Are Antlers Safe For Dogs To Chew On?
Updated: Feb 10
This is the number one question we get from potential customers- and for good reason! Who cares how much your dog loves a treat if it’s not good for them? Are antlers safe for dogs? The short answer is- YES! Antlers are great for dogs because they are all natural, do not splinter, long lasting, clean your dog’s teeth, and do not cause stomach upset.
For the details about why antlers are SO good for your dog and specific information on which dogs might not be the best candidates for antlers- keep reading.
Our antlers are naturally shed from wild male elk, as females do not have antlers. This means that we do not harvest any elk for the purpose of obtaining their antlers. We also only use #1/Grade A elk antler. These two factors have two very important consequences that help ensure that our antlers are the safest possible.
First, antlers naturally grow very quickly and are initially soft, very vascular, and covered in skin called velvet. As the antler hardens at the base where it is connected to the skull, the velvet loses circulation, dies, and is sloughed off by the elk rubbing against trees. After the antlers harden they are used for sparing during mating season.
When companies use farmed elk for their antler source- those antlers are removed from the elk when they are still soft and covered in velvet- if the antlers were left on to harden, the farmer would risk their elk harming themselves and others when sparing. Giving your dog soft, velvet covered antlers poses a risk to your dog because they do not have the same durability and because the antler didn’t have time to have the blood supply cut off; the tissue (velvet) carries a much higher risk of contamination by bacteria that need the organic material to survive.
Secondly, using only the highest grade available ensures that our antlers are the freshest and most durable. Antlers that are left out in the elements (sun, wind, rain, and snow) start to break down and degrade. Old antlers are dull, chalky, white, and brittle. These antlers are not as durable, can more easily splinter, and lack the flavor your dog loves.
Using grade A naturally shed antlers is great for your dog because they are naturally very durable, are not easily degradable, carry a much smaller risk of contamination, and pose no impact to the elk who produce them.
Be informed about the source when choosing your antlers, opt for the highest quality naturally shed from wild elk like us, click HERE to shop. These will be the healthiest, longest lasting, and safest chews for your dog.
Antlers are naturally delicious to dogs. They love the marrow on the inside of fresh antlers because all the vascularization that was present while the antlers were growing has dried up inside and the dog can smell/taste it as they chew. When antlers are left out in the wild, other animals will find them and chew on them- like wolves, mink, mice, and even birds.
We do not have to add any chemicals, dyes, or preservatives to make our antlers more enticing to dogs or to make them last longer.
Some companies have started using older antlers and adding flavorings to them. This introduces a contamination risk and increased liklihood of stomach upset as you dog will have a hard time digesting the preserves used.
Make sure that when you are choosing antlers that they are high quality without any additives to mask the deteriorated condition of the antler, your dog should ONLY chew grade A/#1 antlers.
Different Than Other Bones
Lots of dog treats are made from bones that come from inside an animal’s body. Cow femurs and butcher’s cuts are popular treats for dogs but these carry a risk of breaking off in long shards as your dog chews. These shards get caught in their throat or puncture an intestinal wall. Their tendency to break into shards is due to their construction on a cellular level, also known as the bone matrix.
While antlers are also considered bone, their bone matrix is a different structure so that when they break apart they do so in little round chunks.
To use an example- think of a rock and a tree limb. Rocks have a tendency to crumble apart while tree limbs snap into long splintery pieces- this is due to how their materials are arranged on a microscopic level. The cellular structure of antlers is inherently different than that of a body bone making them a much safer alternative to a beef bone. As an aside- you should NEVER give your dog chicken bones.
The little round chunks of antler should be taken away from your dog if you notice one but because antlers are digestible, if swallowed they pose no health concern.
Antlers are also much more durable than body bones meaning that your dog will ingest very little for the duration that they chew. And that their antler chew will last them much longer than a beef bone of similar size and weight.
Lastly, all bones contain marrow. With femurs and butcher bones, the marrow is filled with fat that is needed to produce red blood cells while the animal is alive. This fat tastes delicious to dogs but has the tendency to cause massive stomach upset, just as a human would experience if they were to suddenly eat a super rich, high fat meal.
Antlers do not have any red blood cell manufacturing capacity therefore do not contain any fat inside the marrow. Because antlers are naturally fat free, they do not cause the same stomach upset.
Not A By-Product
Most dog treat products on the market are made from an animal byproduct. In fact, if you look at most dog foods- they are also made from animal byproducts. Common byproducts for dogs are: pig ears, bully sticks, hooves, chicken feet, and mechanically separated meat sources.
A byproduct is a secondary product made during the manufacturing or harvesting of the primary product. For the purposes of this article- we will use a chicken as an example. After the profitable parts of the chicken (think breasts, thighs, wings) are separated from the ‘trash’ parts of a chicken (think: feet, trachea, innards, bones etc.) companies will often try to find uses for the trash parts to create more profitability, ergo the byproduct was created.
The problem with these byproducts is that because they are essentially trash- they carry a high risk for contamination. Pig ears has most recently faced a nation-wide recall because of their contamination with salmonella that was causing infections for both dogs and humans that came into contact with pig ears.
Without getting too graphic- do you know where bully sticks come from? They are a trash part of a bull, and only bulls have them… and the reason they smell so bad is because the company didn’t take the time (and cost) to drain the urine from them… ok that is enough about that!
Antlers are NOT a byproduct. We find them in the woods after the elk has shed them. They are a clean, all natural treat for your dog that carries a very low risk for contamination. We ensure that our supply is always kept clean, dry, and away from any source that would start to break it down- like sun.
When picking out treats and chews for your dog, make sure you take into consideration that the standards for what is consumable for a pet is not at the same level as what would be considered safe for people to eat. It is important to make sure all ingredients of your dogs food, treats, and chews come from transparently safe sources; preferably from the USA or Canada.
Antlers are naturally made from mostly calcium and magnesium. They also have glucosamine, iron, and zinc in them. This makes them completely digestible and beneficial for your dog to ingest.
Lots of other dog products on the market are indigestible. For instance, rawhides are typically made from bleached portions of animal skins; which are not digestible by your dog. They contain lots of chemicals, preservatives, flavorings, and when swallowed by your dog can create deadly blockages in their system, not to mention they are a serious choking hazard.
Who may not be benefitted?
Given that antlers are naturally shed, all natural, long lasting, will not splinter, clean, and digestible… What considerations make antlers unsafe for a particular dog?
Very rarely we come across a dog that has a particular chewing style that we caution to avoid chews as hard as antlers. Dogs that attempt to snap EVERYTHING in half as soon as they get it should avoid long narrow antlers and either pick softer split antlers or fatter pieces that will be harder for the dog to get a lot of leverage on. This is not to be confused with the normal chewing behavior of most dogs- you already know if you’ve got a snapper!
There are so many reasons that antlers make for much safer, cleaner, more durable, healthier dog treat than so many others on the market. And we hope that you have enjoyed this article- for questions or comments, please email us HERE.
Antlers are considered antlers safe for almost every dog by most vet specialists. In the instance that you ever have specific health concerns for your dog like: digestive issues, pre-existing conditions, kidney stones, or allergies; please talk with your vet before you make the decision to by antlers for your dog.
We also always caution dog owners to supervise their dog while chewing and to take away antlers that are a small enough size that their dog could try to swallow them. Because although antlers do not shard and are digestible; we would never want a dog to choke on a piece while trying to swallow it.