A veterinarian shares some information to chew on.
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great dane puppy chewing on a pigs ear; are pig ears good for dogs
Credit: Christian Mueller / Shutterstock

Cue the butt wiggles! Pig ears are a popular treat our canine companions love to chew away on. But are pig ears good for dogs?

Pig ears do provide some enrichment and novelty as a yummy snack, but like any other treat, they shouldn't be fed on a regular basis.

What Are Pig Ears?

Pig ears for dogs are made out of, quite literally, pig ears. And although it may sound strange to some, these are a widely loved dog treat! The pinna, or flap of the ear, is used to make these treats and consists of skin, cartilage, and little muscle. Once harvested and dehydrated, pig ears can be chewed and digested for your furry friend to enjoy. \

These soft, long-lasting chews are a great source of enrichment. By giving your pooch a fun (not to mention delicious!) activity to keep her preoccupied, you can prevent signs of boredom like chewing up furniture, excessive licking, or barking.

Plus, chewable treats like pig ears can help clean your pup's teeth by gently removing plaque and tartar, too. So what's not to love?

Are Pigs Ears Good for Dogs?

Julie Sanders, DVM, Director of Operations at Heart Paw, compares pig ears to being the dog equivalent of ice cream for humans. We all love to indulge a little, but moderation is key.

"If used sparingly as a treat, pig ears are not bad, but they're not 'healthy' either," Sanders tells Daily Paws.

Sanders says pig ears are safe for most medium- and large-sized dogs when given as an occasional treat once or twice a month. "Pig ears are best when given sparingly as a special treat," she says. "This is definitely not an everyday food."

Pig ears can contain a fair amount of fat and calories. For example, a 50-gram treat averages just over 200 calories. While it might not seem like a lot, these extra calories add up, especially for small dogs. A general rule of thumb is the calories from treats should make up 10 percent or less of your dog's daily caloric intake.

Sanders explains that, on average, a 20-pound adult dog requires only about 587 calories per day. "A 200-calorie treat makes up far more than 10 percent of that allowance," she says. "For a single treat to fall within the 10-percent calorie rule, the dog has to be well over 50 pounds."

For treats like pig ears, it's best to calculate your dog's caloric needs and feed sparingly to prevent unhealthy weight gain. Sanders suggests cutting pig ears into halves, thirds, or quarters if you'd like to feed them to smaller dogs, and save these treats for when you know your pup is going to need to be distracted (like if you have repair people in your home or guests are coming).

Safety Tips for Feeding Pig Ears

Pig ears are a wag-worthy treat your pup will certainly be excited to chew! But there are a few precautions to take when giving them to your pet.

In most cases, Sanders doesn't recommend feeding pig ears if you have a small breed dog as smaller dogs frequently have gastrointestinal (GI) upset as a result of eating pig ears and similar treats.

She also advises against feeding pig ears if your dog:

  • Requires a low-fat diet
  • Has a sensitive GI tract
  • Eats a novel protein or hydrolyzed diet

Sanders adds that the most common problems associated with feeding pig ears include vomiting, gas, and diarrhea. Some dogs may experience more serious complications, such as pancreatitis or bloody diarrhea.

If you notice these signs in your dog, Sanders recommends calling your veterinarian and avoiding pig ears altogether.

It's important to watch for any recalls on your pet food and treats. Be sure to always wash your hands after handling pig ears, dog food, and treats, too.

What To Do if Your Dog Swallows a Pig Ear

If your dog swallows a pig ear whole and can breathe normally, Sanders says no emergency action is needed but recommends monitoring your pup closely. "Pig ears are readily digestible in the stomach and unlikely to cause an obstruction. Though rarely, it can happen," she says.

But if your dog is choking, Sanders says to initiate first aid to clear her airway and seek veterinary attention immediately.

There are other instances where a pig ear might get stuck in your dog's esophagus. When this happens, your dog can breathe, but it's very uncomfortable, Sanders says.

Signs of an esophageal obstruction include:

  • Continuously attempting to swallow
  • Drooling
  • Pacing
  • Vomiting or gagging
  • Loss of appetite

These signs require a trip to the vet to treat the obstruction. But in most cases, Sanders says, you'll be doing "watchful waiting." You'll want to monitor your dog for any signs of breathing difficulties and GI upset.

"If your dog refuses to eat, vomits, or has diarrhea, you'll need to call your vet," Sanders says.

However, Sanders says most dogs who swallow a pig ear will digest and pass the ear uneventfully. (So it's likely you won't see it in your dog's stool.)

Are Pig Ears Safe for Puppies?

Sanders generally recommends steering clear of pig ears if your puppy is younger than six months old.

"Puppies have a less robust immune system, which makes them more at risk for developing illness if there is treat contamination," she says. "Puppies also seem to be a bit more sensitive to developing GI upset."

A safer option Sanders suggests is stuffing a KONG or other puzzle toy with canned dog food, bananas, or nut butter and freezing it as a treat. "You can control exactly what your puppy is eating, and the coolness of the frozen, stuffed puzzle toy and treat is very soothing on those gums for teething puppies!"

Consult your vet to learn when it's best to start treating your canine companion to pig ears.