Are deer antlers safe for dogs?

Are deer antlers safe for dogs

Deer antlers have become popular among dog owners due to their durability and long-lasting nature, but are they safe?

The short answer is yes, they’re relatively safe, but only if you are aware of the risks and take necessary precautions and considerations.

A better alternative are deer shanks. These are more chewable and less likely to break your dog’s teeth. A good option for deer shanks is the Ziwi Peak brand.

That said, deer antlers can have numerous benefits for your dog, and they’re generally a better alternative to synthetic chew toys (also not without risk).

Deer antlers are a natural, renewable resource, rich in minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, and will offer your dog protection against periodontal disease as they’re perfect for chewing on.

The benefits of deer antlers for dogs

Before assessing the risks, lets cover the benefits of deer antlers for dogs. Some of these benefits can be achieved with alternatives, such as raw meaty bones of coffee wood chews.

Here are the three key benefits of deer antlers for dogs:

  • Longevity – Deer antlers may seem expensive, but their durability is second to none. This is a wonderful advantage, meaning they will last a long time even if your dog’s an aggressive chewer.
  • Dental health – The act of gnawing on antlers can help remove plaque and tartar buildup, contributing to healthier teeth and gums. Most dogs, especially those fed soft foods, can start developing periodontal disease from a young age. Given this can lead to all kinds of health problems this is definitely something you want to avoid, and deer antlers can help with that.
  • Nutrition – Deer antlers contain essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus. These are very beneficial for bone health and overall well-being in dogs. Chewing on antlers will allow your dog to extract these minerals, providing an additional nutritional boost.

The risks of deer antlers for dogs

I’m sure you can appreciate the above benefits of giving your dog a deer antler to chew on, and I’m sure you’re planning to hop on your pet food retailer website to buy one, but first please consider the risks:

  • Fractured Teeth – While deer antlers are durable, there is still a risk of dogs fracturing your dog’s teeth if they chew too aggressively or for extended periods. This is especially the case if your dog isn’t used to chewing, or their diet to this point hasn’t allowed their teeth and bones to remain strong.
  • Splintering – Deer antlers don’t splinter often, but there this should still be considered a risk. Splintered antlers, like splintered bones, can be a choking hazard or cause an internal blockage or injury.
  • Allergic Reactions – If your dog is otherwise healthy it is unlikely they’ll have a reaction to deer antlers. We say “allergy” often, but really this is more a “dietary sensitivity”, which is common when an uncommon food is added to their diet. If you notice any signs of a reaction, such as itching, swelling, or gastrointestinal distress, stop giving your dog deer antlers immediately. Symptoms should subside within a few days – if they take longer there may be a separate issue, so speak with your vet.

If you want to see the damage a deer shank can do to a dog’s teeth, scroll down. It’s a little gruesome though, sorry.

Tips for feeding your dog deer antlers safely

You’ve assessed the pros and cons, and have decided you want your dog to try a deer antler. Let’s take a look at how to do so safetly:

  • Size Matters – Deer antler treats are limited, with only a few brands available in Australia, but if possible choose a deer antler which matches the size and chewing habits of your dog. Consider your dog’s breed, age, and size.
  • Supervision – I confess I do not supervise my dog as much as I used to, but this is because I know her eating habits and have been giving her deer antlers and shanks for years. My dog delicately gnaws, but this may not be the case for your dog. Because of this you should always supervise your dog while they are chewing on deer antlers. This allows you to intervene if there are any signs of excessive aggression, tooth damage, or choking.
  • Regular Inspections – Routinely inspect the antler for signs of wear and tear. Discard it if it becomes small enough to be swallowed or if there are any sharp edges or splintering. You should also regularly inspect your dog’s teeth, making sure they’re both free from plaque and tartar, and free from damage.

Broken tooth from chewing on a deer antler

Below is a broken tooth as a result of chewing on a deer antler.

Tooth fractures most commonly effect the large meat-slicing teeth (carnassial and canine teeth).

You’ve probably suffered tooth pain yourself, so may be familiar with the dull throbbing pain or sharp pain a damaged tooth can cause. Our dogs suffer the same pain, they just can’t tell you about it.

Often these larger teeth will require a difficult extraction under anesthetic in order to alleviate the pain.

If that concerns you, opt for deer shanks instead.

Final thoughts on deer antlers for dogs

Deer antlers can provide an engaging and durable chewing experience for your dog, offering potential benefits for dental health and mineral intake.

However, it is essential you remain mindful of the potential risks associated with aggressive chewing, tooth fractures, splintering, and allergic reactions/dietary sensitivities.

By selecting the appropriate size and monitoring your dog’s chewing habits, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience with deer antlers as chew toys.

If you have given your dog deer antlers (or deer shanks for that matter), then feel free to offer any information in the comments below!

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Gina & David

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