Safe and Appropriate Chew Toys for Dogs

Post Date: November 4, 2018 By: Dr. Buelow

Fractured teeth are commonly encountered in veterinary medicine. If the pulp is exposed, fractured teeth are very painful and lead to infection if untreated. In most cases, fractured teeth are caused by chewing on inappropriately hard objects (objects that are harder than the teeth). The function of dog and cat dentition is to grasp, pull, and hold prey. The teeth are then designed to cut and tear meat and swallow large pieces whole. A dog’s dentition is not designed to chew bones or objects harder than the teeth! Starving animals that chew bones in the wild are prone to fractured dentition, and this puts them at a survival disadvantage. For our companion animals, dental treats and chew objects should be considered as mental stimulation and preventative dental care.

Chew objects and toys to avoid for dental health/safety:

  • Elk antlers
  • Marrow bones
  • Pressed rawhide
  • Nylon or plastic bones
  • Himalayan cheese chews
  • Cooked or uncooked bones
  • Large ice cubes
Pictures of an elk antler (left) and a marrow bone (right). These are extremely hard bones and can easily cause dental fractures.

There are countless other hard chews out there, so a general rule of thumb is that you want to be able to indent the surface of the chew with your finger nail (i.e. the surface should have some give to it). If you can drive a nail with the toy/bone your dog is chewing on, take it away! The flatter, soft rawhides have been shown to be safe for teeth and are effective in reducing plaque build-up. However, some dogs do not tolerate rawhide well and some will try to swallow a large piece whole, which can become a choking hazard. If using these, I recommend getting a size meant for a dog much bigger than your own and taking it away when it gets small.

Tennis balls!

As much as I love playing tennis, these balls should stay on the court and not in your dog’s mouth. Tennis balls have an abrasive coating that is very hard on teeth! For the voracious ball players out there (think Labs, Goldens, herding breeds), avoid tennis balls altogether and stick with a smooth surface ball.

Tennis balls are okay for the occasional fetcher, but for those ball-obsessed dogs (we’re talking to you, retrievers and shepherds!), we recommend less abrasive options like rubber balls.

Safe Toys/Chews:

Fortunately, there are countless safe toys and chews out there. These toys are often made of rubber material, and some even stand up to the most aggressive of chewers. Here’s a list to get you started.

Note: I have no financial relationship or otherwise with any of these companies nor do I stand by the fact that any of these toys are indestructible or safe. Please monitor your dog’s chewing and playing at all times.

  • Kong brand makes a plethora of rubber toys for you to choose from. Kong sells their toys at most pet stores and online.
  • There are a number of treat balls and puzzles out there that are great for your dog’s mind and mouth! I recommend doing a search online for interactive chew toys/ rubber puzzle toys/ soft chew puzzles. So much fun to be had with your pup while keeping their teeth sparkly clean! For the kitty owners out there, mental stimulation with food games is a huge bonus for your indoor cat!
  • Goughnuts are some of the most durable chews out there and are made of rubber, so they are dental safe! They also make interactive toys for the busy minds out there.
  • West Paw Zogoflex brand makes a bunch of chew safe balls and toys that are durable and fun.
  • Starmark picklepocket treat dispensing toy is a fun and safe time waster (this might not stand up to super heavy chewers, but my large puppy sure loves it and it provides lots of quiet time for me!).
  • has some cute and safe chews and toys, in particular the brite bite brushing stick. I can’t attest to the fact that these actually keep teeth clean, but I can attest to the fact that my dogs love it. As an added bonus, I put peanut butter in and freeze it for extra tasty fun! Plus, they donate money and toys to the less fortunate out there, so what’s not to like? Check out our instagram page (@mypetssmile) to see a product review from the famous Princess Gracie and our own Frankie!
Franks is happily testing the Brite Bite stick and the Pickle toy and gives both a thumbs up! His teeth agree…

Dental Treats:

Dental treats have become a big market in the pet industry. One has to choose wisely and not fall prey to marketing gimmicks that promise glowing teeth with no brushing or dental care involved. No dental treat will replace brushing or professional care.

Here are a small list of some foods and treats that are known to be safe and effective:

  • Greenies (for cats and dogs)
  • Dental Diets such as Hill’s T/D
  • Virbac CET VeggieDent chews
  • Purina Dental Chewz
  • Flat Rawhide Chews (use large sizes to avoid choking hazards)

Disclaimer #1:

There is no “one-size-fits-all” category for safe chewing in dogs. While one dog might chew on hard bones his/her whole life and never break a tooth, another might chew on one for 5 minutes and break multiple teeth (mine did!). This page is well-intended advice on what chews and toys are safe for teeth, but regardless of chewing habits, we recommend that you check your dog’s teeth regularly for fractures and stay up-to-date on veterinary examinations. 

Disclaimer #2:  

Always monitor your dog’s chewing as many chew toys and bones can be choking hazards if chewed too aggressively.