Antlers can be fabulous long lasting chews for your dog, but like every dog toy or chew, they can also cause problems.
For some dogs, antlers are safer hard chews than bones. They’re harder and less prone to splinter, but that causes its own issues. Antlers frequently cause slab fractures in dog’s teeth, and they’re dangerous to swallow if your dog manages to get a smaller piece off.
Power chewers or dogs with dental issues are most prone to break teeth, but different parts and types of antlers can cause more issues than others. The thick portion of elk antlers are generally softest, and the slab portion of moose antlers will usually be the hardest. You can inspect individual pieces of antlers where they’ve been cut and see the ratio of hard, dense outer material to inner spongy dried marrow. I’d just skip the moose antlers, but I let my dogs chew deer and elk antlers.
When you’re selecting an antler, you want fresh. Antlers gradually bleach white as they age, and they also become harder and brittle. Old antlers are much more dangerous than fresh. When you’re antler shopping, you want a nice brown. Antlers for dogs are usually cut into different sizes, and may be split in half to expose the marrow. This will allow your dog to chew through it faster and make it easier to get a piece off, but it’s easier for your dog to get to the good part. For dogs that get frustrated or lose interest in the things they’re supposed to be chewing, that can be great.
Your dog’s individual chewing style will also impact how dangerous antlers are for them to chew. Dogs that try to bite straight through chews to break off large pieces shouldn’t have antlers. Biting straight down through something that hard will eventually damage their teeth. If they do manage to bite a piece off and swallow it, they’re likely to end up in surgery to have it removed. Many dogs will chew the sides and edges to gradually wear a chew away, and if your dog is that type of chewer, antlers may be safe for them.
Dogs do need to chew, but unfortunately there isn’t a magic chew that’s safe for every dog. If your dog chomps through everything you give them, antlers aren’t the long-lasting answer you’re looking for. I consider them safe for dogs that want some variety, but aren’t really difficult to buy chews for.