Are Buffalo Horns Safe For Dogs? (Answered By Vet Tech)

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Most people consider dogs to be members of the family. Because of this, our pets get all sorts of perks like nice fluffy beds, fancy dishes, and nice chew toys. It makes sense that there are an overwhelming amount of chews available for dogs.

While it’s not a bad thing to have too many options, it can be hard to determine which chews are safe for your furry friend. Buffalo horns are popular natural chews that have always sparked debate in the dog world.

So, are buffalo horns safe for dogs?

Like most chewing toys, there’s a level of risk associated with buffalo horns. Unfortunately, buffalo horns can come with serious consequences. They can splinter into small shards and injure your dog internally. Their hard material can also chip your dog’s teeth. While buffalo horns have some benefits, they’re not the safest option.  

In this article, we’ll talk about why we don’t love buffalo horns as chew toys. We’ll also offer other chewing options that might be safer for your furry friend.

What Are Buffalo Horns Made Of?

Buffalo horns are more interesting than you might think.  They’re a permanent structure that stays on a buffalo’s head for its entire life!  Buffalo horns are essentially a bone core covered by a tough keratin sheath.  Buffalo horns grow continuously over a buffalo’s lifetime and are never shed, unlike antlers.

Despite this, buffalo aren’t hunted for their horns.  Horns are a natural byproduct of the agriculture industry.  Most buffalo horns produced for dogs are bought and processed to make them safer to consume.  All of the commercially available buffalo horns are hollow.  The bone core within is removed during processing and what is left over is that strong keratinous sheath.

Are Buffalo Horns Digestible?

Knowing that buffalo horns made for chewing are made up of keratin, does that mean they’re digestible?

Unfortunately, keratin is not a material that’s easily digested.  You may have already heard of keratin.  It’s what makes up the strands of our hair.  It’s also the building block for reptile scales, bird feathers, and dog nails!  Keratin is a protein, but it’s not easy to digest.  The acid in our stomachs doesn’t have the right enzymes to appropriately break down keratin.

If your dog eats a piece of buffalo horn, it won’t break down.  In a best-case scenario, these pieces will come out the other end after causing some serious stomach cramps.  In the worst-case scenario, these pieces might get stuck or lodged somewhere in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

This is one of the reasons why chews like buffalo horns, goat horns, and cow hooves might not be the best choices for your pet.  To read more about cow hooves for dogs, click here!

Are Buffalo Horns Good For Dogs?

Even though buffalo horns aren’t digestible, you can’t completely write them off. There are some benefits to buffalo horns for dogs. If your dog isn’t a heavy-duty chewer, it might be at less of a risk of breaking off a piece of undigestible keratin.

Keep reading to see why these chews are a popular favorite for some dog owners.

1. Buffalo Horns Contain Some Nutrients

Buffalo horns are naturally rich in protein, calcium, and phosphorous.  Not only do horns provide these important minerals, but they’re also low in fats.

Since they take a long time for your dog to chew, they’re an idea for dogs that are on diets or need to lose some weight.

2. Buffalo Horns Are Mentally Stimulating

Dogs love to chew!

Chewing is a totally natural behavior that all dogs partake in.  Though chewing gets a bad reputation it’s actually quite healthy for your pup.  Of course, if your dog is chewing on something like a door frame, it could be caused by anxiety or boredom, but for the most part, we support chewing.

Buffalo horns obviously make long-lasting chew toys and can keep your dog entertained for a long time on a day when you need to stay inside.

3. They Might Help Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

The last benefit a buffalo horn might provide is natural tooth brushing.

According to the American Kennel Club, chewing on hard objects can help keep your dog’s teeth clean. Objects that are hard enough to scrape off plaque without chipping teeth can make a big difference in your dog’s dental health. Combined with yearly dental exams and regular tooth brushing, a good chew can help immensely!

Buffalo horns are definitely hard enough to keep plaque from building up on your dog’s molars.

Despite the obvious benefits that buffalo horns can provide, we still don’t recommend allowing your dog to have access to one.

Risks Of Chewing Buffalo Horns

So far we haven’t discussed some of the dangerous aspects of buffalo horns.  Sure, they’re not digestible, but neither are many of the plastic chewing toys we give our dogs. Unfortunately, there are more problems that buffalo horns present than just a simple stomach ache.

1. Small Pieces Can Break Off Of Them

One of the scariest things about buffalo horns is that they have the capability to break and splinter into small pieces.

Small pieces of horns present two main hazards. One of the issues with splinters is that they can be very sharp.  These sharp pieces can puncture or tear the inside of your dog’s mouth. While this isn’t usually a serious problem, it’s always possible that a cut in your dog’s mouth can lead to something more serious, like an infection.

Additionally, small pieces might be swallowed accidentally. If these pieces happen to be a perfectly imperfect size, they can cause an obstruction in your dog’s gastrointestinal system. Bowel obstructions are dangerous and sometimes fatal. One thing you can be certain of with a bowel obstruction is a big bill and a lot of stress for you and your pet.

Signs of obstruction are vomiting, weakness, lethargy, pain in the abdomen, and inability to defecate.  If you do suspect your dog may have a piece of bone lodged in their bowels, contact your veterinarian ASAP.

2. They Are Hard Enough To Chip A Tooth

Another big issue we have with buffalo horns is their hardness.

Because buffalo horns are tough and permanent structures, they have to be incredibly hard. While this might seem like a plus for some dogs, it’s really just a hazard.  Hard chew toys can seriously damage your dog’s teeth.  Chips and slab fractures are a high possibility with buffalo horns.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell when your dog has damaged a tooth.  You’ll often only notice because they stop eating or because you notice something like an abscess.

Veterinary dental procedures always require sedation and anesthesia, which are both expensive and stressful.  It’s best to avoid tooth fractures when you can by keeping hard chew toys out of your pup’s mouth.

Can Dogs Eat Buffalo Horns?

So, now for the real question, can dogs actually eat buffalo horns?

Yes, dogs can eat and chew on buffalo horns.  But, that doesn’t mean that they should.  Buffalo horns are made up of hard-to-digest keratin and most dogs will have a difficult time eating them.

In all reality, dogs would probably be better off eating a “fresh” buffalo horn that still has soft bone marrow inside.  That part of the horn is much easier to chew and digest and full of nutrients. But, as we mentioned above, processed horns are just the outside layer and not nearly as beneficial.

Plus, the risks associated with these horns typically outweigh the benefits and it’s just not worth it. So, what can you do instead?  How do you know what to pick out for your pup next time you’re at the pet store?

How Can You Tell If A Chew Is Safe?

Knowing how to pick a chew toy out is so important!  Not only will it save you from unnecessary vet bills and stress but it will also keep your dog satisfied and stimulated.

Picking out a toy is a process that should be individualized depending on your dog.  You’ll want to consider their chewing style and how that matches up with the toy you’re offering.

1. Check The Hardness

The first and easiest way to check if a toy is safe is to check its hardness.

To check if a chew toy is too hard, grab a quarter or a spoon. Press the edge of the object into the toy.  If the object leaves a mark or makes a temporary dent, that’s great.  If the object doesn’t leave a mark, it could be a sign that the toy is too hard.

One of the exceptions to this rule are chew toys that become softer with saliva like rawhides. Besides the exceptions, toys that don’t dent are too hard and present a risk of tooth damage.  Unfortunately, buffalo horns are extremely tough and don’t pass the hardness test.

2. Make Sure It’s The Right Size

It’s always important to match the size of your chew toy to your dog.

Toys that are too small might be accidentally ingested by your dog and cause serious problems.  Toys that are too big might not interest your dog at all as they may not be able to get a grip on them. You should pick a moderately sized chew toy that doesn’t present any risk of ingestion for your furry friend,

Luckily, buffalo horns are usually too big for dogs to swallow whole.

3. Check The Ingredients And Coating

Make sure to check the ingredients and coating on whatever chew toy you’re picking out. Some dogs have stomachs that might be sensitive to chemical coatings.  In many ways, the less processed your chews are, the better.

While buffalo horns aren’t heavily processed, they still do get cleaned out and sterilized before being sold.  But as far as chews go, they’re not bad!

4. Think About Your Dog’s Chewing Style

Probably the most important consideration to make when picking out a toy for your dog is their chewing style. Chewing can vary based on breed and age. Young Rottweilers, for example, are known to be heavy chewers for a few reasons.

Chewing can also vary among individuals of a certain breed.  Some dogs might like to chew on soft plushy things for just a few minutes a day.  Others might seem obsessed with chewing and destroy normal toys within minutes.

Though buffalo horns are durable, they’re still not great choices for heavy chewers.  Aggressive chewers are much more likely to sustain tooth fractures or splinter horns.

Safer Alternatives To Buffalo Horns

We’re happy to say that even though buffalo horns don’t pass the chew toy tests, there are many toys that do.  Even though the items below are certainly safer, all chew toys still come with a level of risk.  Try to think about how your dog would use that toy and whether or not you think it’s a better alternative.

Bully Sticks

Bully sticks are processed chew toys made out of cow muscle.  They’re kind of similar to beef jerky which is longer lasting and more durable.  Bully sticks are great because they’re moderately hard but will keep aggressive chewers busy.  Plus, most dogs love their scent and flavor.

The only problem with bully sticks is that when they come to an end, they still present a hazard.  The chunky end piece could be swallowed whole by enthusiastic chewers.

If you decide to get your dog bully sticks, try purchasing a bully stick grip as well.  These grips help protect your dog from the risk of accidentally swallowing the end portion.

Check out the video below to see how to use one.

Chew Toys (Like KONGs)

KONG toys are popular chewing toys.  These toys can be purchased based on the size and chewing level of your dog.

KONGS are made of super durable materials that won’t break off in your dog’s mouth. They’re not sharp and can’t damage your dog’s teeth. If you buy a KONG toy that’s too small, there’s a possibility that your dog might swallow it, so still use these toys with caution!

The best part about KONGs is that they can be filled and stuffed with treats to keep your dogs busy all day long.

Frozen Carrots

Frozen carrots can make easy and affordable chewing toys for your dog! They’re digestible, safe, and easy to chew. All you need to do to prepare these toys are to clean and peel some whole carrots. Then, you’ll pop them in the freezer overnight. Once frozen, you can offer the carrots to your dog. Watch as they enjoy the now longer process of consuming a carrot.

Final Thoughts

Although buffalo horns are marketed as dog chews, for the most part, they’re just not safe.  Buffalo horns are indigestible and can break and splinter off into small pieces.  These sharp edges and pieces can injure your dog’s mouth or bowels and cause obstructions.

Alternatives for buffalo horns include things like KONGs, carrots, and bully sticks.  If you do decide to try giving your dog a buffalo horn, always make sure to supervise them.  Or, if you try out a new toy, make sure to watch them for the first few times.

Hopefully, you now have enough knowledge to make an informed decision about your dog’s chew toys and what would be the best option for them!

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