Deer Antlers as a Chew Toy for Dogs

By Laura Payne

Deer and elk antlers are some of the many chew toys available on the market for dogs. But with so many chew toys out there, you might be wondering about the pros and cons of antlers compared to other chew products. There are varying opinions about antlers as chew toys. Check with your veterinarian before giving your dog any chew toy with which you are not familiar.

The Pros of Antler Chews

Whole deer and elk antlers are high in minerals that are beneficial for a dog's health, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and phosphorous. They also last much longer than pork bones, beef bones, rawhide chews and bully sticks. Unlike animal bones that can split and leave sharp, dangerous edges, whole deer and elk antlers rarely split. Deer and elk shed their antlers naturally each year and grow new ones, so they are a humane treat for dogs.

Additional Considerations

Whether you are hunting for antlers in the wild or purchasing them at a retailer, you should know about the quality of an antler before giving it to your dog. The industry uses an antler grading scale that varies slightly depending on the supplier, but it can be summarized with A to C grades for antlers used as chew toys.

  • Grade A antlers are fresh, current-year sheds that are brown in appearance. They are considered the best because they have more aroma, higher moisture content and more nutritional benefits.
  • Grade B antlers are are generally a year or or two old. They are much drier than Grade A antlers and are white from being bleached by weather exposure. They are known as hard whites to shed hunters. They also may show areas of rodent chewing.
  • Grade C antlers are bleached white from weather, but they are typically at least 3 years old. They have deep cracks, are rough to the touch, are prone to splintering and have far fewer nutritional benefits than Grade A antlers. Most importantly, they are not considered safe for dogs.

* To avoid any risk of your dog swallowing and choking on an antler, never give your dog an antler that is too small. As with bones, antlers should be [larger than the length of your dog's muzzle]( so they can't be swallowed whole.  * Check the condition of the antler frequently to ensure that there are no broken or sharp edges. If there are, sand them down to prevent your dog from injuring himself. * Never leave your dog unattended when he is chewing on an antler or any other chew toy.

The Cons of Antler Chews

The safety factor of deer and elk antlers does have an opposing view. Dr. Marty Becker of North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, says that "antlers are too hard to be safe for most dogs." Chew toys that are exceedingly hard can cause fractured and broken teeth, oral and internal bleeding if they splinter and blockages if they are swallowed. Dr. Liz Hardesty of Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital in Beaverton, Oregon, adds that "even dogs who have chewed on antlers successfully in the past are susceptible to fractured teeth." Fractured and broken teeth are painful for dogs and can become abscessed.

Dr. Becker's rule of paw: "Don’t buy any chew toy that you wouldn’t want to be whacked in the knee with."

  • Buy your dog chew toys that have some degree of flexibility.
  • Make sure chew toys do not fit all the way in your dog's mouth.