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† ALERT – Chewies †

How safe are your dogs chewies?

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The use of certain chew toys has become the center of recent controversy. Numerous dogs have suffered serious injury resulting from chewies, and several deaths can be directly attributed to these toys. Depending on the size of your dog, and your dog’s personality, proper use of chew toys is an absolute necessity.

Everyone in the dog community from the chewy manufacturers to local vets strongly recommend supervised use of chew toys. Injuries from chewies primarily come in two forms: 1) fractured teeth, and 2) gastrointestinal obstruction. The likelihood of injury depends on a couple of factors, the first being size. Current data shows that the rate of injury rises dramatically for dogs over 55 pounds. Larger more powerful dogs are more likely to dismantle and ingest chew toys not meant for consumption. The second factor is your dog’s personality. A more aggressive chewer will be more likely to break teeth on hard chews, and will be more likely to gulp down large (and potentially fatal)pieces that are torn from the toy.

I want to emphasize the use of the word “toy"”, because most chewies are not considered food items. This is an important point. Many chewies are regularly ingested by dogs even though this is not the intention of the chewies manufacturer. Rawhides are a good example. If the manufacturer states that the item is not to be ingested or claims that it is a chew toy, then it is not classified as a food item, and hence falls under no regulatory control. With no control, the manufacturer is free to use any ingredients or materials despite safety or health concerns.

Rawhide chews are a prime example of this. These chewies are nothing more than cow wrappers (bluntly put). The cow’s skin is processed to remove all excess underlying tissue, fat and hair. The processed hides are then cured to retard or prevent spoilage. Due to a lack of controls over this type of chewy, many inexpensive rawhides are imported from the Asian continent, most notably Thailand. In many of these developing countries, the hides are still processed with mercury vapour, chromium salts, lead solutions, arsenic compounds and formaldehyde.

But even with modern, safe processing the dried hides still present safety problems for pets. As the chewed rawhide softens, powerful jaws easily tear off pieces and the dog swallows them. The cured hide is digestible, but it breaks down too slowly in the gut, and swallowing many pieces too quickly can easily lead to gastric irritation from the abundance of undigested material. This is usually accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea. Worse yet, some of the swallowed pieces may be only partially softened and still have hard, sharp edges and corners. This can lead to choking, oesophageal lacerations, and gastrointestinal obstructions. in the case of an obstruction, surgery will probably be necessary to remove the rawhide.

Other dried animal by- products are also popular chew toys. These include items such as hooves and pigs ears. Physically, pig ears are much less dangerous than hooves, however numerous reports indicate that many swine products, particularly from the Asian continent test positive for salmonella. a test conducted in the UK indicated that one in three samples from Thailand, and one in eight samples from china contained salmonella.

Hooves are extremely hard and vets have reported numerous broken teeth as a result of gnawing these chewies. More powerful dogs can split a hoof, and the resulting shards can be as sharp and deadly as broken glass. These fragments do not soften in the gut quick enough to prevent injury, and with these lethal splinters, gastrointestinal obstructions are the least of your worries. A partial obstruction caused by a hoof shard can easily turn into a bowel perforation. As bowel contents are allowed into the abdomen, peritonitis quickly develops. And once the dog becomes septic, the most likely outcome is death.

Greenies are another popular chewy. The manufacturer’s own tests show that these chewies are effective in reducing tartar growth; however the claim to controlling doggie breath is disputed by many customers. The makers of greenies make the claim “no crumbs”, this may be true as these chewies have a tendency to break apart in large chunks. They also state that “gulpers” should be strictly monitored. Put those two things together, large chunks and gulping, and there is definitely the possibility of a resulting oesophageal or intestinal blockage. in fact, one woman claims that a large piece of greenie became lodged in her dog’s throat. by the time her vet found the obstruction, it had become “glued” to the oesophageal wall. According to the report, the doctors had an extremely difficult time removing the green chunk, and the dog died from surgical complications.

A trusted name in the chew business, Nylabone has been keeping dogs busy for several generations. but a Virginia attorney says that she has found over a hundred cases where injury or death has occurred after swallowing Nylabone products. Again, supervision is the key. a well used and worn bone can easily provide the large chunk of plastic that will become your dog’s next bowel obstruction. And, as vets are finding out, plastic bone pieces are not indicated on an x-ray. This translates to a delayed diagnosis, and treatment.

Soft plastic chews are also found everywhere, in all shapes and colors, some have squeakers. These toys present two distinct dangers. First, the soft plastic easily yields to the persistent chewer, and the irregular-shaped pieces that tear off are prime candidates to halt your dog’s digestive production line. The unexpected hazard from these toys is the possibility of cancer causing agents. a significant number of these plastic toys contain pvc which is not a soft and pliable product. Consequently, compounds known as phthalates are added to the raw plastic to soften it. These chemical compounds have been banned from use in rattles and babies teething toys by several European countries, and are currently under investigation in the USA as possible carcinogens. During the last decade, scientific research involving phthalates has shown them to be responsible for liver and kidney damage in laboratory animals as well as an increased incidence of cancer.

Phthalates are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage. ( California will ban the use of phthalates in toys and baby products as of 2009. )

Another group of chewies are braided “bones” composed of numerous strands of thread-like string. These toys do provide for good abrasive contact with the teeth, and hence serve to reduce tartar build-up. But not to sound repetitive... supervision is extremely important. An aggressive chewer on a search and destroy mission will relentlessly pull at the strands of these toys until it is completely dismantled. If the strings are swallowed, there is significant danger of obstruction, and in some cases laceration.

Dogs chews. It’s what they do. Despite the dangers of various chews and toys, it is possible to provide your dog with a safe outlet. Use common sense, and pick toys that are appropriate for your dog’s size and aggressiveness. Be aware of the common dangers and avoid them by:

  1. buying rawhides or pig’s ears, processed and manufactured in the USA,
  2. staying away from hooves,
  3. substituting soft plastic toys with natural rubber or latex ones,
  4. discarding old, worn toys, and
  5. supervising your pets activity carefully.

Following these simple rules can help avoid tragic and excruciating consequences for your beloved pet.

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