Are Bully Sticks Safe for Dogs? How to Ensure Your Pup Chomps Safely
When your dog is a champion chomper, you'll no doubt be looking for something she can gnaw that's not your furniture or shoes. So, are bully sticks safe for dogs?
For the most part, yes, says Albert Ahn, DVM, veterinary advisor for Myos Pet and veterinarian at Inwood Animal Clinic in New York City. Certain dogs—puppies and ones with dental problems—probably need something else to snack on, but most other pups will enjoy a bully stick, provided you have a watchful eye.
What Are Bully Sticks?
Dog bully sticks are made of one main ingredient: bull penis, usually dried or cooked. Odd? Sure! But many dogs love chewing on them.
"They don't really have a lot of use, if you will, at the slaughterhouse, so someone came along and said, 'Why don't we market these as a treat?'" Ahn tells Daily Paws.
Also known as pizzle sticks, each bully stick is usually around 1 foot long. They're edible, so ideally your dog can work to bite off small, easily digestible pieces before swallowing them.
Are Bully Sticks Good for Dogs?
From a nutritional aspect, Ahn says bully sticks do serve as a protein source, but you should consult your veterinarian on how to best incorporate them into your dog's diet. You'll also want to make sure they aren't adding too many calories to your dog's daily consumption.
Very similar to chew toys, snacking on bully sticks will provide an engaging activity for your dog. It's not as stimulating as a game of fetch, Ahn says, but it gives her something to do on her own. Plus, the sticks can even help clean your dog's teeth.
Bully Stick Safety Concerns
Even though you don't need to be hands-on with your pup when she's chewing on a bully stick, you should still pay attention to her as she gnaws. The reason? To make sure she doesn't eat a piece that's too big.
Your pup could choke on it, or the piece could become lodged in her digestive system, Ahn says. That can pose serious health risks to your dog and result in costly visits to the veterinarian.
To keep that from happening, Ahn says to throw your dog's bully stick away when it gets small. Then you can replace it with a brand new bully stick and your dog can resume her chewing.
"You just want to be vigilant that you don't pose any unnecessary hazards for your dog," Ahn says.
Part of that alertness also applies to where you purchase the bully sticks. Ahn recommends buying sticks made in the United States—where they have to adhere to U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards—from reputable sellers. Bully sticks can sometimes attract bacteria like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, so make sure the product hasn't been recalled, too.
Lastly, you'll want to stay away from bully sticks if your dog experiences dental issues. These treats are tough and could break your dog's teeth or hurt her mouth.
If you're concerned about whether a bully stick is the right treat for your dog, you're free to try others you're more comfortable with. There are so many chewable treats and toys available to choose from.
"In short: Bully sticks are fine for many dogs but have to be used appropriately," Ahn says.
My Dog Swallowed a Bully Stick. Should I Be Worried?
When you know or suspect your dog ate a too-big piece of her bully stick, Ahn says to contact your veterinarian. If your vet's office is closed, call a nearby emergency vet. The health professional on the phone will tell you what to do.
Depending on how your dog is acting, you could have to bring her to the vet immediately. They might also take a wait-and-see approach if your dog seems to be doing OK, Ahn says. If your dog is choking, help her immediately by clearing her airway and performing the Heimlich maneuver.
Are Bully Sticks Safe for Puppies?
In most cases, Ahn recommends keeping puppies on puppy-specific food and treats. So no, it's probably best to wait until your dog is an adult before trying a bully stick.
"Sometimes a puppy doesn't know what she is playing with and can wind up swallowing a very large piece of a bully stick," Ahn says.
Always consult your veterinarian about when you can start to feed your dog bully sticks.