Dog Chew Safety Guide & Precautions

Written by: Samantha Erb

April 5, 2022

When it’s not your shoes, chewing is an important activity for dogs. It helps relieve stress and anxiety, reduces plaque buildup on teeth, burns excess energy and helps ease boredom, allows puppies to explore their world and learn what is and is not appropriate to gnaw, and enables us to spot potential health concerns when chewing behavior changes.

What Is A Dog Chew?

Chews are generally consumable, durable, longer-lasting treats designed to encourage that beneficial chewing action and oh-so delicious satisfaction. (Drool puddles are a common side effect.)

Types Of Dog Chews

Like dogs, no chew is created equal. Where some chews switch on the drool faucet and disappear in seconds, others get tails and tongues wagging for a jaw-flexing challenge. Whichever your dog prefers, give all chews—whether soft and chewy or strong and solid—with care and caution. 

Hard chews like raw natural bones (please never give cooked bones, they tend to splinter in the mouth and throat), antlers, yak chews, rawhide, bully sticks, beef tracheas, dried hooves, and even ice cubes can cause tooth fractures and micro-fractures. This is something vets see all too often and dog parents anticipate all too infrequently. They can also cause other kinds of injuries if they splinter in the mouth or develop sharp edges over time. 

image if Pomeranian with tongue out and dog chew

While softer chews present less risk for injuries like tooth fractures, some dogs find them all too easy to break down and swallow in big chunks. Ingesting large pieces (which don’t break down as well in the stomach) can lead to gastrointestinal upset or an emergency intestinal obstruction.

Related Article: 11 Long-Lasting Chews For Dogs Who’d Chew Through Drywall

Dog Chews & Dog Size

Always choose a chew best suited to your dog’s size, and supervise! Dogs should be able to easily grip and hold the chew, and it should be large enough that it can’t fit entirely in the mouth. They should not be able to bite off or swallow large chunks, which creates a potential choking hazard or intestinal blockage.

Once your dog gnaws a chew down small enough that it fits entirely in their mouth, take it away and toss. (And if your dog is part shark and frequently tears off too-big bites, chews in general are not a safe choice for them.)

image of golden retriever outdoors with dog chew

How To Give Your Dog A Chew

  1. Ensure that the chew is not too large or too small for your dog. They should be able to hold it between their paws and be unable to fit the whole thing in their mouth.
  2. Like any treat, chews are best given in moderation. They’re great choices when your dog is in need of a little extra mental stimulation, like on rainy days or when it’s too hot to play outside, but they’re an even better complementary activity (like in your monthly BarkBox delivery!) to maintain a balanced lifestyle. Without plenty of exercise and mental workouts (like training, socialization, and human interaction), chewing can become obsessive. As a result, potentially dangerous habits, such as gulping, too-hard chewing, and resource guarding can develop.

Also note: Any edible chew or treat contains calories you must count to maintain a healthy weight. The sum of all treats (anything edible aside from kibble) eaten in a day should not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. No matter how much they beg.

image of dog biting chew
  1. Always supervise! For example, never give a chew to your dog in their crate before you leave. Be sure to provide fresh water, and prepare to remove too-small pieces to avoid choking, tummy upset, or intestinal obstruction. An unsupervised dog won’t have you there to help if they choke, or to take away the chew if it gets dangerously small.
  2. See a veterinarian immediately if you notice any unusual behavior after your dog consumes a chew, including vomiting or non-productive retching.

Related Article: 5 Benefits Of Chewing Your Dog Needs You To Know

Dog Chew Safety Precautions

Keep a close eye on your dog with any treat, chew, or toy. If your dog is a natural treat-guzzler, treat-dispensing toys or toys in which you can add spreadable treats and freeze, like many Super Chewer toys, are a safer, but still mentally stimulating alternative. 

Tougher chews like raw bones, antlers, and natural bones may help prevent dogs from swallowing large chunks. But remember, the harder the chew, the higher the risk for dental injuries like cracked teeth. Raw bones or food also present the added risk of food-borne disease that can seriously affect both you and your dog.

Related Article: Is It Safe To Feed Your Dog A Raw Diet?

The Fingernail Test

The “fingernail test” is a helpful tool. If you cannot make an indentation with your fingernail, the chew may too hard for your dog’s eager chompers. Ideally, you want enough give to allow you to break or bend easily by hand. If it’s not, use your best judgment and remove the chew after 10–15 minutes to allow for short breaks. When a chew becomes small enough to fit inside the mouth, it’s time to discard.

Also, keep in mind that puppy teeth and brand new adult teeth are more fragile. This means that a chew that’s appropriate for a full-grown adult dog might not be ok to give to a puppy. Check with your vet if you’re unsure what level of Chew Authorization your dog holds.

Does your dog have a tendency to consume softer chews at the speed of light? You may need to balance the risk of fractured teeth (a longer-lasting hard chew) against the risk of intestinal obstruction (a short-lived soft chew).

image of dachshund teeth under magnifying glass

How To Spot A Dental Injury

Dogs need healthy, intact teeth to chew appropriately and safely. Just like humans, they require regular visits to a veterinary dentist for a full assessment, and should engage in daily preventative dental care. This toothbrush-free dental kit from BARK Bright pairs a triple-enzymatic toothpaste with a no-mess dental chew to get the job done in a way dogs actually enjoy!

Dogs with dental disease, loose, or fractured teeth should not chew on treats or toys before seeing a vet. They may even have trouble eating kibble properly without obvious discomfort. If your dog suddenly appears uninterested in chewing, or lets food drop out of their mouth as they eat, it could be a possible indication of a new dental issue (like a tooth fracture) that requires vet attention.

This article has been reviewed by Margo Hennet, DVM.

Margo Hennet, DVM, cVMA, and veterinarian at BARK is a canine nutrition, health, & wellness connoisseur. She has a combined 10 years of experience in clinical medicine, research, and education—that’s 70 dog years of know-how—and graduated from Colorado State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. She completed specialized training in internal medicine prior to working as a general practitioner in Colorado, has authored peer-reviewed publications and textbook chapters, holds certification in veterinary medical acupuncture, and is a member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition and American Veterinary Medical Association.

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Written by: Samantha Erb

April 5, 2022

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