How Safe Are Your Dog’s Chew Toys?

Rawhide has been the most popular type of chewing device that dogs enjoy. Now enter Greenies … Go to any pet supply store or any store that sells pet supplies and you will find an abundance of rawhide chews and Greenies in every size, shape . In fact, “Greenies are some of the “HOTTEST” chewables on the market right now. Unfortunately, rawhide and even Greenies could be dangerous for your pet. Even though They’re promoted as natural, digestible and good for dogs’ teeth.

The use of certain chew toys has become the center of recent controversy. Numerous dogs have suffered serious injury resulting from chewies, and several deaths can be directly attributed to these toys. Depending on the size of your dog, and your dog’s personality, proper use of chew toys is an absolute necessity.

Rawhide, Pig’s Ears, Cow Hooves and Greenies

These well-liked dog treats are purchased in large numbers, by well-meaning dog owners hoping to give their pets something special. These toys are favorites for many dogs and are popular with owners because they keep their pets occupied and supposedly out of trouble. There are definite risks associated with these treats, howeve, all of these are supposedly made of digestible animal products.

Cow hooves are even more dangerous than rawhides. They are hard enough that a dog can actually break a tooth on one. They can also be chewed up into sharp fragments which may cause a partial intestinal obstruction. Partial obstructions are often difficult to diagnose until the point at which the fragment is ready to perforate the wall of the bowel from pressure against the sharp edges. If perforation has occurred, the infection that ensues from leakage of intestinal contents can be fatal.

Pigs’ ears can cause GI upset if overeaten, similar to the situation with rawhides, although obstructions are less common because the ears are not usually shaped into solid chunks. There is, however, a less widely known danger associated with pig ears: A recent FDA advisory published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human services stated that there is “a nationwide public health warning alerting consumers about a number of recent cases in Canada of human illnesses apparently related to contact with dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials (e.g., pigs ears, beef jerky treats, smoked hooves, pigs skins, etc.)…

Rawhide and Greenie chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down. Once in the stomach or intestinal tract, a large piece of rawhide can also create a physical obstruction. An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys. Greenies are wheat and corn and cellulose based which dogs are not designed to digest.

Everyone in the dog community from the manufacturers to local vets strongly recommend supervised use of chew toys. Injury from chewies primarily comes in two forms,

1) fractured teeth

2) gastrointestinal obstruction.

The likelihood of injury depends on a couple of factors, the first being size. Current data shows that the rate of injury rises dramatically for dogs over 55 pounds. Larger more powerful dogs are more likely to dismantle and ingest chew toys not meant for consumption. The second factor is your dog’s personality. A more aggressive chewer will be more likely to break teeth on hard chews, and will be more likely to gulp down large (and potentially fatal) pieces that are torn from the toy.

Many chews are regularly ingested by dogs even though this is not the intention of the chew toy’s manufacturer. Rawhides are a good example. If the manufacturer states that the item is not to be ingested, or claims that it is a chew toy, then it is not classified as a feed item, and hence falls under no regulatory control. With no control, the manufacturer is free to use any ingredients or materials despite safety or health concerns. Due to the lack of controls, many inexpensive rawhides are imported from the Asian continent, most notably Thailand. In many of these countries, the hides are processed with mercury vapor, chromium salts, lead solutions, arsenic compounds and formaldehyde!

But even with some modern, safe processing these dried hides still present safety problems for our dogs. As the chewed rawhide softens, our carnivors’ powerful jaws easily tear off pieces and the dog swallows them. The cured hide is supposed to be digestible, but it breaks down far too slowly in the intestines, and swallowing too many pieces too quickly can easily lead to gastric irritation from the abundance of undigested materials. This iwil usually be accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea. Worse yet, some of the swallowed pieces may be only partially softened and still have hard, sharp edges and corners. This can lead to choking, esophageal lacerations, and gastrointestinal obstructions. In the case of the obstruction, surgery will most likely be necessary to remove the rawhide.

Greenies, right now are a very popular chewie, manufacturer’s own tests show that these chews are effective in reducing tartar growth, however the claim to controlling doggie breath is disputed by many customers. The makers of Greenies make the claim “no crumbs”, this may be true as these chews have a tendency to break apart in large chunks. They also state that “gulpers” should be strictly monitored. Put those two things together, large chunks and gulping, and there is definitely the possibility of a resulting esophageal or intestinal blockage. In fact, more then one person has now claimed that a large piece of Greenie became lodged in thier dog’s throats. One woman states that by the time her vet found the obstruction, it had become “glued” to the esophageal wall. According to the report, the doctors had an extremely difficult time removing the green chunk, and the dog died from surgical complications. Even that aside, The primary volume of a Greenie is cellulose , and carnivores are not equiped with the enzymes to break down and digest cellulose.


Recently, Tail Waggins Newsletter Archive had this to say: Greenies and Enzymes
Can digestive enzymes solve the problems with Greenies?

“I stopped giving my dog Greenies after I read your article about dangerous chewies. But after reading about enzymes last month, I wonder if they could help digest the Greenies? I wouldn’t mind giving one to Tinker every once in a while if I knew it was safe.” Helen M., Hartford, CT

Thanks Helen, this is a great question.

In the August 2004 issue of the Bakery News, we talked about the dangers of some popular chews. In this article, we shared some reports from people who have experienced problems with Greenies causing esophageal and bowel obstructions in their dogs. In some cases, with lethal consequences. We had run our own simple experiment, and discovered that after 24 hours in an acidic solution, there was absolutely no change in the appearance, consistency or texture of a Greenie.Since we wrote that article, several people have sent in feedback that they too have had similar experiences with Greenies. Including one person who wrote in to tell us a tragic story about her German Shepherd who had continual digestive problems for eight months. Her vet could not solve the riddle, and her dog eventually passed on. The vet performed an autopsy and found a large green mass in the dog’s upper GI. This dog had not received any Greenies the whole time he was having problems. That’s eight months in an active digestive system.

The primary volume of a Greenie is cellulose , and cellulose is not directly digestible by carnivores. Cellulose can however be digested with the aid of a digestive enzyme called (surprisingly enough) cellulase. There are some enzyme formulas available for dogs that do contain cellulase.With high hopes, we shredded (particle size very similar to shredded cheese) a Greenie and placed it in a solution of water and Prozyme (the recommended dosage for a complete meal). After four hours of intermittent agitation, nothing. The Greenie particles still retained their shape, size, and plastic-like consistency. But, we weren’t about to give up. We acidified the solution, raised the temperature to 100°F, and increased the rate of agitation. Four more hours went by… still nothing. We put the experiment aside, and forgot about it until the next day. Twenty-four hours in an acidic solution loaded with digestive enzymes, and there was absolutely no change in the Greenie particles whatsoever.


With high hopes, we shredded (particle size very similar to shredded cheese) a Greenie and placed it in a solution of water and Prozyme (the recommended dosage for a complete meal). After four hours of intermittent agitation, nothing. The Greenie particles still retained their shape, size, and plastic-like consistency. But, we weren’t about to give up. We acidified the solution, raised the temperature to 100°F, and increased the rate of agitation. Four more hours went by… still nothing. We put the experiment aside, and forgot about it until the next day. Twenty-four hours in an acidic solution loaded with digestive enzymes, and there was absolutely no change in the Greenie particles whatsoever.
Now that is scary!!!

When Sam and Lisa Weiss bought a Portuguese Water Dog, they thought the puppy would grow up with their two children and live for years.

But the dog’s life ended prematurely in mid-October when Merlin swallowed part of a chew toy called “Booda Bone.”

“He managed to ingest several of the threads from this Booda Bone,” said Lisa Weiss.

The knotted rope toys are made of hundreds of cotton/polyester strings. Merlin’s swallowed some of the strings, and they lodged in his stomach.

The thread perforated Merlin’s intestines and colon.

“We had to cut it apart to get it out,” said Veterinarian Lisa Barfield. “It looked like a rope that was twisted and unraveled.”

Within 2 weeks, Merlin was dead at the age of 19 months.

“Our case is not an isolated case and I’m sure there are other families that this has happened to, and other pets,” said Lisa Weiss

Komo News Aug 6, 2006

Shirley and Harvey Hannah are concerned about synthetic “Nylabones.” The bones are approved by vets, but the Texas couple says a chunk of the nylon chewing bone killed their dog Rambo when it broke off and lodged in his intestines.

Each of these chew toys, and dozens more, are sold every day in nearly every pet store in the country.

Dogs like to gnaw and chew, that is just what they do. Despite the dangers of various chews and toys, it is possible to provide your dog with a safe outlet however, you need to use common sense, and pick toys that are appropriate for your dog’s size and aggressiveness. Be aware of the common dangers and avoid them.

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Looking for SAFE things for your dogs to chew on? Let’s face it,  there is really nothing 100% safe in this world.  Just because a dog toy says it is designed for dogs to chew on, does not mean it is safe for every dog!

We can buy organic toys that do not contain lead or other heavy metals and chemicals.  However,  if swallowed, there is no guarantee it will digest and not cause a blockage.   ALL TOYS played with and chewed on by our dogs should never be left alone with the dogs.   All play should be supervised.  Dog chews can be dangerous if they are too soft for your dog’s jaw strength, too small for your dog’s mouth,  if they break into pieces that are too brittle and sharp or are made of long indigestible string or rope.  Again,  sit there and watch, pay attention to see if the toy is doing what it claims to do.  is it just tiny little pieces or is the dog taking off big chunks? If it looks at all dangerous or you have any reservations, take it away and don’t buy any more of that particular toy.  This is critical,  You see, with the exception of food and medicine, there are NO saftey regulations for pet toys or products, the industry regulates itself.

The safest and healthiest chewie I have found over the years is a fresh, raw marrow or knuckle bone from our local butcher.  (NOT the smoked, cured, cooked ones in the pet stores) These bones provide hours of gnawing pleasure, clean the teeth and contain minerals, vitamins, etc.   In the 20 + years I have been feeding my dogs raw marrow bones I have never had one break a tooth or be able to bite off a piece to swallow.  IF they did swallow a piece though, the dog’s digestive system is such that it CAN and will digest and pass RAW bones perfectly.   Of course,  my dogs have been raw fed all their lives and have very healthy teeth and gums.  It is hard to say if an elderly dog or dog with bad health and/or teeth would break a tooth or not.   I just know they have been the perfect chew toy for own dogs over the years.  🙂

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4 Comments

  1. […] anything current on issues with Booda Bones but here's a link to article on safety of pet chewies: How Safe Are Your Dog’s Chew Toys? : Whole Dog News <note that this publication is not the same as the one I mentioned that I subscribe […]

  2. You are right Jack, let’s face it, there is really nothing 100% safe in this world. Just because a dog toy says it is designed for dogs to chew on, does not mean it is safe for every dog!

    We can buy organic toys that do not contain lead or other heavy metals and chemicals. However, if swallowed, there is no guarantee it will digest and not cause a blockage.

    ALL TOYS played with and chewed on by our dogs should never be left alone with the dogs. All play should be supervised. Dog chews can be dangerous if they are too soft for your dog’s jaw strength, too small for your dog’s mouth, if they break into pieces that are too brittle and sharp or are made of long indigestible string or rope. Again, sit there and watch, pay attention to see if the toy is doing what it claims to do. is it just tiny little pieces or is the dog taking off big chunks? If it looks at all dangerous or you have any reservations, take it away and don’t buy any more of that particular toy. This is critical, You see, with the exception of food and medicine, there are NO saftey regulations for pet toys or products, the industry regulates itself.

    The safest and healthiest chewie I have found over the years is a fresh, raw marrow or knuckle bone from our local butcher. (NOT the smoked, cured, cooked ones in the pet stores) These bones provide hours of gnawing pleasure, clean the teeth and contain minerals, vitamins, etc. In the 20 + years I have been feeding my dogs raw marrow bones I have never had one break a tooth or be able to bite off a piece to swallow. IF they did swallow a piece though, the dog’s digestive system is such that it CAN and will digest and pass RAW bones perfectly. Of course, my dogs have been raw fed all their lives and have very healthy teeth and gums. It is hard to say if an elderly dog or dog with bad health and/or teeth would break a tooth or not. I just know they have been the perfect chew toy for own dogs over the years. 🙂

  3. So what can we give our dogs to chew that is safe? Everything seems to have it’s own particular problem.

  4. i know from an inside source at the greenie company that there is pending litigation on dog harm and death. do your dogs a favor, skip the greenies. i am not trying to drive a company out of business, but i am hoping that the more the public knows, the more we can protect our pets and perhaps, compel the companies to do more research when coming up with a product that is truly safe for our dogs.

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