Are Bully Sticks Safe for Puppies?

By Jelena Woehr

Bully sticks are a safer and healthful alternative to puppy chew treats such as rawhide and cooked bones. Most puppies can safely chew bully sticks, but they do carry certain risks. These include intestinal blockage if large chunks are swallowed. Pet owners should supervise puppies with bully sticks.

Definition

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Bully sticks are made from bull or steer penises. Some retailers label them "beef tendons" or "dried muscles." This is technically correct, since the penises of steer and bulls contain both muscle and tendons, but all bully sticks are made from animal penises. This is sometimes referred to as the bull's "pizzle," with bully sticks being labeled as "dried pizzle." As a rule of thumb, if an edible dog chew is long, brown and looks suspiciously penis-like, it's probably part of a dried bull penis. Owners repulsed by this can choose braided bully sticks, which don't resemble the organ they're made from.

Types

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Bully sticks come in various sizes for all types of puppies. They may be plain, braided or twisted into rings. A complete dried bull pizzle is 30" to 40" long. Most bully sticks have been cut into sections, but whole dried bull pizzles are available in some stores and online.

Some bully stick manufacturers stand out by using natural preservatives only. This is more healthful for your puppy. Others even use penises that come from free range cattle or organically raised cattle.

Benefits

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Bully sticks are at least 80% protein in their dried form. They are also a source of glucosamine and chondroitin. Both these nutrients help to support the joint health of growing puppies. Most importantly, bully sticks provide entertainment to puppies who chew them. Providing appropriate, fun chews will help to deter puppies from chewing shoes, furniture and other inappropriate objects.

Risks

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No dog chew is completely free of health risks. Bully sticks can be bitten into chunks by particularly strong or determined puppies. If a puppy starts to swallow large chunks of a bully stick, choking or intestinal blockage may result. Puppies who swallow chunks of bully sticks should not be given any edible chews aside from antler sections, which are very hard to break.

Alternatives

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If for some reason you object to giving your dog bully sticks, there are some healthy alternatives. Kong toys can be stuffed with a premium canned food and frozen until solid. This will provide hours of entertainment for puppies determined to lick out every last drop of food. Deer or elk antler sections are durable and safe chews for most puppies, but they could be too hard for small or young puppies. There are also many toys designed specifically for teething puppies.

Don't substitute rawhide or cooked bones for bully sticks. Rawhide frequently causes choking or intestinal blockages, and cooked bones may splinter and perforate a dog's intestine. Large cooked bones are so hard that some dogs chip their teeth chewing them.