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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice May 2016 Issue

Dear Doctor - On the advisability of elk antlers as dog treats

Q Are elk antlers okay for dogs to chew on? I stopped giving them to my German shepherd because I thought they were wearing down his teeth. Is that a legitimate concern?
Max White
Scarsdale, New York

Dear Mr. White,
A It is more than reasonable for you to be concerned—and confused—about whether to feed your dog elk antlers. One ad on a very popular, well-respected site says that elk antlers are “ideal for puppies, aggressive chewers, and large dogs because they last extremely long and won't splinter or chip….Bone-hard texture helps clean teeth, massage gums, and exercise jaws as your dog chews. A natural source of collagen, calcium, phosphorous, and other nutrients.”

What the ad doesn’t say is that like any treat made of bone (antlers are bone), they have the risk of breaking or wearing teeth, just like all other bones. Writes popular veterinary personality Marty Becker, DVM, all “excessively hard chew toys are a common cause of broken teeth in dogs. A broken tooth is extremely painful and can sometimes become abscessed.” Adds Dr. Becker, “I believe that hard plastic or nylon chews, sterilized bones, cow hooves and antlers are too hard to be safe for most dogs. Rule of paw: don’t buy any chew toy that you wouldn’t want to be whacked in the knee with. Instead, I recommend buying chew toys that have some flexibility or ‘give’ to them, even for large, powerful dogs….It’s better to replace chew toys more frequently than it is to have to spend hundreds of dollars to have your veterinarian repair or remove a broken tooth.”

Tufts veterinary nutritionist Cailin Heinze, VMD, DACVM, points out that while it’s true that elk antlers are high in calcium and phosphorus, “that makes them a poor choice for dogs who need restricted amounts of these minerals.” Such dogs include growing large-breed puppies as well as dogs with kidney disease and certain types of bladder and kidney stones.

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