Antler Chews

Elk AntlersDeer, elk, and moose antlers have become very popular alternatives to rawhide. Processed correctly, antlers should be 100% natural, with no additives. When I first discovered antlers as being an option for dogs to chew, I had a lot of questions. So I’ve chosen to write this review in a question and answer format that should (hopefully) cover everything that you might want to know as well.
Edited to add: While antlers can be an excellent, long-lasting chew choice for many dogs, it is important to note that we do not recommend them across-the-board for all dogs. As is explained later, antlers are very hard, and tooth damage is a very real risk.

Q1: How are the antlers removed? Do any animals have to die in order to procure the antlers?
A1: Antlers are naturally shed, usually every year. The antlers are generally foraged/gathered by hand. No animals are harmed in the gathering of the antlers.

Q2: What exactly are antlers made of?
A2: An antler grows from a point on the skull called a pedicle. Growth begins at the tip, and the antler initially starts out as cartilage, then mineralizes into bone. The inner part of the antler is a porous, trabecular meshwork and the outer part, while spongy at first, later develops into hard bone. While the antler is growing, it is covered in a layer of skin and fuzzy hair, known as the velvet. The velvet contains blood vessels which carry oxygen and other nutrients to the growing antler. Once the antler is fully developed, the velvet is shed to reveal the hard bone underneath.

Q3: Why will my dog like antlers?
A3: The porous inside mentioned above (in A2) is where the marrow is, and the marrow is what dogs find to be the most delicious. Your dog will work and grind the hard outside bone down to get to the marrow inside. Many vendors sell antlers that are already cut down the middle to expose the marrow; these will be labeled as split or center-cut. Most dogs love the split antlers, happy that they have ready access to the yummy marrow. It is important to note at this time that some antlers can have a richer marrow than others, and dogs with particularly sensitive stomachs may experience stomach upset or even vomiting. If you are just introducing antlers as a chew for your dog, it would be good to limit his time with the antler at first to make sure he isn’t getting “too much of good thing”, so to speak. Introducing any new protein source should always be done slowly and carefully.

Q4: Are antlers safe for my dog?  Will the antlers chip or splinter like bones can?
A4: Antlers are not known to chip or splinter while being chewed. Instead, your dog’s chewing action grinds them down slowly and naturally. It cannot be said that they will never chip or break, of course. Antlers are very hard, and it is possible for a very aggressive chewer to break the antler or break a tooth. Always supervise your dog when chewing and if you see that your dog is trying very hard to break the antler or bite a piece off, it would likely be best to trade him for a different tasty treat and take the antler away. You should be able to tell the difference if your dog is chewing with a grinding action or if he is actively trying to break the antler.  As with any chew, there is risk of choking if the antler chew becomes too small.  Once the antler chew has been been worn down to a size that your dog could swallow, take it away immediately and trade him for a new antler.
Added note: Because antlers are so hard, I would not personally recommend them for puppies or senior dogs.  I’m not saying that they cannot be used with puppies or seniors, but the risk for tooth injury could be greater in the growing teeth of a puppy and the aging teeth of a senior.  Antlers must be used with discretion in all dogs, but even greater discretion in the young and old.

Q5: Are antlers healthy for my dogs?
A5: Antlers are a rich source of calcium, phosphorous, glucosamine, and chondroitin; as well as other beneficial minerals and nutrients, making them a very healthy chew that will benefit not only your dog’s teeth and gums, but also their bones, coat, and overall health.

Q6: Do antlers smell bad?
A6: Antlers are (or should be) odor-free and will not leave residue or make a mess on your floor or furniture. As will be mentioned later, the antlers have an aroma that your dog can smell, but will not be noticeable to you.

Q7: Which are better – deer, elk, or moose antlers?
A7: After much perusing and dissecting of blogs, forums, antler vendor websites, etc., the overwhelming preference seems to be for elk antlers. Elk antlers are less dense than deer antlers due to the outer bone to core marrow ratio being much lower. In other words – more marrow, less outer bone. This makes the elk antlers not only very durable, but also safer. Deer antlers are very hard throughout, while lacking much in the way of marrow. Even though all antlers are less likely to splinter when compared to cooked meat bones, elk antler chews can be *almost* worry-free from splintering concerns (if processed correctly), while deer antlers may by apt to snap or crack when in the jaws of an aggressive chewer. Moose antlers seem to have a good marrow to bone ratio like the elk antlers; but they are flatter and don’t seem to last as long. Some sources suggest that moose antlers are more likely to splinter than elk antlers, but I have not been able to verify this yet.

Q8: Antlers seem expensive. Are they really worth the money?
A8: Most people find antlers to be a very good value because they last a very long time. It is not uncommon for a good antler to last a dog several months or more. Of all the chews featured here at Chewzy Charlie’s, it would be safe to say that antlers are the most long-lasting.

Q9: Are all antlers the same? What should I look for in terms of quality?
A9: The first thing that you should look for is that the antlers are naturally-shed; and that they are gathered and processed in North America. The antler chews may be cleaned and cut into different sizes, but should be 100% antler, with no processing additives. Beyond that comes the grading scale. Antlers fall into category letter grades A through D, based on their quality and freshness – with freshness referring to how recently they were shed.

  • Grade A+: Hand-selected, fresh, recently-dropped brown antlers. These antlers have the highest moisture content and therefore the most aroma and palatability to your dogs. Historically, this was a category of antlers reserved for high-end craft and artisan use such as chandeliers, home furnishings, etc. From what I understand, a very small percentage of gathered antlers would meet the A+ criteria; and very few suppliers will offer antlers from this category.
  • Grade A, also known as Hard Brown: Brown antlers that were shed within the current year. Except for the hard-to-find A+ antlers above, these are known to be the best of the best. It is estimated that Grade A antlers represent the top 10-15% of sheds gathered each year. It is likely that suppliers who offer truly Grade A antlers are limited.
  • Grade B, also known as Hard White: These antlers are typically one or two years old, and most likely will be significantly dried out and bleached white from weather exposure; and may have some degree of rodent chewing. If the antler shed has not been disturbed or turned over, these can be brown on the down side and sun-bleached white on the exposed side. Due to the age, grade B antlers have some moisture loss and therefore will be a bit harder and longer lasting, but won’t be quite as aromatic to your dog. It is possible to soak the hard whites in water overnight to make them almost as aromatic as the browns, but it will make them a bit softer and therefore able to be chewed faster. However, soaking is often unnecessary as most dogs will like the antler just as it is. Grade B seems to constitute the bulk of the antler chew brands you’ll find online, etc., even those considered to be “high-end”.
  • Grade C, also known as Cracked White: These antlers have had a long period (several seasons) of sun or dry wind exposure and have lost enough moisture to allowing cracking in the crystalline structure. With so much moisture loss, the antlers are lighter in weight and density. Some of these antlers have baked in the sun for so long that if you scratch the antler, the surface will flake off in a white powder. As an antler ages, as with this grade, splintering when chewed becomes more likely. Unfortunately, grade C antler chews can be found on the shelves of some big-box pet retailers – so beware of what you’re buying.
  • Grade D, also known as Chalk: Chalky antlers have been baked in the sun and dry wind for many years. These antlers will easily scratch off into a white powder. They have a chalky, gritty feel (hence the name) and will be very likely to crumble or splinter if chewed. It is highly advisable to not let your dog have a piece of antler that seems old and weathered enough to be grade D.

Q10: With all this information about quality, where should I buy my antlers?
A10: As antler chews have become more popular over the recent years, antler chew sellers are popping up all over the place and some of them are selling the cheaper, low grade antlers to make more profit. I will list a few retailers/suppliers below that stand firm on selling grade A antlers and that seem to have a good reputation. As I said, there are now many sellers offering antlers, so you may find other great sources. I understand that some people even purchase antlers on eBay, but that is most certainly up to your discretion. Below our rating are a few good suppliers that I know of. I hope to add more if I am able to contact the suppliers and confirm the grade of antlers they offer.

★★★★☆ Antler chews get four stars from Dachshund Rescue List.  We love that they last a very long time, but we subtract a star because of the inconsistent quality among brands.  The best quality antlers really need to be tracked down with a good sniffer.

Best Elk Antlers

Mountain Dog Chews

Doggie Diva

Pet Expertise

Antler Chews (long-time antler supplier that promises fresh, premium grade antlers but does not specify grade A)

Best Bully Sticks (the antlers here get good reviews, but I have not been able to verify grade yet, so use discretion)

I hope we haven’t missed anything regarding choosing antler chews as an alternative to rawhide. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me and the wieners.

Dachshund Rescue List (formerly Words With Wieners) did not receive any compensation (monetary or product) for this review.  Antler chews were chosen for review because they meet the guidelines for being a recommended product here.  This is an honest review, comprised of personal research, product use, and personal opinion.  If there are links to a product in any of the reviews, a commission may be paid to me if you purchase the product through those links.  The commissions are small.  I do this because I love dogs, all dogs, even your dogs ;) and I care about their health.   Any commissions I receive as a result of a review do not impact my opinions of a product. Your dogs deserve for me to be nothing less than completely honest.  If I feel a product is worthwhile to be featured here, I will promote it. If not, I won’t.  Period. - Free Shipping on All Orders to the USA!

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7 Responses to Antler Chews

  1. Silver Gate Antlers is proud to offer only Grade A Antler Chews! Check out our website for more info.

  2. […] Bit of Antler Mabel loves to gnaw the small piece of antler I gave her. Hopefully, it’s keeping her tartar under control. It certainly keeps her out of […]

  3. Kathy mendenhall says:

    Hi I have a 14 wk old Yorkie/poo and I love love
    Him . He wants to chew everything this includes
    My arms and legs anything and all the time.
    Is it safe for him and if so can u recommend a brand
    Please and if not can u recommend something else. This is
    Our first small dog and we want to be good parents.
    Thank u for ur time :):)

    • Pam says:

      I would not recommend antler chews for a dog that small or that young. Antlers are very hard, and they are meant to be chewed over a long period of time, being worn down a little at a time. I’m afraid they might be just a bit too hard for him and I wouldn’t want him to chip/break a tooth.
      You might have to experiment with different chews until you find something suitable. For an edible chew – I would probably give bully sticks a shot. They come in many sizes, so you’ll want to find some that are shorter to be appropriate for him. Best Bully Sticks carries some 4-inch bully sticks that would probably work best for him. As a warning, they can be kind of stinky, which makes dogs love them all the more. But some have less of an odor than others and you may not even notice it, and as a matter of fact, some are made to be odor-free. I’ve yet to find a dog that doesn’t like bully sticks… in fact, some like them a bit too much… meaning they go through them really fast or get “too enthusiastic” about the bully and want to try to get the whole thing in their mouths. As with ANY chew, you will need to supervise him while he’s chewing. Any chew of any kind can always present a choking hazard if a dog thinks they can just try to gulp it down. My dogs are a little bigger, so we use the 5-inch and 6-inch chews so that they will last longer. If you try the 4-inch ones, and they work well, but seem to go a bit too fast, you might try the braided 4-inch bullies.
      For non-edible chews, I would recommend the Kong and West Paw brands. Kong and West Paw both make a variety of different chew toys that are tough/durable and they are made in the USA. Kongs are certainly carried at many pet retailers online, but they are popular and also carried in local pet stores (with different stores having more or less of a selection – so you may need to shop around). I would go to the physical store(s) so that you can see and touch the toys to try to get a good feel for what would work for him. There are many shapes and sizes and it’s important to not get one that’s too small or too big. Kong makes puppy and senior lines that are both somewhat softer than their original line, but again, you will want to go and feel them. We have quite a few Kongs, and our three dogs tend to gravitate towards the senior ones – I guess they just feel better to chew. I am recommending the West Paw brand based on quality and reviews, but we haven’t tried them yet. I actually have some on order (from that should be arriving tomorrow – we are trying the Hurley shape. I will update this answer after I see how durable they are.
      The biggest thing is understanding and being willing to try lots of different chews. We’ve tried a LOT of chews around here, both edible and non-edible. And the fact is, the dogs love just about everything we’ve tried, but most stuff just doesn’t last long enough. People often (wrongly) assume that small dogs aren’t powerful chewers, and I’m here to attest that yes, indeed, they can be very powerful chewers. We’ve only ever adopted adult dogs (of various ages), so we’ve never been through that puppy chewing stage where they want to chew just absolutely everything. My advice is to have a lot of different chew toys on hand at first. Just get used to the idea of chewies being strewn about the house for a while. 😉 The more chew toys your dog has access to any given time means it is much less likely that he will chew on inappropriate things, such as shoes, you, etc. If you’re crate training, obviously you can put several choice chew toys in his crate with him. As he ages, he’ll still love chewing, but he’ll grow out of the “chew everything” stage and you’ll likely start to see that he has a few special favorite toys and leaves everything else alone.
      Good luck and congratulations on the new fuzzy addition to your family!

  4. Thank u for the quick response. That response seems correct and smart. Thank you!

  5. Linda says:

    I have a 12 year old Jack Russell. she developed kidney stones and one in her bladder. The only thing that changed in her diet is the introduction of antler chews. With prescription food for 4 months the bladder stone dissolved. She still has sand like stones in her kidney. Is it possible the antler chews could have contributed to this? None of the vets she saw had ever heard of these chews before.

    • Pam says:

      I have never heard of this before, but I suppose it’s definitely possible. Antlers are high in a number of minerals that I suppose could contribute to stone development in a dog that was already susceptible to kidney stones. It would take a lot of research for me to give a more definitive answer than that. I am not a vet or MD, and I definitely don’t want to imply that I have any more expertise than I actually do.
      It’s possible that she had stones for quite some time (even before she started getting antlers), but they were only recently discovered. A dog (or human) can have kidney and bladder stones without any symptoms until the stones are large enough to cause problems.
      At any rate, I am glad to hear that most of her stones have resolved and I hope she is feeling much better! No more antlers for her, for sure, just in case they were a contributing factor. Her case does get me curious, and I will be doing some research to see if I can find any other cases of kidney/bladder stones that might be linked with antler consumption.
      As an aside, I would never recommend antler chews for senior dogs anyway, mostly because they’re so hard. I fear they would be too hard for a senior dog’s teeth. It’s been a long time since I wrote about antlers, so I hope that I included a warning about that. I will re-read and edit if necessary. I may consider pulling my review of antler chews altogether, as now we cannot use them either. One of our current dogs is just too “enthusiastic” of a chewer and he will bite down too hard on them, risking tooth injury. Many dogs seem to automatically understand the gradual grinding that antlers are meant for, but he just wants to chomp.
      I am surprised that none of the vets treating your dog had ever heard of them, as they are easily found in most pet supply stores nowadays. Even if they don’t use them or don’t recommend them, I would think that they still would have at least heard of them.
      Again, I’m sorry that your sweetie had to go through this and I hope that with a continued controlled diet, she won’t develop any more stones.

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