|This is my sister's 10 month old cocker. Photo taken by her.|
When shopping for bones, like food, there are many choices for consumers. Rawhide or natural bones? Bones made out of starches or plastic non-edible bones? The type of bone you chose for your dog will depend on what level chewer she is.
Strictly for the purpose of this post, I am going to assign stars in relation to chew levels.
1 star: this dog has plush toys for years. His owners joke they are his "babies," and when he chews a rawhide, he often won't finish it at all.
2 stars: this dog is interested in chewing and is very dainty when she chews. If stuffing happens to be sticking out of toy already, she will de-stuff it a tad. A bully stick would last her a few days.
3 stars: this dog is average. He picks at seams in ill constructed toys and tends to eat tags and eyes and limbs off of them as well. A bully stick lasts this dog a few hours and a pigs ear is gone in probably 10 minutes or less.
4 star: this dog cannot have plush toys. She destroys them within 10 minutes and completely guts the toy! She is ravenous for things to chew on. A nylabone lasts her a few months and a bully stick an hour at best. This dog can also demolish a red kong in a matter of months.
My sister's pup is a 3.5 star, my dogs happen to be a 2.5 star. I am lucky!
There are many types of rawhide chews. Cowhide and porkhide are the two most common and within those categories you will see compressed, rolls, twists, chips, dyed, knotted etc. Rawhide is the hide of an animal, so it isn't incredibly digestible. Some dogs tolerate it poorly and have diarrhea or vomiting upon consumption. The rawhide made overseas (most of it is) can have a variety of chemicals on it due to the process of getting the hide off the animal. Formaldehyde (used in preparing bodies for burial), is commonly used in that process and is highly toxic. The dyes in many rawhides can also stain a dog and your carpet. When purchasing rawhide personally, I only buy compressed bones or pork twists, since the risk of intestinal compaction is much much lower. I also choose bones that are not dyed and that are made in the USA. I have known many a Lab eat a retriever roll rawhide and need a $2000 life-saving surgery because of an intestinal compaction. Recommended for all levels.
Natural bones are just that, natural. These bones are either raw, smoked or sanitized. Raw bones of really any animal are safe (you can find these sold in the freezer at Pet Food Express for those in the Bay, and at Animal Crackers for those in Oregon). You will see turkey necks, tibia cuts, lamb shanks, cow femurs etc. The risk of salmonella or e.coli with dogs is not as high as it is with humans due to dogs having a short large intestine. The bone is passed before bacteria has a chance to take hold and multiply. Don't believe me? Look at the nasty garbage and dead things dogs eat, usually without any medical repercussions. Eating poultry bones that are raw are safe because it is the cooking process that makes poultry bones brittle and dangerous for canine consumption. Raw bones are recommended for all chew levels.
In my opinion, the only safe smoked bones are the tibia cuts. The shanks or any bone with a long bone shaft, are very prone to splintering. I have seen it happen first hand with my own two. It is very sad to have a dog crying as she struggles to have a bowel movement and ends up defecating bone shards and blood. I apologize for that visual! Other safe smoked bones aren't really bones, but are hooves or antlers or bully sticks. Recommended for level 2.5-4+
Sanitized bones are very safe as they are usually tibia cuts. They are very boring for most dogs unless stuffed with something. Some come stuffed with a commercial filler, or you can buy an empty one and stuff it yourself as you would a kong type toy. Recommended for level 2.5-4+
Starch based bones
While these bones are incredibly safe, they are really only worth it for a level 1-2 chewer. These bones are made out of potato starch, vegetable starches or wheat glutens.
Nylabones are incredibly popular. They are a bone made out of durable nylon that the dog chews on and does not ingest. If the dog ingests some bits of plastic, it is supposedly safe and will pass through his system. There are really two camps over nylabones: those that love them and those that hate them. I mean that in terms of dogs that love them and owners and visa versa. Google "are nylabones safe?" and you will find a plethora of anecdotes from people that say their dog got a one inch piece of nylon in his stomach and became septic. Or a dog that broke a tooth on a nylabone too hard for his mouth. A dog could eat a rock or a sock, and be in much more danger than having a small piece of plastic in his stomach. These are recommended for chewers 2.5-4+
Anything we give to our dogs comes with risk, just as we know a human can choke on an ordinary food item, so can a dog.
Below are some links to some of the suitable bones mentioned here. Note, this is from Petco's website, but most pet stores will carry these items.