New puppy owners quickly realize how much puppies love to chew. On everything! They gnaw the furniture, shred shoes and even chomp on your fingers and toes. Luckily they outgrow the compulsive chewing phase after a few months.
One way of dealing with the problem is to distract your pup by giving them something safe to chew. One popular dog chew treat you’ll find in every pet store is called a “bully stick” and most dogs love them.
But let’s discuss their safety and how often to give your puppy bully sticks.
What Is a Bully Stick?
A “bully stick” (a.k.a. beef pizzle) is a euphemistic name for a particular type of dog treat. In reality, a bully stick is dehydrated tissue harvested from the genitals of a slaughtered male cow.
Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with dogs eating dehydrated tissue from a cow. But the processing and storage of bully sticks is often less than ideal. And the chews are very tough, making them hazardous, especially for a puppy who is an aggressive chewer.
How Often to Give Puppy Bully Sticks
If you ask a vet, there’s a good chance they will tell you never to give your puppy bully sticks. There are safer choices.
But if you insist on giving your pup bully sticks here are the rules I recommend to my clients:
- Know the risks and consider waiting until the pup is a year old or more before giving them a bully stick.
- Obtain bully sticks from a trusted source.
- Monitor your puppy very closely any time they are chewing on a bully stick.
- Take the dog chew away if they are breaking off pieces larger than about ½ an inch long.
- Observe your pup’s stool and appetite for 2 days after they chew a bully stick. Poor appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhea are signs to avoid the treats in the future.
- Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calories.
- Don’t let your puppy chew on bully sticks more than about 15-30 minutes twice a week. The amount they should eat depends on the size of the puppy, but this is a good starting place.
Are Bully Sticks Safe for Puppies?
In the opinion of myself and many other veterinarians, bully sticks are not safe for puppies. They pose too many risks to both the dog and the dog owner. Here are some of the biggest hazards of giving your puppy bully sticks…
A so-called pizzle stick chew is especially dangerous to developing puppy teeth. But even adult dog teeth can be fractured by the hard material.
Not only are fractured teeth painful to your pup, but they also open the door for bacteria to get inside the tooth. That can lead to a chronic tooth root infection which can make your dog very sick if not treated aggressively.
Broken baby teeth need to be extracted under anesthesia by a veterinarian. Believe me, this is not an inexpensive or fun undertaking! Plus there is always a chance the unerupted adult teeth will be damaged either by the chew treat or by the dental extraction procedure.
Broken adult dog teeth may be candidates for root canal therapy. In reality, most fractured dog teeth are extracted because it’s much cheaper than doing a root canal.
Bully sticks are a form of raw food. Any dog chew made from raw, dried animal tissue has the potential to carry harmful bacteria like Salmonella, Clostridium and E. Coli. These bacteria are dangerous not only to the dog eating it but also the humans in the home.
Some people try to minimize the risk of food-borne bacteria in dogs because it doesn’t cause illness in every dog exposed to it. But the risk is very real and these bacteria can make dogs and humans very sick.
You can catch this bad bacteria from touching the bully stick or a surface where the chew treat has been, like your sofa cushions. You can also be exposed by touching your dog or cleaning up your dog’s poop, urine, saliva or vomit.
Indigestion, Vomiting & Diarrhea
Probably the number one most common side effect caused by bully stick treats is indigestion. The hard material is difficult to digest and may contain a lot of fat. The bacteria on the treat can cause stomach upset as mentioned above. Poor appetite, vomiting and diarrhea are some of the most common symptoms of indigestion related to dog treats.
Ask any vet how many dogs they’ve seen who got sick from chewing a bully stick or other dehydrated animal part. It’s very, very common!
Foreign Body Obstruction
Although bully sticks are theoretically fully digestible, large pieces can still cause tissue damage and/or blockage. Veterinarians see dogs every day with injuries caused by bully sticks in their mouth, as well as esophageal, stomach and intestinal blockage.
Just because bully sticks are dried tissue doesn’t mean they’re not packed with calories. A veterinary nutritionist at Tufts University released data showing bully sticks carry 9-22 calories per inch, depending on the size.
That means if your 30-pound dog eats an 8-inch bully stick, he could be taking in an extra 176 calories. Considering an average dog that size needs around 800 calories per day, that’s an extra 20%!
It won’t take many bully sticks before your dog is amongst the millions of overweight pets in America.
Alternatives to Bully Sticks
Kong brand toys that allow food to be stuffed into them. The plastic is chewy, not hard and is much less likely to break a dog’s teeth. The Classic Kong looks like a three-tiered rubber beehive with a hollow center. Most dogs really like these, especially when filled with food.
If you need a chew treat that will keep your puppy busy for a while, try making this
Make a Kong Pupsicle
- Kong Classic chew toy appropriate to your pup’s size
- Your dog’s dry dog food
- Wet/canned dog food your dog likes
- Mix dry dog food and canned dog food together in a bowl at a 50:50 ratio.
- Use your fingers or a spoon to stuff the food mixture into the center of the Kong toy.
- Freeze for at least 2 hours until mostly frozen.
- Give it to your dog to lick and chew when you want to keep them occupied for a while!
Other Safer Puppy Treats
Go slowly when introducing any new treat. Watch for stomach upset in the form of decreased appetite, vomiting and diarrhea. Cut food treats either very small or to a size your dog has to chew before swallowing. Don’t forget to factor in treat calories when feeding your dog.
A few safer treat ideas for puppies and dogs:
- Apple, carrot or cucumber slices
- Food dispensing interactive toys
- Use the kibble they would normally eat as a meal but instead hand feed it as treats
- Purina Busy HeartyHide® rawhide treat and Canine Greenies® chew treats are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council and are unlikely to damage teeth. There are other products on the list. Here’s a link to their list of accepted dog chews: VOHC Dog Products.
Bully sticks pose multiple health hazards to humans and dogs. If you decide to give your puppy bully sticks to chew make sure you understand the risks. Don’t give your puppy bully sticks more than a couple of times a week for 15-30 minutes.
There are many other dog chew treat options that carry lower risks than bully sticks. Talk to your veterinarian or consult the VOHC’s website for more ideas.
- Clark, C., Cunningham, J., Ahmed, R., Woodward, D., Fonseca, K., Isaacs, S., … & Rodgers, F. (2001). Characterization of Salmonella associated with pig ear dog treats in Canada. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 39(11), 3962-3968.
- Freeman, L. M., Janecko, N., & Weese, J. S. (2013). Nutritional and microbial analysis of bully sticks and survey of opinions about pet treats. The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 54(1), 50.
- The Calories in Bully Sticks. (2022, January 20). TuftsYourDog. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://www.tuftsyourdog.com/dogfoodandnutrition/the-calories-in-bully-sticks/