Caring For A Dog With PTSD

Just as our pets often help their owners through difficult times, animals that have suffered from traumatic events may need extra support.

A sad looking dog laying on a couchDr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that because dogs can suffer from psychological conditions like their human counterparts, owners can benefit from having an awareness of possible causes, diagnosis, and how canine post-traumatic stress disorder may be managed to give your furry friend the best life possible following periods of stress and trauma.

Roughly 5 to 17% of dogs are affected with canine PTSD, but because the condition has only been recognized in dogs within the past 10 years, Teller says there is still much to learn.

“We don’t always know what may cause PTSD in dogs, but some potential causes are military or police work, being a bait or fighting dog, being raised in a puppy mill, severe abuse, living as a stray after being abandoned, trauma from a disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, tornado, explosion), or being attacked by other dogs or animals,” Teller said.

“The symptoms of PTSD in dogs are similar to those in humans and include chronic anxiety; hypervigilance; avoidance of certain people, places, or situations; sleep disturbances; fear of being alone; decreased interest in a favorite activity; or aggression,” Teller said.

Teller also says that these symptoms may not be apparent at the time of adoption because as a survival mechanism, some dogs will mask their symptoms until they gradually adapt to their new home, depending on the animal’s trigger.

Pet owners who suspect their furry friend may be suffering from this condition should ideally seek help from a veterinary behavioralist, who will develop an appropriate treatment plan. Pet owners seeking this care may wish to reference the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s directory.

If access to a veterinary behavioralist is not possible, your primary veterinarian will still be able to help your dog get the care they need.

“The best ways to manage PTSD in dogs will be a combination of behavioral therapy and medication,” Teller said. “Behavioral management might include desensitization therapy, in which a dog is exposed to low levels of stress, and then this level is gradually increased to build tolerance for that stimulus, playtime with a well-socialized dog, increased exercise, and mental stimulation. Medications prescribed could include anxiolytics, anti-depressants, or beta-blockers.”

Teller adds that time and patience are vital to the management of canine PTSD. Owners will need to actively work with their dog on a daily basis and be in regular communication with their veterinary team.

Although adopting a dog with a history of trauma requires a caring and dedicated owner, the bond that is formed between rescued dog and pet-parent can be an unbreakable gift that is well worth the time and effort.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Gesundheit! Reverse Sneezing In Dogs

Snorts, yips, growls, and groans—pet dogs make a variety of sounds that can entertain or worry their owner, depending on the circumstance.

A tan and black pug looking up at the cameraThough owners who have concerns about the health of their pet should always consult a veterinarian, Dr. Lori Teller, an associate professor in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), weighs in one of the many unusual noises a pet dog can make: reverse sneezing.

Also known as inspiratory paroxysmal respiration, reverse sneezing is caused by a muscle spasm at the back of a dog’s mouth where it meets the throat. This spasm, which lasts around 30 seconds, causes a temporary narrowing of the opening of the trachea, making it difficult for the dog to inhale.

“A reverse sneeze is a sudden, involuntary respiratory reflex, but instead of forcefully expelling air out, like a regular sneeze, air is sucked into the nose with a series of rapid, forceful inhalations,” Teller said.

Episodes of reverse sneezing can occur in any breed of dog, but Teller said they seem to be more common in brachycephalic, “smushy-faced,” dog breeds like pugs, Shih Tzus, and Bulldogs.

“A reserve sneeze sounds like a combination of a loud snort, honk, and choking noise,” Teller said. “The dog may stand very still with their front legs and neck extended. The owner will notice their pet’s chest and abdomen rapidly moving in and out.”

While a reverse sneezing episode may be cause for concern for some pet owners, Teller wants owners to know that it is not painful or harmful for your pet.

“People are concerned that their dogs cannot get air and are suffocating or choking to death,” Teller said. “However, it is much scarier to the owner than to the dog,”

If pet owners find their dogs experiencing reverse sneezes, Teller says there are several techniques owners can use to calm their dog and get the episode to stop.

“During an episode, an owner can try speaking in a soothing voice while gently massaging the dog’s throat,” Teller said. “The owner can also gently blow in the dog face to make it swallow or gently open the dog’s mouth and press down on the tongue to alleviate the spasm.”

Occasional episodes of reverse sneezing are normal and are not of concern to the health of the dog, but always consult a veterinarian if your furry friend is experiencing respiratory symptoms that impact their ability to breathe or if reverse sneezing episodes are recurring.

“If your dog has chronic episodes or other respiratory issues, such as coughing, nasal discharge, or difficulty breathing, or just does not seem to feel well, then it’s important to seek veterinary attention to determine if there are other problems going on,” Teller said.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Grains Or No Grains: Addressing Pet Owner Concerns

Pet parents want to feed their dogs the best diet possible to keep their furry friends happy and healthy, but there are so many options on the market: prepackaged or home-cooked, wet food or dry, and grain-free.

Yellow dog eating food out of a dog bowlRecently, interest has arisen surrounding grain-free diets and their impact on canine health.

When searching for the right food for their dogs, pet owners often focus on corn and wheat; however, many other grains are used in pet foods that have great nutritional value, including rice, barley, oats, and millet.

“Much of the initial push for ‘grain-free’ diets for dogs came from folks who were drawn into the marketing strategy that dogs are carnivores and grains were unnatural,” said Dr. Deb Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).

“Dogs are, in fact, omnivores; they are actually programmed metabolically and nutritionally to use the building blocks from both plants (grains) and animals to meet their requirements for essential nutrients and energy,” she said. “This is illustrated by wild dogs and wolves eating the ingesta—contents of the digestive tract that are largely plant material or grain—of large animal species they kill.”

Pet owners choose what diet to feed their dog based on word-of-mouth, online, marketing of pet stores, or veterinary recommendations, but according to Zoran, many owners tend to choose their pet’s diet based on pet food company marketing.

“The pet food industry is a very competitive place and many of the smaller companies and boutique foods do a fantastic job of marketing their products,” Zoran said. “Unfortunately, those same companies do not all have the same resources for research and development and quality assurance testing.

“A recipe for good food is one thing, but if you don’t test the product once it is made, processed, and packaged, you can’t be sure the food still contains what you intended, and that is where potential problems start,” Zoran said.

It is important for dogs to have a balanced diet in order to thrive, and Zoran said dog owners should know that “there are nutrients present in grains that are essential for a complete and balanced diet.”

“If grains are removed from a diet, they must be replaced by another food source that has those nutrients in sufficient quantities to balance the diet,” she said.

Some dog owners have switched their pets to a grain-free diet because of concern about possible wheat gluten allergies or intolerance, but, according to Zoran, these conditions are relatively uncommon in dogs compared to other types of food-related conditions.

“Many people have been convinced that their dogs have a ‘grain allergy,’ much like celiac disease or gluten disease in humans,” Zoran said. “However, true dietary allergies in dogs are caused by the protein, or meat, sources in a diet. It doesn’t mean that your dog can’t have an intolerance to wheat gluten or another food ingredient, but it is not the same as an allergy.

“The bottom line is, your dog’s skin, hair coat, or gastrointestinal (GI) function may sometimes improve on a grain-free diet, but it may simply have been the diet change itself and not the lack of grains, per se,” she said.

Zoran recommends that pet owners choose diets that have rigorous standards for research and quality testing; a well-developed reputation for providing complete and balanced foods; and back up their label claims with nutritional quality control testing. Additionally, owners should always seek advice from their veterinarian before changing their dog’s diet.

“If your dog seems to do better with diets without wheat or corn, consult a veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist for information about the safest diet options available on the market,” Zoran said. “They can provide commercial and homemade options that can meet your dog’s specific nutritional needs.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Biting Truth Of Snake Envenomation

One of the joys of owning a pet is being able to observe their curious nature. However, when they stick their noses where they don’t belong, a dangerous situation can arise, especially in a state like Texas, which is home to more than 75 different species of snakes.A black puppy sniffs at the ground outside

Dr. Dalton Hindmarsh, a veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), advises pet owners on what to do if their furry friend falls victim to a snake bite.

“First, you should keep your pet calm and seek veterinary care,” he said. “Contrary to what you may read on the internet, I would not recommend giving any medications at home, including things like Benadryl, without first consulting your veterinarian. I would also not recommend a tourniquet or trying to suck the venom out.”

Hindmarsh also said that prophylactic antibiotics are typically not prescribed, since the risk of infection from a snake bite is less than 1 percent. Steroid medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain medications are also not usually involved in treatment of a snake bite, as they have a high risk of side effects and no documented treatment benefit.

Hindmarsh adds that snake bites are very common in dogs and less frequently seen in cats. It’s also important to remember that if a snake is able to harm your pet, they are likely a danger to you as well, so Hindmarsh recommends that owners exercise caution after the bite.

“If the snake is already dead, you can take a picture of it to show veterinary staff,” he said. “Please do not bring the snake with you! If the snake is alive, do not put yourself in danger and leave the area with your pet.“

Once a bitten pet has reached a veterinary care facility, there are a variety of treatment options available.

“The recommended treatment ultimately depends on the severity of the bite, but most cases are treated with IV fluids to address shock, pain medications, and monitoring,” Hindmarsh said.  “Antivenom is readily available but is not always indicated for every snake bite.”

Owners should be mindful about preventing their pets from interacting with snakes, especially when in regions where these slithering creatures are more common. In the areas near Texas A&M, copperheads are the most common venomous snake.

“Owners may consider avoidance training (teaching dogs to leave snakes alone) for outdoor and working dogs,” Hindmarsh said. “Keeping pets on a leash may also reduce the chance they encounter a snake.”

If pet owners have concerns about their animal encountering snakes, they should contact their veterinarian to discuss how they can best protect their pet. Owners who suspect that their pet has been bitten should contact their veterinarian immediately.

If you end up seeing a snake the next time you and your pet are enjoying the outdoors, Hindmarsh advises that you “leave the snake alone, back away, and leave the area.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hard to Hear: The Facts of Canine Ear Infections

While ear infections are pesky conditions that affect many species, dogs are especially at risk because of the shape of their ear canals.

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that diagnosis and treatment should always be handled by a veterinarian, but dog owners should still be informed on the nature of this condition to keep their furry friend in tip-top shape.

“There are multiple causes of ear infections (otitis externa), including allergies (most common), ear mites, a foreign body (this can include polyps or neoplasia), excess hair in the ear canal, anatomic changes in the ear canal, excess moisture in the ear canal, injury, immune-mediated diseases, endocrine disease, and excessive cleaning,” Teller said. “Any of these causes allow for bacteria and/or yeast to overgrow in the ear, leading to the infection.”

Symptoms of canine ear infections include head shaking, scratching at or rubbing the affected ear, discharge, bad odor, redness inside the ear, swelling of the ear canal, pain, itchiness, and crusts or scabs inside the ear or along the ear margin. Owners who suspect that their dog may be suffering from an ear infection should seek veterinary help immediately, as these infections can become more severe if left untreated.

Once diagnosed, your dog’s treatment plan will depend on what caused the ear infection in the first place.

Teller said that topical ointments may be used to treat bacteria and yeast present in the canal. Severe infections or those involving the middle or inner ear canal may be treated with oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Medicated ear cleansers to clear away discharge and debris from the infected canal may also be prescribed.

“Dogs that develop ear infections frequently will need to have the underlying cause addressed,” Teller said. “Some may require therapies to control allergies. If a food allergy is a cause of the problem, then switching to a hypoallergenic or limited-ingredient diet may prevent future problems. It is very important to work with your veterinarian before switching your dog’s diet.”

Dogs that swim frequently are also more prone to ear infections, and special care should be taken by owners to appropriately clean and dry their pet’s ears after being in the water. Cotton swabs should never be used in the inner canal of a dog’s ear. Teller also advised that dog owners should not allow other dogs to lick their pet’s ears.

To diagnose your pet, a veterinarian might sample ear discharge or look through the ear canal to observe the state of the eardrum. Your dog may need to be sedated for this procedure, depending on the situation.

Although the prospect of a canine ear infection may be daunting, timely veterinary intervention can prevent permanent damage from occurring. Proper care will have your pooch back to their super-hearing self in no time!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Genetic Testing for Dogs

Mail-in genetic test kits are a health trend that claim to offer users remarkable access to individualized information on their health at a molecular level. You may know that a sample of saliva can reveal the secrets of your genetic code, but did you know that such kits can do the same for your dog?

These genetic tests for dogs allow pet owners to trade a sample of their pooch’s saliva for information on the pet’s breed, ancestry, health risks, and more. The concept may seem like it’s straight out of a science fiction novel, but these services are readily available at pet supply stores and online.

Dr. Gus Cothran, a professor emeritus at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explains the benefits and drawbacks of such tests.

“Pet owners should always be cautious, as these tests do not actually address specific health issues but rather indicate a breed,” Cothran said. “Members of the same breed may carry a specific genetic disease that is known to be in the breed, but not all will have it. Tests for specific genetic diseases may be available for use if there is concern.”

At the CVM, Cothran works with the Animal Genetics Laboratory, which utilizes DNA genotyping to determine genetic information for horses, goats, sheep, donkeys, and cattle. These tests are similar to those offered to consumers through mail-in services.

“There is no real difference between tests done by these services and tests done by laboratories, although most commercial tests are patented,” Cothran said.

Cothran adds that these tests can be useful to owners who know little about the background of their pet and wish to learn more about their breed. However, owners should be aware that the accuracy of these tests is not absolute.

“Most breed tests are based upon probability so that even though a particular breed is indicated, there is always a possibility that the result is not correct,” Cothran said. “The physical traits of the animal should be compared to the breed standard and, if they match, then the probability is that the test’s assignment is correct.”

Cothran advises that pet owners who do opt for such testing should share the results with their veterinarian. Though these tests on their own are not sufficient to diagnose your dog with a condition, they provide more information on your pet that, if you have, doesn’t hurt to share with the veterinarian.

While these tests might provide an interesting peek into the genetic makeup of your furry friend, it is important to remember that there is no substitute for responsibly monitoring your dog’s habits and proper veterinary care.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Home Alone: Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Does your dog whine when he sees you heading for the door? Are shredded pillows a frequent welcome home from work? Does your otherwise housetrained pooch have a problem with accidents in your absence?

If so, your dog might have a case of separation anxiety.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says canine separation anxiety is a condition born from love.

“Since dogs have been domesticated over thousands of years, there has been the development of a bond between dogs and people,” Darling said. “Dogs are social animals and thrive on companionship. They would like to spend all of their time with you if they could.”

Separation anxiety arises when a dog becomes stressed and anxious in the absence of their owner. Oftentimes, this distress manifests in symptoms that mimic misbehavior.

“Signs of separation anxiety include excess whining, barking, or howling; having accidents, even though housebroken; chewing things; scratching at doors and windows; digging holes; excessive drooling and panting; pacing; and trying to escape,” Darling said.

While there are many theories on why dogs develop separation anxiety, the exact cause can be difficult to pinpoint.

“Risk factors include coming from a shelter, being left alone or seldom left alone as a young puppy, change of ownership, change in family routine or schedule, experiencing a traumatic event when the dog is alone, moving to a new house, and loss of a family member,” Darling said.

When managing canine separation anxiety, a kind and patient approach is best.

“Do not scold or punish your dog because it might make the dog more upset and fearful,” Darling said. “The behaviors exhibited in separation anxiety are not the result of disobedience or spite.

“If your dog has mild separation anxiety, counter-condition training may be helpful. This is done by associating the sight or presence of the feared or disliked situation with something the dog really likes,” she continued. “Over time, the dog will learn something feared will predict something good.”

Distraction can also be a valuable tool, as a tired dog has less energy available for destructive activities. Darling suggests food puzzles, aerobic exercise, interactive games, daily walks, and playdates with other dogs to keep your dog busy.

“Each dog is different so you have to find out what motivates him and sets him up to be successful,” Darling said. “Providing lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation decreases your dog’s stress and enriches his life.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Senior Dogs, Part II: The Joys of Loving an Elderly Dog

Throughout their lives, dogs are experts at showing unconditional love and acceptance for their owners. Once dogs have moved into their senior years, owners can return that love by helping them stay comfortable, happy, and healthy.

Harmony Peraza, a veterinary technician and the study subject manager for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Dog Aging Project, has seen from her own senior dog just how rewarding it can be to own an older animal.

While the adage may be that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” senior dogs can usually do anything that younger dogs can do, as long as they have some patience and help from their owners.

“Old dogs can learn new tricks! In fact, older dogs may be easier to teach,” Peraza said. “They likely have a longer attention span and more focus than a young puppy. Additionally, teaching your older dog new things can help to keep his mind sharp and slow the signs of senility.”

Owners can also help older dogs stay more youthful by making small changes to their diet and activity to better suit their aging bodies.

Diet changes for a senior dog may be recommended by a veterinarian to treat certain health conditions, encourage weight loss, or help maintain an ideal weight.

“Often, an older dog does not need to consume the same number of calories as a younger dog,” Peraza said. “This can be accomplished by simply feeding less or moving to a lighter or low-calorie food.”

Older dogs may need fewer calories, but this doesn’t mean that they should live a sedentary life. If vigorous exercises like running or jumping have become too difficult for a senior dog, it can still benefit from walking, jogging, swimming, or playing.

Just as with younger dogs, regular trips to the veterinarian are important for keeping senior dogs healthy and comfortable. Peraza recommends taking old dogs to the veterinarian for exams and lab work every six to 12 months and keeping up with flea, tick, heartworm, and intestinal parasite control.

“Having your dog’s health regularly monitored can lead to early discovery of problems, and early discovery of problems can increase the likelihood of a positive outcome,” Peraza said.

Most importantly, owners should remember to give a senior dog the love, attention, and comfort it deserves.

“Offer a comfortable, cool place for your pup to rest,” Peraza said. “Regular baths and grooming are a great way to not only keep your dog clean, but also provide an opportunity to give a nice little massage to your aging family member.

“A little patience, understanding, and a gentle hand can go very far with older dogs,” she said.

Dogs spend their entire lives loving us, so it is the least we can do to make sure they stay just as loved until the end.

Saying goodbye is one of the hardest parts of dog ownership, but researchers across the U.S. are taking some of the first steps toward extending the lifespans of our canine companions.

“We all love our companion dogs and want them to stay with us as long as possible,” said Dr. Kate Creevy, CVM associate professor. “The Dog Aging Project seeks to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence lifespan and health span, the period of life spent free from disease.”

This project will enroll 10,000 companion dogs and their owners from across the U.S to advance the understanding of the aging process in dogs. Learn more at dogagingproject.org.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Senior Dogs, Part I: The Signs of an Aging Dog

As a dog ages, several changes may occur besides a greying muzzle. Senior dogs have more health concerns than younger dogs, but they can still make playful, loving companions.Black dog with grey muzzle smiling and looking off to the left in front of a green grass background

Harmony Peraza, a veterinary technician and the study subject manager for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Dog Aging Project, discusses the most common health conditions that may arise in a senior dog.

While there is some variation among breeds, a dog is typically considered a senior at 8 years old. Large dogs may age faster, becoming seniors as early as 6 or 7, while smaller dogs may not start showing signs of age until they are 9 or 10.

One of the most common concerns in senior dogs is arthritis, which can cause a dog to move stiffly and slowly and sometimes also gain weight because of decreased activity. Providing a soft surface to lay on and reducing exposure to the elements are easy ways to help a dog with arthritis stay comfortable.

“I also recommend reaching out to your dog’s veterinarian for suggestions of supplements and, in some cases, medications that can potentially help with the discomfort of arthritis,” Peraza said. “Aging doesn’t have to be painful for your dog.”

Many dogs also lose their hearing and vision as they age, but this does not mean that they can no longer live a full and happy life.

“If you notice that your older dog seems withdrawn, is sleeping deeper than usual, doesn’t come to you as readily when called, or seems lost and confused, these can be signs that he or she has lost some vision or hearing ability,” Peraza said.

Blind and deaf dogs are great at finding new ways to navigate and stay active, but they do need more patience and understanding from their owners.

“Even dogs that go blind can manage to get along very well,” Peraza said. “It is recommended to keep furniture or objects in the home and yard in familiar order for the dog. Rearrangement of items can be confusing and cause the dog to bump into the newly arranged items.”

Dogs have an increased risk for cancer as they age, as well as “wear” on important organs like the heart and kidneys. If a senior dog has increased panting, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea, or a change in appetite, thirst, or the frequency of urination, it should be seen by a veterinarian, as these can be symptoms of heart and kidney problems.

Pet owners can help prevent heart and kidney problems in senior dogs by keeping up with oral hygiene.

“A red gum line and tartar build up on a dog’s teeth indicate bacteria or infection within the mouth,” Peraza said. “Bacteria is shed into the bloodstream and directly affects the health of the pet’s heart and kidneys. Dental disease is much more than just smelly breath and yucky looking teeth.”

Beyond physical changes, an aging dog may also develop dementia, causing it to act withdrawn or confused.

“Keeping a dog engaged through play and training activities may help keep its brain healthy and sharp,” Peraza said. “Additionally, your veterinarian can recommend special foods and supplements that, in some cases, may help delay or minimize the onset of senility.”

Finally, it may be common to find an older dog napping, but a dog that suddenly becomes less active should be evaluated by a veterinarian. While some laziness is expected from a dog that has lived a long, active life, excessive sedentary behavior could indicate health problems.

Even though dogs may develop health conditions as they age, they can still make great pets and live well past the point of becoming seniors. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest parts of dog ownership, but researchers across the U.S. are taking some of the first steps toward extending the lifespans of our canine companions.

“We all want to help our companion dogs live long and well,” said Dr. Kate Creevy, CVM associate professor. “To accomplish this, a better understanding of the aging process in dogs is needed. The Dog Aging Project brings together a community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, researchers, and volunteers to advance this understanding.”

This project seeks to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence lifespan and healthspan, the period of life spent free from disease. It will enroll 10,000 companion dogs and their owners from across the U.S. Learn more at dogagingproject.org.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

How to ‘Chews’ the Best Dog Chew Toys

Pet stores often carry an overwhelming number of dog chew options, from rawhides and antlers to rubber toys and ropes. With so many choices, how do you know which is the best for your dog?Dog chewing toy

To help with this decision, Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, weighs the pros and cons of the most common types of dog chews.

Teller describes dogs as “innate chewers” that enjoy having some sort of dog chew or toy to sink their teeth into. From a young age, they often “explore the world with their mouths,” so it is better to give them their own chew toys rather than sacrifice your shoes and furniture.

“Chewing can help relieve stress and anxiety, keep their teeth clean, and keep their minds stimulated,” she said. “Puppies also chew to relieve the pain and irritation of teething.”

While there are countless dog chew options on the market, the most common include rawhides, real bones and antlers, pig ears, and chew toys made from nylon or rubber.

“Rawhides can help limit plaque and tartar buildup, keep jaw muscles strong, and potentially slightly freshen a dog’s breath,” Teller said. “Look for rawhides sourced from American beef and processed in the U.S.”

While rawhide has its benefits, it can also cause some problems that dog owners need to watch out for. Some dogs develop gastrointestinal upset, vomiting, or diarrhea after chewing rawhides, and others may chew off pieces that can become choking hazards or create intestinal blockages.

Rawhides approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council tend to be safer and cause fewer problems, Teller said.

“It is also important to pick a rawhide chew that is the right size and shape for your dog to minimize these risks,” she said. “In multi-dog households, separate the dogs when giving chew treats to eliminate potential competition or the urge to gulp down a treat before another dog can steal it.”

Real bones, antlers, and hooves can seriously injure dogs if pieces splinter off and cause obstruction or puncture wounds. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also warns owners against giving dogs these chews because bones can cause cuts in the mouth and fracture teeth.

“When antlers became popular as dog chews, veterinarians and veterinary dentists noticed an uptick in the number of fractured teeth they were seeing and started cautioning owners to avoid these chews for their dogs,” Teller said.

Most dogs enjoy the strong scent of pig ears, but these chews are frequently contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella, which can be dangerous for both dogs and people who come into contact with the chews.

Finally, while chew toys made from nylon and rubber can be good options, they can also be dangerous if a dog begins to tear off and eat pieces that are too large to pass through the gastrointestinal tract.

“Remove any toy that has reached the size where it can become a choking hazard or cause an intestinal obstruction,” Teller said. “If your dog chews off large pieces of the toy and swallows them, then that toy should also be taken away.”

Teller recommends testing nylon toys by trying to indent them with a thumbnail and avoiding extremely hard options that could break teeth. For both these and rubber toys, make sure to buy an appropriate size toy; larger dogs have been known to swallow or choke on small toys.

Similarly, rope toys can be a lot of fun for dogs but should only be played with under supervision. When ropes begin to fray, remove them to avoid pieces of string getting stuck in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

While some dog chews are better than others, it may still take time to find the best option for your pup. Keep in mind the potential health concerns and focus on finding a safe option that will allow your dog to be a happy and healthy chewer.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.