapons. Also, antlers contain a soft center similar to a bone’s marrow cavity that dogs will access by chewing up the surrounding bone, possibly leading to tooth fractures and ingestion of small, hard pieces. 

#3: Tennis balls

A backyard game of fetch is a great way to help your dog stay active, but ensure she doesn’t steal the ball and chew on it, because the fuzzy outer coating can rub against her teeth and wear down the enamel. To make matters worse, tennis-ball fuzz collects dirt and grit, which increases its abrasiveness. Enamel damage caused by chewing tennis balls occurs gradually, and often goes unnoticed by owners until the damage is severe and the pet is suffering with a painful dental sensitivity. 

#4: Cow hooves

Cow hooves are another natural product that many people assume is safe for their pets. Hooves are made of keratin, one of the body’s hardest compounds, to protect the delicate foot structures below. They are extremely tough and hard, and chewing on them can lead to cracked, chipped, or broken teeth that can be excruciatingly painful for your pet. Hooves can also splinter as your pet tears them apart, and the pieces can puncture her mouth or digestive tract.

#5: Ice cubes

Ice cubes may seem like a good treat for your dog on a hot day, but water becomes dense and hard as it freezes. If your dog chews on ice cubes, she can damage a tooth permanently and may require surgery or extraction. Slipping a few ice cubes into your dog’s water bowl on a summer day is OK, but ensure she doesn’t fish them out and attempt to chew on them. 

#6: Sticks

Your back yard is full of sticks that may seem like easily accessible fetch and chew toys, but they can wreak havoc on your pet’s mouth. Small sticks can wedge themselves between your pet’s teeth on the roof of her mouth, causing tooth, bone, and gum damage. Sticks can also splinter, creating sharp pieces that can puncture your pet’s mouth or digestive tract. Choose a pet-safe rubber ball for games of fetch, and if your dog likes chewing on sticks, keep your yard clear of dead branches.

#7: Nylon chew toys

Despite being touted as a safe chewing alternative, many nylon bones are made of hard materials that can damage your pet’s teeth. Choose chew toys that are soft enough to indent when you press in your thumbnail, but hardy enough that your pet cannot chew them into pieces.

How to Choose Pet-Safe Chew Toys 

With so many toys that can damage your dog’s teeth, how do you choose safe varieties? Many dental-appropriate options are available if you follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Soft, not hard — Avoid chew toys made of hard materials that can damage your pet’s teeth—instead, choose toys made of tough rubber or nylon materials that can withstand your pet’s strong jaws.

  • No bits and pieces — Don’t purchase toys your pet can chew into pieces that can pose a choking or obstruction hazard.

  • Not too small — Choose size-appropriate toys for your dog—avoid those that are small enough for her to swallow whole.

Despite the variety of chew toys that can damage your pet’s teeth, many safe options are available that can provide her with hours of chewing fun, such as:

  • Kong-type toys — Fill a Kong with a mixture of dry kibble and peanut butter, and freeze for a special treat.

  • Rawhides — Rawhides are safe, but you must watch your pet closely to ensure she does not chew off pieces, and remove the rawhide if it becomes small enough for your pet to swallow.

  • Dental chews — Chews approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), such as C.E.T Enzymatic Hygiene Chews, can prevent plaque and tartar accumulation on your pet’s teeth.

  • Rubber bones — Choose textured-surface varieties to help remove plaque as your pet chews.

If you have questions about pet-safe chew toys, or your dog’s dental health, contact us