Is it OK for dogs to eat antlers? Here’s What to Expect

Antlers pose a dental risks for dogs.

After attending vet school, I took several advanced dental training courses through a board-certified veterinary dentist. Dentistry is a large part of veterinary practice, and dental disease in dogs is common. Based on my training, I knew that careful selection of dog chews was important. And here’s why it’s so crucial:

Tooth fractures are a very real problem. In fact, a study found that one in four animals presented for a dental cleaning have a traumatic dental injury and 50% of those injuries are fractured or broken teeth. As an integrative veterinarian for over 20 years, it’s not uncommon for me to discover a cracked or broken tooth incidentally during a routine head-to-tail physical examination.

While any tooth in the mouth can fracture, become loose or damaged, or have associated gum problems, the most common tooth to fracture is the fourth premolar. (If you lift up your dog’s top lip from the side and retract that lip gently up and back, you’ll see on the top arcade a big tooth—it’s also called the carnassial tooth. It looks a mountain range upside down.)

Picture your dog’s fourth premolar like a big iceberg. Now picture a slab of that iceberg falling into the ocean. That’s the kind of fracture that happens to a dog’s tooth. The side of the tooth breaks off and you’re left with a raw, exposed flat side. This is a common problem typically caused when a dog chews on something that’s too hard.

Is it OK for dogs to eat antlers?

A slab fracture of your dog’s tooth can cause

  • Pain (now the root endings are directly exposed)
  • Bleeding
  • A dog tooth root abscess which may rupture through the side of your dog’s face
  • A broken tooth is trouble in the making because it removes the enamel—the natural sealant that protects the tooth from infection. Without the enamel, infection can wick up the tooth and into the roots. This may cause a tooth root abscess. (If you’ve ever had a root abscess in your tooth, you know that it’s excruciatingly painful and can become very serious.) Even if an abscess hasn’t formed yet, chewing on a fractured tooth with an exposed nerve is still extremely painful for your dear dog.

    Proponents of antlers argue that chewing on the antler can help clean your dog’s teeth by scraping the tartar off. Sure that might be true, but if your dog cracks a tooth (or teeth) in the process, he or she will end up with bigger dental issues. Plus, there are a myriad of safe and effective ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean at home that don’t run the risk of also fracturing the very teeth you are aiming to protect.

    What are some safe alternatives to antler chews?

    Now that you have the facts about antlers for dogs, you may be wondering what is safe for dogs who like to chew or who are heavy chewers. The good news is that you can prevent a painful tooth fracture by choosing the right chew toy. Even better, determining whether a chew toy is too hard for your dog is not complicated. I learned the following rule from Dr. Fraser Hale, a board-certified veterinary dentist:

    The “kneecap smack” rule of thumb limits what your dog should be chewing. For dog owners whose canine companions are heavy chewers, this can be frustrating. However, it can also limit the suffering and pain your dog experiences from a fractured tooth. I have a short list of safe chew toys for dogs that I recommend to my veterinary clients including Kong toys and Zogoflex toys by West Paw. Or you can look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of acceptance.

    Is it OK for dogs to eat antlers?

    Perhaps the biggest irony when it comes to hard chews like antlers is that we, as owners, believe we are helping to keep our dogs’ teeth clean. After all, chewing helps reduce plaque and tartar buildup, and it also redirects destructive tendencies and anxiety into an acceptable outlet. For owners of powerful chewers that destroy conventional chew toys in a manner of hours, antlers seem like a gift from nature herself.

    Your veterinarian is a great resource for recommendations of safe chew toys, and you can also check out this list of veterinarian-approved chews from the Veterinary Oral Health Council. No matter what chew toy or object you decide to go with, always make sure you get the right size for your dog, and look out for any recalls, especially if you select a jerky chew product or another food product. Get Your Free AKC download

    You should consider, though, that antlers and other excessively hard chews are a common cause of broken teeth in dogs. Broken teeth are extremely painful and can lead to abscesses and infections. While your dog’s suffering is usually enough of a deterrent, a broken tooth typically costs hundreds of dollars in repair or removal, offering an economic incentive, as well as a moral one, to consider carefully whether antlers are the right chew for your individual dog.

    On the surface, antlers for dogs seem like the perfect object for our pets to chew on. Antlers do not appear to splinter as easily as bones or other toys; they last a long time, saving you money on chew toys for powerful chewers; and they appeal to our sense of what is “natural” for our dogs.

    Natural antler dog chews can come from a variety of sources. Each type has different textures. Deer antlers for dogs can have a harder texture than other varieties of antlers. They come in a wide range of sizes to select the right fit for your dog’s size and chewing behavior. Elk antlers for dogs are usually large in size, and can often be available in a split form. Elk antlers vary in density depending on which part of the antler is selected. Moose antlers for dogs are softer than other antlers, and are often sold in different slices and shapes to choose what works for your individual dog. You can even find other types of “antler” chews that are made from water buffalo horns.

    Are antlers safe for dogs 2020?

    Have you ever longed for a natural treat which doesn’t add calories to your dog’s waist? Or do you have a dog who is endlessly wanting to chew your shoes and furniture and you want to redirect his chewing habits onto something else? Are you looking for a treat which also has added health benefits to it?

    In this article we will explore what deer antlers are, their benefits and their risks, as well as answer some common questions about them. So, keep reading to find out all you need to know about this marvellous treat.

    Choose the right size – not one that is too small for your dog to swallow, yet not so large that they cannot chew on it easily.

    Remove the antler if he is becoming too aggressive with his gnawing to avoid dental fractures.

    Throw away the antler when it has worn down to a small size which your dog can fit entirely in his mouth.

    Antlers are unique to the deer family, and grow on more than sixty kinds of male deer. They are made up of a bone-like substance, which originates as cartilage and slowly mineralises. Antlers are shed every year, and a whole new one grows for the breeding season. During that time, they are very soft, flowing with blood and covered in a soft layer called velvet. Towards the end of their growth, the blood flow stops and the antler mineralises, ready to impress females and fight off competing males.

    Antlers are commonly confused with horns, but horns and antlers are very different structures. Horns can be found on both males and females, unlike antlers which are typically only on males. Horns have a core of bone, covered in a layer of keratin, much like our fingernails, and are permanent structures which don’t shed.

    Even though antlers are naturally shed annually, most that are used for dog treats are by-products of the hunting industry. This way none of the hunted animal goes to waste. Anyway, most dogs prefer fresh deer antlers, rather than ones which have been drying out in the sun for weeks before they are harvested.

    Once harvested, the antlers are cut down to size and the sharp points are removed or sanded down. They are then blanched to sanitise them. (Bone products should never be fully boiled as it can make them brittle). That’s all the processing which is done, so they are truly natural products!

    So, are the antlers from different deer all the same? Not at all. Some antlers from deer such as fallow or red deer, are relatively hard and better suited for bigger dogs and more intense chewers.

    You can also buy reindeer antlers, which are very similar to deer antlers, apart from the fact that they can also be harvested from females as well as males.