Dogs are carnivores, so it seems like a natural idea to buy them bones—manufactured or real meat products—to chew on. Some people, however, are stepping away from raw products because of health and safety concerns. In recent years, multiple companies had to recall their rawhide chews because the product had come in contact with chemicals that were making dogs sick. And that's not the only reason you should be concerned. "We have to realize there's a health hazard not just for our dogs, but also for ourselves," says Dr. Jerry Klein, the chief veterinarian of the American Kennel Club. An outbreak of salmonella recently spread to humans who handled pig ear chews for their dogs.
Besides contamination, there are a few other safety concerns that come with purchasing animal products for your pup to chew on. Antlers, for example, are very hard and can cause dental fractures. Marrow is very high in fat content and can exacerbate gastrointestinal issues. Cooked bones can easily splinter and get trapped in the esophagus, intestine, or the jaw bone. "I think I've seen every area where a bone can get stuck," says Klein. "The messiest parts are bone fragments get stuck either in the small intestine, which can be dangerous or even worse, in the large intestine where they cause severe constipation."
Realistically, it's much safer to give your pup something specifically made for chewing. Klein gives his two Afghan hounds chicken-flavored, non-rawhide chews such as SmartBones Chicken Dog Chews. (He does warn that they can stain upholstery and that some dogs with sensitive stomachs might have issues with flavored products.) If your dog has any gastrointestinal or dental issues, you should consult your veterinarian before buying them any toys or chews.
Klein also recommends hard rubber toys as they are designed to be the right size, density, and hardness for the type of dog you have. They are also much more hygienic—they don't carry bacteria and are easy to clean off. Some rubber toys even feature pockets for dog-friendly treats like kibble or peanut butter, which provide dogs with extra mental stimulation (try the KONG Extreme Goodie Bone). If your pup is strong and can break the rubber into pieces, keep an eye on them as those pieces can become choking hazards. For the same reason, you should avoid toys with bells, squeakers, or any parts that can be removed and swallowed.
While chewing does help keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong, you should be wary of companies that claim that their products help with dental hygiene. A group of veterinary dentists formed the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) in order to assure that marketing claims stand up to proper testing (like Greenies Teenie Dental Dog Treats). The VOHC seal of approval doesn't promise that the product is totally safe; it just means that the companies presented trial research to the council in order to verify their claims about tartar or plaque control. In any case, bones or chews are not a substitute for proper brushing.
If you are fully intent on buying raw chews, you should always rinse them off and wash your hands after handling them. Stay away from cooked turkey, chicken, and pork bones as they can easily splinter. Instead, buy raw, domestically-produced beef shank bones as they are big enough that your dog won't be able to swallow them and won't hurt their teeth.