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.
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!
Types of Antlers for Dogs
Lots of animals have and shed antlers. But, not all of them are popular choices to give to dogs.
- 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?
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?
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.
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.
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. Stuck pieces of bone may require emergency surgery in order to save your dog.
Are Antler Dog Chews Safe for 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.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website