Are antlers good for dogs to chew on? Please “chews” NO!
Have you ever had one of those moments where what you know and what you actually do in real life don’t align? That’s what happened to me the day I gave my dog Luke an antler to chew. A client had given me the deer antler because her dog wouldn’t go near it. But my dog, who must be part T. rex in his ancestral heritage, was more than happy to chomp the antler. And, from the look on his face, he’d probably have answered the question, “Are antlers good for dogs to chew on?” with a happy, head-nodding grin.
Are deer antlers good for dogs to chew on? While my dog Luke was all smiles about chewing on an antler, the results were nothing to smile about.[/caption]
Like many dog moms, it brings me great satisfaction to give my dogs something that they enjoy. As an integrative veterinarian, I know what every pet parent knows to be true: what brings my dog satisfaction isn’t necessarily what’s best for him–even if trade magazines, product popularity, or social media would suggest we think otherwise.
Deer antlers are hard. A dog’s teeth fracture easily.
After attending vet school, I took several advanced dental training courses through a board-certified veterinary dentist. Dentistry is a large part of veterinary practice. In fact, 85% of cats over age two and 85% of dogs over age three have periodontal disease. From my training, I knew that careful selection of dog chews was important. And here’s why it’s so crucial:Dogs don't have a lot of enamel on their teeth and they can fracture them easily.Click To Tweet
Tooth fractures are a very real problem. As an integrative veterinarian for nearly 20 years, it’s not uncommon for me to discover a fractured tooth incidentally during a routine head-to-tail physical examination.
What is a slab fracture?
While any tooth in the mouth can fracture, become loose or damaged, or have associated gum problems, the most common tooth to fracture is the fourth premolar. (If you lift up your dog’s top lip from the side and retract that lip gently up and back, you’ll see on the top arcade a big tooth—it’s also called the carnassial tooth. It looks a mountain range upside down.)
Picture your dog’s fourth premolar like a big iceberg. Now picture a slab of that iceberg falling into the ocean. That’s the kind of fracture that happens to a dog’s tooth. The side of the tooth comes off and you’re left with a raw, exposed flat side. (For a case study and images of a fractured premolar, read Benny’s story on Vetdentists.com.) This is a common problem typically caused when a dog chews on something that’s too hard.
A slab fracture of your dog’s tooth can cause:
- pain (now the root endings are directly exposed)
- an abscess.
A fractured tooth is trouble in the making because there’s not a good sealant—the enamel that protects the tooth from infection. Without the enamel, infection can wick up the tooth and into the roots. Your dog can get a tooth root abscess. (If you’ve ever had a root abscess in your tooth, you know that it’s excruciatingly painful and can become very serious.)
Prevent a painful tooth fracture by choosing the right .
Determining whether a chew toy is too hard is not complicated. I learned the following rule from Dr. Fraser Hale, a board-certified veterinary dentist:If a chew toy or bone is too hard to smack into your own kneecap, then it's too hard to give your dog to chew. Click To Tweet
What chew toys pass the “kneecap smack” rule?
The “kneecap smack” rule of thumb limits what your dog should be chewing. For dog owners whose canine companions are heavy chewers, this can be frustrating. However, it can also limit the suffering and pain your dog experiences from a fractured tooth.
Avoid chew toys that don’t pass the “kneecap smack” test including:
Non-processed large bones.
Three life lessons I hope you’ll learn from my experience:
Yes, I gave a deer antler to my dog Luke. I’m sad to say it, and I had to remind myself of my own advice about letting go of mom guilt and trusting your intuition.
Most importantly, I hope that by sharing my experience, you’ll learn these three life lessons:
#1: My dad always said, “The wise man learns from his mistakes and the wiser man learns from the mistakes of others.”
I knew the kneecap rule when I gave my dog the antler. But for some reason, popularity of the commercial market, the advertisements in trade journals, and the fact that antlers are “natural” also factored into the equation. Which brings me to life lesson number two…
#2: Just because it is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for your dog.
While I’d made my dog as happy as a clam at high tide, within an hour, he’d fractured four teeth. I looked at his teeth and immediately recognized what had happened.
#3: Be your dog’s biggest advocate and lean on your trusted sources.
After my dog’s short-lived antler chew experience, I reached out to a trusted group of board-certified veterinary dentists and asked for their opinions on antler chews for dogs. They unanimously (there was not one dissenter) agreed that antlers are a sure way to fracture a dog’s teeth.
As your dog’s biggest advocate, I urge you to partner with your veterinarian as a trusted source of information for the long-term health and happiness of your dog. Additionally, it is my passion and my mission to help you help your dog live the happiest, healthiest life possible. I’ll do my personal best to share information that helps you make informed choices in the best interest of your dog.
Choosing a dog chew toy? Please “chews” wisely!
Finally, please make selecting safe chew toys an important part of your dog’s dental care routine along with daily tooth brushing and annual dental exams. What you give your dog to chew really does matter.
If you ever find yourself debating the answer to the question “Are antlers good for dogs to chew on,” please “chews” NO, and for the health of your dog, “chews” wisely when it comes to all dog chew toys.
Do you have questions about your dog’s dental health and which chew toys are safe for him or her?
I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.