Chewing. Every dog’s favourite past time. For some dogs, anything that fits in their mouth is considered food, but that doesn’t make it safe or healthy. Finding the best natural dog chew can offer a number of benefits to their health and well-being.
Using natural dog chews to improve your pet’s health is easier than you might think. Learn which natural chews are appropriate for different dietary needs and life stages, and how dog chews can be used to prevent destructive behaviours. Stick around to learn which chews can support your pet.
What is a Natural Dog Chew?
Dog’s need to chew, and offering them a natural and safe alternative to some of the more dangerous objects they choose to nibble on is highly recommended. Natural chews are typically animal in origin and almost always edible.
Many animal parts can be dehydrated, dried, or cooked, but a natural chew needs to be large or durable enough to keep your dog chewing for a while.
Your dog has unique needs and preferences, and you’ll need to figure out which chews will be right for your pet. Check out our Top 10 Best Selling Natural Dog Chews to get an idea of the kinds of natural chews you might consider for your dog.
5 Health Benefits of Natural Dog Chews
Finding the best chew for your dog depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If your goal is just to treat Fido, then most chews will work fine.
However, your dog's chews may also be benefiting your dog’s health in ways you didn’t even realize. Let’s go through the main benefits of natural chews for dogs:
1. Dental Care
Your dog’s natural desire to chew comes from their ancestors. Chewing is how wild dogs and wolves cared for their teeth. Gnawing on bones, tendons, and raw meat helped to maintain their dental health.
For domesticated pets, diet, environment, and lifestyle all contribute to greater dental care needs. While chewing has many dental benefits, caring for your dog's teeth is a bit more complicated, and they require a more human tooth care approach: Toothbrushing.
For more information about your pet's dental health needs, hop over to our Complete Pet Dental Care Guide.
Although your pups teeth can't be cared for by chewing alone, offering safe, natural chews is an excellent complement to their existing dental routine.
Many dogs today are less than thrilled about their weekly toothbrushing sessions, which is why natural chews are a desirable option. Natural chews are flavourful and will always be welcomed by your dog.
Different types of natural chews will provide different levels of dental care, so it’s a good idea to offer a rotating variety of natural chews to your dog each week. This can also keep the chewing experience fun and exciting.
Softer chews will work best for reaching in between teeth and hard to reach places, while a harder chew will last longer and allow your dog to remove stuck-on bacteria build up.
Find the right chew to support your dog's teeth in 10 Best Rawhide Alternatives for Your Dog’s Dental Health.
It's important to reiterate that offering your dog natural chews is not a replacement for regular toothbrushing and routine vet visits. Dog chews can be given weekly to support dental health, while toothbrushing should be done more often, preferably every day.
Idle paws, or in this case jaws, can lead to some destructive behaviours. Destroying furniture, digging, aggression, and poor eating habits can all be the result of an understimulated dog.
Natural chews are an excellent way to keep your dog occupied, satisfied, and safe.
Look for a long-lasting chew to entertain your dog while you are busy. The chew may not take up all of their spare time, but it should give them an activity to focus on for a short period of time.
Check out some of our Longest Lasting Dog Chews to find a chew that will keep your dog busy, and give you some peace and quiet.
It is important to remember that natural chews are not a replacement for regular exercise or one-on-one attention. They should only be used supplementally to help deter destructive behaviours.
Offer chews in between playtime. Rotate natural chews, puzzle toys, and chew toys to keep your dog engaged when you aren’t spending one-on-one time with them.
We recommend that your dog is always supervised when chewing to prevent the risk of choking. Even experienced chewers can make a mistake a swallow a chew whole.
Anxiety can also manifest in destructive behaviours. Separation anxiety is very common type. This usually happens when a dog is anxious about being left alone.
Giving your dog a natural chew can provide a much-needed distraction from the routines that can trigger anxiety.
For some dogs, anxiety starts when they see signs of your departure. Putting on your shoes, looking for your keys, packing a bag; these are actions that your dog associates with being left alone.
Distracting them with a natural chew can allow your pet to learn to be more comfortable when they are alone. This won’t cure separation anxiety, but it is a great first step to reducing destructive behaviours and getting your dog comfortable with their alone time.
Anxiety around strangers, storms, and other triggers can also benefit from the distracting powers of natural dog chews.
When used with proper training and appropriate calming solutions, you can prevent the destructive and sometimes dangerous behaviours associated with anxiety.
Many chews offer vital nutrients like protein, fat, and minerals. Supplementing a diet with natural chews can be very healthy.
No chew will replace a complete and balanced diet, but many types of chews can provide additional nutrition to support your dog’s needs.
Natural chews are often high in protein and low in fat. They can add calories to your puppy's diet, or help your senior pet build and maintain muscle.
Other nutrients like calcium and phosphorus can be sourced from bones and marrow. As a longer-lasting chew, bone are a pretty popular option even if you weren’t aware of the nutritional value.
Treats should not take up more than 10% of their diet, but even in small quantities can still complement a balanced diet and effectively support your dog’s health.
5. Hip and Joint Care
For older pets and even larger breeds, hip and joint issues are practically inevitable but they can be managed to prevent pain and mobility issues.
To reduce the severity and stave off age or size-related mobility problems, you can protect your dog’s joints and support connective tissues by feeding some natural chews.
Over time your dog’s natural collagen will begin to deteriorate or weaken. Collagen is the main structural component of tendons, ligaments, and cartilage, so feeding natural chews that are rich in collagen can help their body replenish vital connective tissues.
Collagen can’t repair damage to their joints, but it can be used preventatively. Feeding a collagen-rich chew at least once a week can help to support their hips and joints as they age and grow.
3 Things to Consider when Choosing a Natural Dog Chew
There are many safe natural chew options available, but you need to find the one that is right for your pet. Here are 3 common issues that will impact the type of chew that you offer your pet:
Managing your pet’s weight can mean limiting calories to match their activity level and metabolism. When trying to care for an overweight dog, the first thing that usually gets cut from their routine is treats. Some natural chews are high in fat and calories that can further contribute to weight problems.
Cutting out treats and chews can help your pet reach their weight goals, but they will also be missing out on the many health benefits that come with feeding natural chews. Fortunately, some options allow your dog to have their chew and eat it too!
Most chews are made from animals, so carbs and sugars aren’t a huge concern. Instead, calories from fat and protein are the culprit with these treats. Look for leaner chews and count them as part of your dog’s daily calorie count.
If you offer your dog a natural chew, then you can balance out their calories by feeding a smaller meal. Or even better, take them out for an extra-long walk or a rigorous game of fetch to work off any extra calories they consumed.
You may not be able to feed natural chews as frequently as you used to, but that doesn’t mean you have to cut them out entirely. Look for lower-fat options when picking a dog chew.
Low-Fat Chews For Your Fat Dog:
Low-fat chews can reduce the amount of unused energy being created during digestion. Low fat does not mean low calorie, so make sure you are taking these extra calories into account when you are calculating your dog’s daily needs.
If you are implementing a weight loss plan for a dog that is severely overweight, then natural chews may have to be swapped for some calorie-free chew toys instead. At least until your dog reaches a weight that allows for increased activity.
If your puppy is teething, then you know how important it is to provide them with something to chew on. Natural chews provide a safe and nutritious alternative to letting your puppy chew on your furniture, your shoes, and you!
During the teething stage, which is typically between the ages of 4 weeks to 6 months, your puppy will want to chew. Chewing will help to relieve pain, loosen baby teeth, and work their adult teeth to the surface of the gums.
While chewing is an important part of teething, you must also consider that their teeth are more delicate. Avoid chews that are too hard or dense. Both baby teeth, and freshly surface adult teeth are at a higher risk for cracking or breaking.
The Best Natural Chews for Teething Puppies:
Puppies need higher calories than an adult dog, so offering a natural chew can contribute to some of their increased energy needs. Be cautious not to overfeed your puppy, though. Balance their treats with their food.
Their daily calories will need to change as they grow. Feeding natural chews can help to meet fluctuating needs each week, but they should still be getting most of their calories from a complete and balanced diet.
To learn more about natural chews for puppies, check out 9 Natural Chews to Ease Your Puppy’s Pain.
For dogs that suffer from allergies, finding the right treats can be hard. Some of the most widely available options for natural chews are also some of the most common protein allergies.
Itchy dogs need to chew too, so you’ll need to find a chew that won’t trigger your dog’s allergies. Look for alternative and exotic proteins to satisfy their chewing needs.
Exotic and Novel Protein Chews for Itchy Dogs:
Your options may be limited when it comes to exotic natural chews, so it’s a good idea to introduce a variety of proteins, one at a time. This way, you have multiple options for your dog.
For even more variety, look into some quicker chews, like rabbit ears or fish skins. They may not last long, but they can still be a rewarding treat and provide many of the benefits of a natural chew.
How to Pick Safe Dog Chews
Some natural chews are regarded as safer than others. We typically judge the safety of a natural chew based on its hardness, digestibility, and size. Giving the right chew to your dog means choosing the safest chew. It also means choosing the safest way to feed natural chews.
Here are 6 tips to help you feel confident about your natural chew choices:
1. Tougher Does Always Mean Better
When looking for a long-lasting chew, it’s easy to assume that the sturdiest option will be the best, but that may not be the case. The harder the chew, the higher the risk of tooth damage.
Bones, antlers and cow hooves are very popular among tough chewers, but they are too hard for many dogs. If you’ve fed these natural chews without incident, that’s great, but just know that the risk is there.
Hard chews are not suitable for puppies, seniors, and dogs with compromised dental health. The risk of tooth damage is too high.
A good rule of thumb is to stick to chews that you can indent slightly with your nail. This doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of your dog damaging their teeth, but it does decrease the odds.
Some chews are easier for your dog’s body to break down than others. Rawhides have long been frowned upon for their poor digestibility. While rawhide does digest slower than animal chews that are less processed, the digestion risks actually lie in how your dog chews them.
As they chew, rawhide gets soggy and slimy, like a large flat piece of gum. The texture allows your dog to swallow larger pieces that digest poorly. This can lead to choking and intestinal blockages.
Connective tissues and cartilage will chew down safer and digest quicker, so the risk of digestive issues from chews like bully sticks or tendons is much lower.
Want to learn more about bully sticks? Check out What are Bully Sticks: The Facts, Myths, and Nutrition.
3. Size Matters
There is one pretty simple rule to keep in mind when you are picking a natural chew for your dog: It’s very difficult to go too big, and very easy to go too small. Offering your dog a chew that is too small is a recipe for a choking hazard or bowel obstruction.
Dogs get excited about their chews, and they don’t have the forethought to know that swallowing a big chunk of bone or yak cheese may not pass the way they thought it would. Stick to larger chews, and remove the chew when it becomes small enough to be a risk.
4. Supervise Your Pet
We recommend that you monitor your pet whenever they are chewing on a toy or treat, no matter the type. Even the safest chews can be a choking risk if your dog tries to bite it the wrong way or swallow too quickly.
Even if you are comfortable with the way that your dog chew that type of treat, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Whenever you introduce a new treat, monitor to make sure that they are chewing safely.
Any dog can make a mistake and get a chew stuck somewhere, break a tooth, or swallow something they shouldn’t. Accidents happen, but if you choose appropriate treats for your dog and monitor their chewing habits, then you are reducing the risk of injury.
5. Wash Your Hands
Some chews look gross. They are greasy, slimy, and sometimes bloody. They immediately make you want to wash your hands, but not all chews look that unappealing. No matter what type of chew you offer your dog, wash your hands after you touch it.
Washing your hands is recommended after touching anything that goes into your dog’s mouth. Food, chews and even cookies have fat and bacteria present that can go rancid or make you sick. It’s not common, but it is possible.
Not all-natural chews are cooked. Many are smoked or baked, but chews that are freeze-dried or dehydrated could contain the same bacteria that you’d find on raw meat or bones.
This bacteria won’t harm your dog, but you and your family could be affected. As long as you are washing your hands and any surfaces that the natural chew touched, then the risk to you is slight.
6. Don’t Let Them Chew Just Anything
Most dogs are happy to chew on just about anything, but make sure you know the dangers of letting them chew on things that are not meant to be chewed or eaten. Sticks, rocks, and shoes are only a few examples of things that your dog shouldn’t be chewing on.
Choking, blockages and both internal and external damage are possible when your dog is chewing whatever they find lying around. Keep an eye out for these behaviours and make sure that you have a safe, natural chew option to offer instead.
Check out My Dog Chews Sticks! 10 Things Your Dog Should Never Chew to learn some of the best and safest alternatives to the most common dangerous chewing habits.
Don’t Settle on Just One
If your dog will eat just about anything, then whatever you give them is probably favourite thing. You may not be thinking of the possibility that your dog could get bored of having the same old chew over and over again.
Many dogs will have no problem eating the same boring chew day in and day out, but offering them some variety is about more than just preference.
Each natural chew will have a different shape, texture, and nutritional value. Rotating different types of chews each week will provide your dog with a fuller spectrum of the benefits of natural chews.
If you are using chews to improve your dog’s dental health, then offering some long-lasting chews will help to scrape at the plaque build-up on their teeth, but a softer chew will massage the gums and floss their teeth.
Another reason to rotate is that dogs are good at learning the week spots of their favourite chews. They use these tricks to crush the chew faster and faster each time you offer it.
If you are offering different types of chews, then each chew will be a new experience. This can make chews last longer and work different parts of their mouth and jaw.
Lastly, new is always more fun. Using chews to help with boredom and anxiety is more effective when your dog is excited about the chew. It has to be more appealing than the destructive behaviour that you are trying to prevent.
Now that you know what to look for, start trying out some chews and find out which natural chews are right for your dog!
Have you had success improving your dog’s health or behaviour with natural chews? If so, share your story in the comments below!
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.