Are Cow Hooves Safe For Dogs? (Answered By Vet Tech)

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Chew toys are always a popular topic of conversation for dog owners. Dogs love and need to chew on things, it’s instinctual and stimulating. The tricky part is deciding what to allow your dog to chew.

You obviously don’t want them chewing up anything in your home, plus, you don’t want to give them anything dangerous.  Cow hooves are dog chews that have gained some popularity recently.

But, are cow hooves safe for dogs?

Cow hooves aren’t safe for dogs, especially unsupervised dogs or puppies. While hooves are cheap, natural, and rich in minerals, they’re also hazardous. Cow hooves aren’t easily digested because of what they’re made of. Little pieces can splinter off of them mid-chew and cause mild to life-threatening issues for your pet.  

Even though cow hooves probably aren’t the best choice for your pup, we’ll go over everything you need to know about them in this article.  That way, you can make an informed decision on whether or not you should bring these into your home.  Additionally, we’ll talk about some safer alternatives and how to tell if a toy is right for your pet.

What Are Cow Hooves Made Of?

According to Penn State University, cow hooves are made up of a material called keratin. Keratin is a protein that you’re probably already familiar with, since it’s what makes up our hair and nails. Keratin is also the main building block for things like reptile scales, bird feathers, and dog nails.

Commercial cow hooves usually come as a byproduct resulting from the agriculture industry. Dog chew companies would buy these byproducts and process them to make them clean and chew toy friendly.

Are Cow Hooves Digestible?

Even though keratin is a protein, it’s difficult to digest. The acids in our stomachs aren’t well-equipped to break down a tough substance like keratin. Not only is keratin insoluble in water but mammals don’t have the appropriate enzymes to digest it.

Since keratin is so resistant to digestion, it can be difficult to eat. The cow hooves that are processed and sold to dog owners are tough keratinous shells. Obviously, these hooves just aren’t digestible even when broken down into small pieces.

Can Dogs Eat Cow Hooves?

So, the real question is can dogs eat cow hooves?

If we’re being technical, dogs can’t really eat cow hooves. The chews aren’t digestible. A dog who would actually try to eat an entire cow hoove would end up with a terrible stomach ache at best.

If we’re talking about chewing, it’s a slightly different answer. Dogs can definitely chew on cow hooves.  But, like bones, or buffalo horns that we talk about in this article, and goat horns that we discuss here, as well as other chewable toys, just because they can chew them doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Cow hooves have a lot of hazards associated with them.

Are Beef Hooves Safe For Dogs?

Beef (or cow) hooves aren’t safe for dogs.  Not only are hooves made up of indigestible keratin, but they have other dangers associated with them. Even though dogs can chew them, they’re still hazardous.

With that being said, if you do decide to give your pup cow hooves, these treats should NEVER be given unsupervised, and, even under supervision, your pet is still at risk.

Below, we’ll highlight the two main reasons why cow hooves aren’t safe for dogs.

Dogs Can Chip Their Teeth On The Hard Hoof Material

Cow hooves aren’t soft, which is what makes them good and terrible chewing toys all at once.

One of the worst-case scenarios when offering your dog a cow hoove is the possibility that they can chip a tooth while chewing. Chipped teeth in dogs can cause pain and will usually need to be extracted. This can be both upsetting and expensive for everyone involved.

Most adult dogs won’t chew on something so hard that they chip their own teeth. But, if you have an overzealous chewer there’s no way to guarantee they won’t get carried away. Puppies are also at risk of injuring themselves while chewing on hard objects because they still don’t know how to regulate their bite pressure.

Cow Hooves Can Splinter And Crack

Another big hazard associated with cow hooves is the small sharp pieces that can break off of them.

You can probably imagine why small sharp objects aren’t a good match for your dog’s mouth. These small pieces can puncture or lacerate your dog’s mouth. If your dog swallows a shard, it could get lodged anywhere in there digestive tract. If a shard gets lodged in your dog’s esophagus it could cause them to cough or choke.  If a shard gets lodged in the intestines, it could puncture them or become impacted.

Unfortunately, there’s really no way to prevent something like this from happening, even under supervision. While there is a certain level of risk associated with all dog toys if you notice a hoof is splintering you’ll want to take it away as fast as possible and throw it directly in the trash.

So, Are Cow Hooves Good For Dogs?

So, we’ve determined that cow hooves aren’t the safest chewing option for your dog, but are there any health benefits to them?  There have to be some reasons why they’re so popular for heavy chewers!

They Contain  Minerals And Aren’t Heavily Processed

One of the biggest selling points about cow hooves is that they do actually contain a good amount of vitamins and minerals. Cow hooves are a natural source of minerals like Calcium, Zinc, and Copper. Although most formulated dog diets contain these minerals, some pets can be deficient. Something like a cow hoof would be a good natural supplement for a deficient dog.

Cow hooves are also minimally processed. This means that there are fewer chemicals used to preserve, clean, and shape these chews. As we know, less processed foods may be better for health in the long run, and it’s definitely something to keep in mind when picking out food and chews for your pet.

They Can Keep Chewers Entertained For Hours

Another reason why some people might consider cow hooves to be good for dogs is that they’re long-lasting and can keep chewers busy for hours.

Some dogs just need to chew more than others. If your pet is one of these dogs, you know that it can be hard to keep toys around for them to nibble on.  Since cow hooves are so durable, they’ll take most dogs hours or days to finish and can be a blessing for dog owners dealing with chewing issues.

Are There Any Other Pros Or Cons To Cow Hooves?

Besides the hazards and benefits we’ve already listed for dogs, there are a few other things to keep in mind about cow hooves.

Cow hooves are affordable! There’s no denying that dog treats and chews can get expensive. Since cow hooves are a natural byproduct of the agriculture industry, they usually only cost $1 – $2 a hoof. If a hoof lasts your pup a few days, that’s a good deal. Additionally, cow hooves are shaped like rings so you can also fill them with tasty treats like peanut butter.

On the other hand, cow hooves smell awful! Once your dog starts chewing on a hood, you’ll know immediately.  There is a very distinct smell that will stay in your house a few days after the chew is gone.  It’s hard to describe but the smell is similar to that of a stinky bully stick, only worse!

How To Tell If A Chew Toy Is Safe For Your Dog

We’ve given you a lot to think about in this article so far.  And, even though we’re not “pro-hoof” there still could be some situations where they’re appropriate.  In the end, that decision is going to be based on your discretion. When deciding whether or not a chew toy is safe for your dog you should always think about the same things.

1. Check The Hardness

It might seem obvious but the first thing to check when giving your dog a new toy is its hardness.  Picking the right toy feels a little bit like being goldilocks in the three bears’ house! Some toys might be too soft, others might be too hard, while a few are just right!

Mostly, we’re concerned about chews being too hard.  A good way to check the toughness of chew is to try and dent the material with a strong object like your fingernail or a spoon.  If you press the object into the chew and it doesn’t leave a dent, the chew could potentially damage your dog’s teeth.

Processed cow hooves are pretty hard and most would fail this test. While there are some exceptions, like rawhides that become soft when chewed, it’s a good rule of thumb!

2. Make Sure It’s The Right Size

Size is the next thing you’ll need to think about when picking a chew toy for your dog.  Whether we’re talking hooves or kong toys, size matters!

If your dog’s chew is too small, there’s a chance that they’ll devour it whole (accidentally or not).  As a veterinary technician, I’ve seen too many dogs with whole toys lodged in their digestive tracts. These emergency situations are usually easily avoided by making sure your dog’s chewing toy can’t be swallowed whole.

A chew that’s too big just might not interest your dog.  Small dogs will usually lose interest in bigger chewing toys because they can’t get a good grip on them.

3. Check The Ingredients And The Coating

Ingredients are everything for chew toys.

Anything your dog chews could potentially be digested by them.  Plus, some dogs, like Rottweilers can have sensitive stomachs.  Not only do these pets require special foods, but you have to be careful about teats and chew toys as well.

With that in mind, you’ll want to consider the materials, ingredients, and coating used on chews.  In this aspect, cow hooves are actually great.  The best hooves have no coating, added ingredients, or materials and are essentially free of harmful chemicals.

4. Consider Your Dog’s Chewing “Style”

In my opinion, the most important thing to think about when figuring out the perfect chew toy for your dog is their individual personality.

Dogs are different!  Some dogs are light occasional chewers while others are nuts. Cow hooves are probably suited best for moderate or average chewers.  High-intensity chewers are more likely to break off harmful shards from the hooves. Light chewers might not even bother with hooves.

In the end, you know your dog better than anyone and that means you know their chewing style. Try to pick a chewing toy based on their preferences and habits if you can.

What Are Some Alternatives For Cow Hooves?

Since cow hooves aren’t the safest chews for most dogs, it’s good to know there are alternatives. While the toys we’ll list below are much safer overall than cow hooves, there is still some level of risk associated with them.

With any chew toy, you still need to think about all of the criteria listed above. Consider hardness, size, ingredients, and your own dog before bringing anything into your home. It’s always a good idea to have something around the house for your pup to chew on so that they don’t decide to chew on something like cords, clothes, or door frames!

Bully Sticks

Bully sticks are a popular chewing treat loved by dog owners and trainers alike. Bully sticks are long hard chew toys made entirely out of beef muscle. Bully sticks only have one ingredient and can’t splinter off into small share pieces. Because of this, bully sticks present less of a hazard than cow hooves.

One thing to look out for is the small piece left over at the end of the bully stick. Some dogs might accidentally swallow this end piece whole. One way to avoid this is to grab a bully grip stick holder. You use these grips by inserting the bully stick into them. Your dog won’t be able to swallow that last small piece and you can simply dispose of it when it’s time.

Special Chewing Toys (Like KONGs)

There are plenty of toys out there made for aggressive chewers.

Soft rubber toys like KONGs are ideal for dogs who love to chew. These toys are made to withstand plenty of force without causing any damage to your dog’s mouth. As long as you pick the right toy size and strength for your dog, you won’t need to worry about chunks of this chew breaking off.

Not only are KONGs safe, but they’re also stimulating for dogs because they can be stuffed with all sorts of fun treats.  Plus they’re easy to clean once they get dirty. Check out this video for some ideas on how to stuff a KONG!

If you have a large dog who is a heavy chewer, a KONG really is one of the best choices for you.

Frozen Carrots

You probably already know if your dog loves or hates carrots.  If you have a carrot lover, you need to know about this trick!

Buy some whole carrots, wash them, peels them, and stick them in the freezer.  The carrots will freeze to a hard and crunchy consistency.  They’ll be more resilient than a normal carrot but won’t be hard enough to injure your dog’s teeth or mouth.

Even though they’re pretty safe, make sure to monitor your dog whenever they’ve got a frozen carrot to chew on.  This sort of toy is only good for dogs that don’t swallow large pieces of food whole.

Final Thoughts

There are quite a few reasons why beef hooves aren’t safe for most dogs to chew. Although there may be exceptions, the risk is greater than the reward. Because cow hooves are indigestible and can splinter off, they have the potential to seriously injure your pet.

Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand why cow hooves are a hazard.  Ideally, you’ll have the tools now to pick out the best and safest chew toys for your furry friend!

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