The best way to sterilize deer antlers is through blanching. Blanching involves dropping the bone into boiling water for only a minute or two before immediately immersing it in cold water. You can also simmer the antlers, but there’s a chance the bone will become brittle. Never boil the antlers. This will cause the bone to splinter, causing a choking hazard.
Chewing is a strong instinct in most dogs; it is a great way to burn off energy, enjoy treats, and strengthen tooth and jaw health. It can also help redirect enthusiastic chewers away from the furniture!
Some dog owners, particularly those with powerful chewers, spend a lot of time and money searching for long-lasting and healthy chew toys that don’t disappear in thirty minutes.
Antler chews have become a popular solution to this dilemma because they are tough and can last for months. They also don’t make a big mess or affect the dog’s digestive system.
Not only are there deer, elk, and even moose antlers available in many pet stores, but they are even possible to make at home if you can access fresh antlers.
Turning antlers into chews can provide the opportunity for hunters, or friends of hunters, to make use of another part of the animal carcass.
Even if you don’t know a hunter, there are a few other ways to potentially source deer antlers as well. However, it is important to know how to properly prepare these chews to protect your dog from choking hazards and bacteria.
Are Deer Antlers Really That Great?
With thousands of chew toys, bully sticks, and bones to choose from, is antler really all that special?
Antlers provide some unique benefits, particularly for strong chewers. It is important, though, to know the situations where antlers are not suitable, which we will discuss shortly.
Benefits of Antler Chews
Antler chews are natural treats that have even been used by wild animals like wolves and coyotes.
It can be challenging for owners to manage their dog’s plaque and tartar buildup, but many people claim antler chews provide excellent tooth cleaning for their dogs. They do not replace regular teeth cleaning, but they can be a helpful supplement.
Antler chews are also a source of calcium and other minerals. Unlike rawhide and other more edible treats, they do not hurt sensitive stomachs or trigger food allergies.
Stronger Than Most Bones
If prepared correctly, they are less likely to break apart than other bones. For strong chewers who can decimate other chews in a few minutes, antler’s long-lasting properties make it gentle on their stomachs while also providing mental and physical stimulation.
Clean and Odorless
Many dog chews are strong-smelling and can stain fabric surfaces, while antler chews are clean and odorless.
Finally, for people concerned about sustainability, antlers are more environmentally friendly than artificial chew toys. Many antler chews are sourced from naturally shed antlers, providing options that work for anyone regardless of their feelings toward hunting.
Problems With Deer Antler Chews
Not Suitable For Sensitive Teeth
Not every dog is a good fit for antler chews. They are one of the hardest chews available, which means they are inappropriate for puppies with developing teeth.
There are significant tooth breakage risks for older dogs and dogs with dental problems as well. Consider getting a clean bill of dental health from your vet before giving your dog an antler.
Not All Are Top Quality
If antler chews are not properly sourced and prepared, they can be dangerous for dogs. If an antler has been on the ground for a long time, it is likely to splinter when chewed. Splinters can stick in your dog’s throat or puncture organs.
Antlers can also host bacteria if they have been on the ground for a while or if the original animal was sick.
Carefully source your antlers so that you know they are fresh. One way to check freshness is to look at a cross-section of the antler, keeping an eye out for a variety of colors inside the bone.
If you find or purchase a prepared antler that is bright white, this means it has been bleached and is not safe for your dog to consume.
As with many pet accessories, antler chews can be expensive. It can also be hard to evaluate the sourcing, age, and preparation of the bone. Antler chews are just another handy tool, not a cure-all, so consider your specific situation before deciding.
Making and Sterilizing Your Own Deer Antler Chews
It is definitely possible to make your own antler chews for your dog if you have access to wild antlers. Hand or power tools, sandpaper, a stovetop, and a large pot of water are all you need.
Where to Get The Antlers
One of the most obvious sources of antlers would be a family member or friend who hunts deer. Removing the antlers from the deer and repurposing them as chews can be both a handy way to utilize the carcass and an inexpensive source of antler chews.
Those who do not hunt or know a hunter, consider contacting a local meat processor or wildlife sanctuary and asking if they come across spare antlers in their work. They may be able to get rid of something they can’t use while also guaranteeing that the antlers are fresh and the deer was in decent health.
It can be tempting to repurpose antlers you find on the forest floor if you live in a region with deer during shedding season. The issue with this is that you don’t know how long the antler has been there or what kind of deer dropped the antler. Take caution if you pursue this route.
How to Safely Prepare Deer Antlers For Your Dog
Once you have an antler in hand, it takes a few steps to make that antler safe for your dog to chew.
First, you have the option of cutting down the antler to an appropriate size for your dog. It is possible to do this with a hacksaw. However, any kind of power saw will make the job significantly easier.
You can use a vise to hold the bone in place as you saw. Since you are dealing with bone fragments, eye protection is advised.
Try to strike a balance where it is big enough for your dog to hold on to and not choke on, but not overwhelmingly large.
Often somewhere between 8-10 inches is appropriate. You can also choose to cut off any antler tines that stick off at odd angles or are large enough to make the item dangerous or difficult to handle.
Once your antler is cut down to your satisfaction, it is important to sand any sharp points on the bone that might injure your dog or his mouth. An orbital sander can help this go faster if you have one.
You might shave down the tips of the tines if they are sharp, as well as the edges of the areas you cut in the previous step. Run your hands carefully all over the antler; you might find a spur of bone in an unexpected place.
The final step, sterilizing the bone, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Simply boiling the bone will turn a fresh antler into a brittle, splintery antler.
Vets discourage boiling the bone because of this splintering issue. Splinters can injure a dog’s face, mouth, throat, organs, or even rectum as they pass through the digestive system.
Instead of boiling the bone, you can blanch or simmer it. As with vegetables, blanching involves dropping the bone into boiling water for only a minute or two before immediately immersing it in cold water.
If you want to simmer the bone, bring it to a very low boil, where the bubbles are slow and small. Keep it at a simmer for about thirty minutes, taking care not to bring the water up to a boil at any point.
It isn’t hard to make your own antler chews as long as you are careful to cut, sand, and sanitize a fresh, healthy antler.
If you can’t source an antler, purchasing one from the store can be a great alternative that is still sustainable. If antler chews are appropriate for your dog, it can provide several months of healthy chewing.
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