"This [a bully stick] is my personal favorite for my own pets." -Dr. Cherice Roth gives her feedback on bully sticks and their alternatives.  

All answers are direct quotes from Dr. Roth.

5-12-by-themselves-2
Bully Sticks

  • Digestibility: Excellent digestibility. This is a palatable and safe chew that is sustainable and renewable.
  • Teeth (Pro & Con): Tough texture allows for removing large chunks of tartar without being so hard that the teeth are broken and/damaged
  • Nutritional Value: Perfect protein source. Grain free. It’s beef - so unless the pet is sensitive to beef (which is not extremely common) It’s "fun food"!
  • Other Thoughts: This is my personal favorite for my own pets.

antler
Antlers

  • Digestibility: Little to no digestibility if swallowed intact.
  • Teeth (Pro & Con): While this is firm enough to remove tartar from teeth it’s also so hard that it can break and damage adult and puppy teeth. This leads to pain for the pet as well as expense for the owner!
  • Nutritional Value: No real nutritional value.
  • Other Thoughts: These are true bone structures they can splinter when they are broken causing injuries to the mouth (gums/gingiva and teeth). If swallowed, it becomes a gastrointestinal foreign body that can cause punctures of the intestines which cause terrible pain and sepsis.

rawhide
Rawhide

  • Digestibility: Can be altered to be completely digestible but it does require a chemical process. These are often associatated with many dyes to give the illusion of being flavored.
  • Teeth (Pro & Con): This chew starts firm enough to help with tartar but then becomes too soft and sticky to help and may actually contribute to dental disease by sticking to the teeth.
  • Nutritional Value: No nutritional value.
  • Other Thoughts: These items are notorious for being swallowed before they are soft enough to completely digest. This causes damage to the esophagus as well as may need to be surgically removed from the stomach.

hoove
Hooves

  • Digestibility: Poorly digestible.
  • Teeth (Pro & Con): While this is firm enough to remove tartar from teeth it’s also so hard that it can break and damage adult and puppy teeth. This leads to pain for the pet as well as expense for the owner!
  • Nutritional Value: It’s fingernails. There is no real nutritional value in eating fingernails!
  • Other Thoughts: My biggest issue with these is that they are so hard.

plastic-toy
Plastic Chew Toys

  • Digestibility: These are made of plastics that are not typically digestible.
  • Teeth (Pro & Con): OK but not ideal for puppy teething. The problem is that often owners allow pets to continue to chew on them with mature (adult) teeth. This causes large pieces to be broken off and swallowed.
  • Nutritional Value: Zero.
  • Other Thoughts: These are very commonly seen as gastrointestinal foreign bodies. Puppies are often allowed to continue to chew on these toys after they get their adult teeth. This causes very large parts of the toy to break off as they are not designed for adult jaw strength or larger stronger teeth. If swallowed there is often a need for surgery to remove them as they can cause chronic vomiting along with deadly intestinal blockage.

dr-cherice-roth
Dr. Cherice Roth is the Principal Doctor at WellHaven Pet Health in Gresham, Oregon. She has a doctorate of veterinary medicine from Texas A&M and a Master of Biochemistry from North Texas Health Science Center.