Since the profession raised concerns in the veterinary press in June 2013 about the danger posed to dog teeth by very hard chews there has been some significant movement. This became necessary by the large increase in cases seen of fractured carnassial teeth by dogs chewing on antlers. We see many cases each week of fractured teeth but these are usually canine teeth - mostly as accidents. The carnassial teeth at the back of the mouth are a relatively new type of presentation.
Antler chews are sold for dogs as "natural tooth cleaning". The teeth damaged have all had the same buccal slab fractures of the upper carnassials (see below). Many have fractured so severely that surgical extraction is the only treatment possible.
We are very disappointed to see Bull Horns now being marketed for the same purpose. Corporate veterinary clinic chains, such as Companion Care and Vets4Pets, have taken a lead in refusing to stock these items - despite them still being available in the pet shops they are associated with.
The veterinary profession is so concerned about this problem that a three year study has been set up to investigate the effect on dog teeth by chews of various hardness. Initial reports by others working in this field indicate that we may well have to radically rethink our ideas of what is safe and what is not.
In the meantime various government and other agencies have produced information sheets to assist the public. The US Food & Drugs Administration and the American Animal Hospital Association have two of the best.
Severe fracture of the left upper carnassial in four fragments. Surgically removed.
Antler responsible for tooth fracture. Blood on chewed end.
The advertising for antlers, horns and hard nylon chews typically claims they are good for cleaning teeth, that dogs should not bear down on them and, originally, being safe for puppy teething. The product packaging is now less cavalier with reality.
Given their hardness (see our fractured teeth page) the damage is the most extreme we can remember. Since antlers are bone our normal advice applies in this regard. See the following information sheet from Journal of Experimental Biology.
A letter signed by a group of concerned vets and nurses was printed in the Veterinary Times to warn the profession at large and also to recruit cases for a detailed study. Major pet stores are aware of this concern and have instructed vets working in clinics associated with them to report any such fractures to customer services.
In the meantime we suggest you do not purchase hard items of this nature. In addition if your dog has suffered this type of dental injury you should always report the damage to the pet store that sold you the product and make them aware of your grievance and petition for redress.Your vet will be happy to provide a veterinary report. Costs of surgical extraction or root canal therapy can be substantial.
Our guide to safe toys can be downloaded here.