Antlers for dogs are often given as a chew treat. They are a popular option for dogs that chew through normal plastic or fabric toys in a matter of minutes.
Having something to chew is important for our dogs’ dental health, and to keep boredom at bay. But, antlers for dogs can cause more problems than they solve.
In fact, chewing on hard products like elk or deer antlers for dogs can lead to dental problems like fractured teeth, and internal damage from splintering.
Let’s take a closer look to find out if antlers are safe for dogs, and if they should be given as a chew.
Contents and Quick Links
Click on the links below to jump straight to the section you’re most interested in.
- What are antlers for dogs?
- Types of antler chews
- Why do people give their dogs antlers?
- Do dogs like antlers?
- Are antlers safe for dogs?
- Are antlers safe for puppies?
- Veterinary opinions
- Can antlers save you money?
- My dog has no problems with antlers
- Safe alternatives to antlers for dogs
What are Antlers for Dogs?
Antlers are actually a type of bone. In fact, they are the fastest growing bone in the entire animal kingdom.
Antlers grow in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Some are just small spikes, whereas others grow into huge multi-pronged shapes. The largest known antler span belonged to a now extinct giant deer – an impressive 3.5m!
Animals use their antlers to fight – either to defend themselves or to interlock with and fight other males.
Plus, antlers shed and regrow annually. Some believe this is to provide animals with fresh weaponry. Antlers tend to increase in size with each new growth.
Types of Antlers for Dogs
Lots of animals have and shed antlers. But, not all of them are popular choices to give to dogs.
Some of the most popular antlers for dogs include the following:
- Deer antlers
- Elk antlers
- Reindeer antlers
- Moose antlers
Why do People Give Their Dogs Antlers?
With the abundance of chew toys on shelves at pet stores, you might be wondering why people would want to give their dogs antlers.
There are a few reasons that people might choose antler bones for dogs. So, let’s look at a few in more detail.
Something Strong to Chew
One of the main reasons that people give their dogs antlers is that it provides something strong to chew on.
If your dog is a strong chewer, you might find that he often destroys normal chew toys. Even those labelled as ‘durable’ or ‘indestructible’.
Antlers are bones, so they are very sturdy and hard to break. This strength comes with a big risk to your dog’s teeth, but we will look at that more in a moment.
Variety of Sizes
As we looked at briefly before, there are lots of different types of antlers. You can get deer antlers for dogs, elk, reindeer, and even moose antlers for dogs!
People with big dogs can occasionally struggle to get appropriately sized toys. After all, you don’t want something your dog could choke on.
Many people think that large antlers are a good solution. But, in reality, antlers for dogs can pose just as much of a choking hazard as small toys.
Don’t Smell Bad
Regular dog food chews, or even some toys, can start to smell pretty bad when our dogs have had them for a while.
Many people don’t experience this problem with antlers for dogs.
Chewing Helps Dental Health
A final reason why antlers for dogs are popular is that having something to chew on can help to clean your dog’s teeth.
Studies have shown that a single dental chew each day can reduce plaque and odor.
Do Dogs Like Antlers?
So, although some people think antlers make a great treat for their dogs, what do dogs think?
Most dogs will enjoy chewing on and eating antlers. There are three main reasons for this.
Firstly – taste. Dogs love the taste of antlers and bones! In fact, raw feeding, which involves giving your dog raw meat and bones, is increasingly popular as a diet.
Secondly, antlers contain lots of great minerals. This includes: calcium, phosphorus, crude protein, fat, and more.
Thirdly, chewing can solve boredom. Our dogs can get bored pretty easily if they have nothing to do. But chewing on something is a great way to keep them occupied.
Are Antlers Safe for Dogs?
Here’s the main question we’ve all been waiting for! Are antlers safe for dogs?
Unfortunately, antlers aren’t as safe as many people believe them to be. The three main reasons for this include dental health, internal damage, and oral punctures.
So, let’s dive in and see what problems antlers can cause.
Chewing on something can help to keep your dog’s teeth clean. But, the problem with antlers is that they are just so hard.
The firmness of antlers means that your dog could chip or fracture his tooth when gnawing at these bones.
In fact, studies have identified a link between dogs who chew on antlers and the number of fractured teeth.
Damaged teeth can look chipped, cracked, or even have discoloration.
This is a major reason why many veterinary practice guidelines recommend that owners do not give their dogs antlers.
Another reason that antlers can be a cause for concern is the potential for internal damage.
Hard bones like antlers can split and splinter when your dog is chewing on them.
Your dog can easily swallow these splinters or chunks. But, they are often very sharp.
So, as they travel through your dog’s digestive system, there is the risk that they can puncture something. These pieces can also become lodged in your dog’s throat or intestines and cause internal damage.
It can be hard to know if this has happened until your dog starts to show symptoms of internal pain or disruption. So, it is best to prevent the opportunity altogether and avoid antlers.
Antlers are designed to be used as weapons by deer and other animals. So, they are obviously sharp.
Many antlers have pointy, protruding prongs. If your dog chews these at a poor angle, there is the risk that he could puncture his own mouth, or gums.
This can lead to bleeding, pain, and the need for veterinary assistance. Even if an antler doesn’t look sharp at first, it can become sharp as your dog gnaws and breaks pieces off.
One reason big dog owners like antlers is their size. Antlers can be huge, so big dogs can’t get the entire thing in their mouths.
Many people hope this will prevent choking.
However, your dog will break off and swallow pieces of antlers as he chews. These pieces are often small enough to get lodged in your dog’s throat.
If these potentially sharp pieces don’t cause internal damage as we looked at above, they could just get stuck in places they shouldn’t. This can cause your dog to choke, or to experience other internal issues.
Are Antler Dog Chews Safe for Puppies?
Antlers can cause numerous issues for full grown dogs. So what about puppies?
Puppies don’t lose their baby teeth until they’re 4 months old. Even after this point, all of the issues that can affect adult dogs who chew on antlers can affect puppies.
If your puppy is teething, or you just want to find something for your puppy to chew on, there are plenty of great toys specifically designed for this.
While the majority of vets may advise you to stay away from antler chews and bones, the consensus is not 100%.
There is still some disagreement. Some vets will recommend that antlers and other hard bones should be avoided.
But others may suggest that they are fine for your dog. This 2012 study into veterinary attitudes to canine oral care is a great example of this disagreement.
Your vet is the best person for you to speak to about your dog’s health. But, make sure you have all the facts before giving your dog any type of hard chew.
Can Antler Bones Save You Money?
If your dog destroys every chew toy he is given, you might think that investing in a sturdy antler can save you money in the long run.
There is a level of risk here. Yes, your dog may be fine chewing on antlers, and it could save you the cost and hassle of replacing toys as frequently.
But, if your dog does fracture a tooth, or worse, suffers from internal complications and damage, the veterinary bills will massively outweigh the money you spent replacing safer chew toys.
And, it can also come at the expense of your dog’s health.
My Dog Has No Problem With Antlers
All dogs are different. Some chew more aggressively than others. So, some dogs may be fine with antler chews for a lot longer than others.
But, this doesn’t mean that nothing bad is ever going to happen. Some dogs may go years with no problems, but one day fracture a tooth on an antler.
Other dogs might hurt themselves the very first time they are given this bone.
The question here is really – is it worth the risk?
Alternatives to Antlers for Dogs
Whether you’re looking for a strong chew toy, or something that can help to keep your dog entertained and his teeth clean. There are plenty of great products out there that are much safer than antlers.
For dogs that are strong chewers, take a look at this guide to the best indestructible dog toys.
Or, if you’re concerned about dental health, ask your vet to recommend the best dental chew sticks.
Antlers for Dogs – Summary
Overall, antlers for dogs can cause more problems than they solve. They are popular for strong chewing dogs, and for large breeds that may choke on smaller toys.
Many people believe antlers will save them money. But, antlers can cause dental problems, internal damage, and are a potential choking hazard.
The cost of emergency veterinary care to fix these problems will massively outweigh the cost of replacing safe toys and products.
We would love to hear about your opinions and experiences in the comments below. What do you think about antler bones for dogs?
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References and Resources
- Khuly, P. ‘Uncomplicated Dental (Tooth) Fractures’, Embrace Pet Insurance
- Holmstrom, S. (et al), ‘2013 AAHA Dental Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats’, Veterinary Practice Guidelines (2013)
- Becker, M. ‘Are Deer Antlers Safe for Dogs to Chew On’ (2014)
- Harrison, C. ‘Nutrition and Preventative Oral Healthcare Treatments for Canine and Feline Patients’, The Veterinary Nurse (2017)
- Milella, L. ‘How Hard is Too Hard?’, Veterinary Nursing Journal (2020)
- Fink, L. & Reiter, A. ‘Assessment of 68 Prosthodontic Crowns in 41 Pet and Working Dogs (2000 to 2012)’, Journal of Veterinary Dentistry (2015)
- Landete-Castillejos, T. (et al), ‘Antlers – Evolution, Development, Structure, Composition, and Biomechanics of an Outstanding Type of Bone’, Bone (2019)
- Quest, B. ‘Oral Health Benefits of a Daily Dental Chew in Dogs’, Journal of Veterinary Dentistry (2013)
- Pathak, N. (et al), ‘Mineral Composition of Antlers of Three Deer Species Reared in Captivity’, Small Ruminant Research (2001)
- Johnston, N. ‘Attitudes to Oral Care in Dogs Among UK’s Vets and Vet Nurses’, Vet Times (2012)
- Williams, K. & Lerner, R. ‘Teeth, Teething and Chewing Puppies’, VCA (2020)
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