Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ask Billy: What's the best chew toy?

Tam from Chicago writes: My new chihuahua-terrier mix, Damen, is a bundle of energy. I'd love to give him something he could chew on to keep him occupied and relieve some of that nervous energy. And if this chewie thing cleaned his teeth at the same time, that would be great.

I've had a bad experience with rawhides in the past (caused bouts of diarrhea). I've seen rubber toys that seem like they would last awhile, but I'm not sure how I feel about Damen chewing on rubber (even if it is vanilla flavored). Those dried chicken parts at the pet store give me the willies. I've given him stuffed-animal-type toys--which he loves--but he pulls the stuffing out of those pretty quickly. Any suggestions for a safe, long-lasting chew?

Well Tam, Damen sure is a cute little guy. You hit the jackpot when you adopted him from a rescue! Dogs love to chew. Chewing releases energy and entertains. Although chewing also helps clean teeth, it is NOT a substitute for regular dental care. Sorry!

It sounds like Damen is a heavy chewer and requires strong chew toys. My dog Gabriel was a heavy duty chewer too. He enjoyed those allegely indestructible nylon bones. Somehow, he managed to break up the “indestructible” bone and swallowed a small piece. I rushed him to the animal hospital and after various veterinary delays, he had surgery to remove the resulting blockage. He died four days later. I still cry about this tragedy, but, thankfully, I can help others keep their precious pooches safe.
For power chewers like Damen, rawhide and other animal body parts, such as tendons, tracheas, bully sticks, bones, ears, hooves and snouts, are NOT a safe option. A power chewer can rip right through them in a matter of minutes and swallow the pieces. There is no reason to risk injury or death since other options are readily available.

Damen and other power chewers should stick with hard rubber toys specifically designed for heavy canine chewers. (Just because you wouldn't want to chomp down on a rubber toy doesn't mean that your pooch won't be thrilled!) Personally, I don't like the scented or flavored toys since chemicals are involved. So I'd stick with the plain, unscented and unflavored options. Many rubber toys are covered in nubs, which also help clean teeth and massage gums. Just to be sure you were listening: dental toys merely enhance home dental care. You are still required to brush Damen's teeth!

Whether he has jaws of steel or a soft mouth, no dog should ever be unsupervised while chewing. If a piece breaks off, you must retrieve it immediately before tragedy strikes. At least once a week, inspect all of Damen's chewies and toys and, if possible, wash them occasionally too. The moment you see any wear and tear, throw the chew or toy away. I also recommend forgoing soft toys, since power chewers destroy them almost instantly. The stuffing, squeaker and anything sewn on are chocking and obstruction dangers.

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