I’ve been on the search for a bully stick alternative immediately after I found out what body part a bully stick is made out of. Literally, I don’t want them in my house EVER AGAIN!
If you don’t know what a bully stick is made of, click on this footnote to be enlightened 1 – don’t hover over it if you want to continue touching them in ignorant bliss.
Did you learn something new? Or did you already know this but are still happily give them anyways?
At least for me, I can remember countless times when (despite hygiene labels on the bully stick), I would grab a bully stick from my bag for my dog to chew right before I was to pick up my own sandwich (no hand washing thought necessary).
* cringe *
Healthy and Eco-Friendly Alternative to Bully Sticks
Part of me has always been looking for the best alternative to bully sticks because I wanted some dog chews that were more eco-friendly.
Animal agriculture has an immense carbon footprint so since my dog already gets enough animal protein from her daily meals, I figured I would find her some nice vegan dog chews to keep her happy in her spare time. According to a study published in the Public Library of Science, the more than 160 million cats and dogs in the U.S. contribute between 25–30% of the environmental impacts from raising animals for food in regards of the use of land, water, energy, and pesticides.
Luckily, there are a number of vegan dog treats and some vegetarian dog treats that are a great alternative to the traditional animal by-products that exacerbate the environmental toll on the planet.
What are Eco-Friendly and Healthy Dog Chews and Dog Treats?
I classify eco-friendly dog chews and eco-friendly dog treats as those that are vegetarian, preferably favoring those that are primarily vegetable / starch-based (i.e. vegan). In a dietary study comparing meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans, the results indicated that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly less GHG is beneficial for the environment.
Beyond vegetarian options, my preference then goes to animal by-products from non-farmed animals.
Lastly, I would consider animal by-products that may otherwise go to waste. However, I should include a reminder that purchasing these animal “by-products” inherently supports the animal agriculture business by making “livestock” more profitable.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means (at no additional cost to you), I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Sweet Potato for Dogs
Sweet potato is a safe and healthy treat for dogs. And best of all – almost every dog I’ve given them to love it!
Not only is it safe to feed your dog sweet potato, but it’s also one of the best remedies if your dog has an upset stomach. Additionally, if your dog has constipation, sweet potato will help due to its high fiber content. Very nutritious with vitamins A, C, E, and K and minerals including manganese, iron, phosphorus, and calcium.
This is one treat that I always try to keep around for myself and my pooch.
You can either purchase it in-store, online (I usually purchase these Big Boyz on Amazon, but I’ll be trying these from Brutus & Barnaby next). You can also go zero-waste and avoiding the plastic packaging by making your own.
It’s very simple to make and it’s basically a homemade dental chew for dogs.
Sweet Potato Recipe for Dogs – Perfect Homemade Vegan Dog Treats
When I bake diced-up sweet potatoes for myself (as a snack), I also cut few fries of sweet potato for my dog as well.
I bake the sweet potato uncovered at 300F (150C) in my toaster oven, haphazardly flipping them halfway through. After around 40 minutes, I’ll take my portion out, but leave my dog’s portion in. When I take my portion out, I will also cover my dog’s portion so that it doesn’t further crisp on the outside. The sweet potato fries for my dog are ready after an additional 20 minutes. When you initially take them out, they will feel hot and soggy – not ready for doggie consumption! Cool them down by leaving them on your countertop. When cooled, they turn into a hard chew and you can have a sweet potato party with your dog.
Instructions: Cut raw sweet potato into fries. Bake in the oven for 1 hour at 300°F 2. Cool on the countertop. Then, ready to eat! Refrigerate unused portion (though they will turn soggy so I usually only cook enough for a couple days) and don’t refrigerate them. I have no idea how the commercial ones are so shelf-stable with no preservatives.
Carrots are great alternatives to bully sticks and other animal chews. It’s the one vegetable that my dog will happily chomp on. And luckily so because they are high in nutritional value (Vitamin A, C, K, plus beta-carotene and other nutrients).
They key to getting your dogs to appreciate carrots is paying attention to the first time you offer it to them. Trickery!
When you first present the carrot to your dog, take a bite of it yourself and react very enthusiastically. As you present it to your dog, act like it’s a super high-value treat to get your dog excited. It’s amazing if you can develop a preference in your dog for vegetables over bully sticks as they are a lot more eco-friendly and nutritious.
Sticks & Branches
One of my dog’s most high-value item is the most recent stick that she’s found on her walk. When she finds a good one, she just can’t wait to go home – happily carrying it in her mouth, tail wagging, even pulling towards the home. Once she gets there, she sprints up the stairs to the bed. Even the bully stick gets ignored in preference for her stick. I let her chew it for a minute but take it away after that.
While sticks may seem like the ultimate eco-friendly and natural chew for dogs, there is a real concern that a stick can splinter and cause gum damage. Even worse, if it gets swallowed, it can sometimes cause damage to the intestines or stomach.
Some types of trees are also toxic to dogs so are to be avoided 3. So tread (and chew) carefully.
Antlers are one of the best eco-friendly dog chews as they are naturally shed from elk, moose, and deer every year (around January – April). While it is an animal by-product, it is cruelty-free (except for the velvet ones).
Antlers are naturally rich in calcium and phosphorus.
When shopping for an antler chew for your dog, note that there are different qualities (affecting taste, mineral composition, and safety) and they come from different species (affecting hardness, and thus, safety).
Quality of Antlers
Antlers are categorized into 3 grades that you should consider. If an antler does not have a label but does not appear cracked, you can generally assume it’s Grade B. Due to the higher cost of supplying a Grade A product, these will typically be proudly displayed/labeled appropriately.
- Grade A (Hard Brown, #1 Grade): The highest quality antlers that are gathered, typically, within one-year-old of the antlers being shed. These have the highest moisture content, which produces a natural odor that dogs love. The high moisture content also means that the antlers are naturally softer, and thus, will be chewed up faster.
- Grade B (Hard White, #2 Grade): These are the type most commonly purchased due to availability and long-lasting properties (low moisture = harder chew). The whiteness occurs when antlers are exposed to the natural environment for longer than a year. They will start to turn white from exposure to weather and loss of moisture. Grade B’s are usually between 1-2 years old. Alternatively, some white antlers come from farmed animals, so note this if you are against animal agriculture.
- Grade C (Cracked White, #3 Grade): Named because, after a few years, the impact of the sun and wind has exposed the antlers to the point where it’s lost enough moisture for its structure to start cracking. Loss of moisture generally means loss of the aroma in antlers that dogs like. This can generally be remedied by soaking the antler in water. But be cautious of this grade and lower as the older an antler, the more prone it is to splintering.
- Velvet Antlers: Not a proper class, but important to note as velvet antlers are often marketed as a great “beginner” chew for dogs and generally coveted due to its high nutritional content. However, the way these are sourced is more problematic. See, all antlers are technically velvet antlers at some point during its growth stage. The problem with selling velvet antlers is that it implies that instead of waiting for the antler to fully grow (growing out of its velvet stage) and shed naturally, the antler is prematurely cut off to be sold. According to the American Veterinarian Medical Foundation, anesthesia should be used for cutting velvet antlers since the velvet contains nerves and tissues – thus, this product would not be classified as “cruelty-free”. The processing has also been shown to be stressful for the animal. I would advise that hardened antlers should be preferred over velvet antlers.
Species of Antlers
According to Mountain Dog Chews, antlers are categorized from softest to hardest as follows:
- Mule Deer
- White-tail Deer
Hardness/softness is an important consideration due to the worry that too hard, antlers may be more prone to cracking. Some online sources do not recommend offering antlers to your dog due to anecdotal evidence that chews may cause broken teeth. In this case, probably best to avoid white-tail deer antlers as they are harder than moose/elk/mule deer.
I always thought my dog just was not a fan of antlers. She is not very food motivated so if the reward for her efforts is not quickly and well-rewarded, she does not continue. When she was around 1 year, we got her an antler chew because we wanted her less dependent on bully sticks. She was not interested in it at all! It was a nearly white, pointy antler – my guess now is that it was a Grade B antler tip.
The next time I look into antlers, I will find a Grade A that is naturally softer, which will hopefully “reward” her sooner by getting to the marrow and provide more motivation for her to keep chewing! Alternatively, I may look for Grade A sliced antlers as it results in the inner marrow being exposed to the dog immediately, increasing the chances that she will be interested in it as a chew. I have this one bookmarked for my dog next Christmas.
Himalayan Dog Chews
A fabulous (vegetarian) alternative to bully sticks, Himalayan dog chews are a hard cheese snack for your dog made 100% of yak milk. Here’s my full review on these chews along with an easy visual guide to figure out the perfect size chew for your dog.
When the chew gets too small (and poses a choking hazard), instead of throwing it out as you would a bully stick, you can place it in the microwave for 30 seconds where it will puff up and turn into a soft cheese snack. Most of the fat and lactose is removed from the cheese so it’s not too calorie-dense.
Dental chews are a great option for eco-friendly dog chews because they serve a dual purpose: i) providing a chewing outlet/entertainment for the dog, and ii) cleaning its teeth.
Avoid dental chews made from rawhide as they are not healthy for your dog. Here are a number of vegetarian/vegan dental chews available. I personally prefer Whimzees dog chews for my own dog: a Dutch brand that offers vegan dental chews in whimsical shapes.
DIY Frozen Treats
If you want to make your own dog treats at home and you’re looking for ones that are more long-lasting than one-bite biscuits/cookies or meat, consider looking into frozen options. If you have an ice tray, you can very easily make a variety of differently flavored cubes. These would be perfect for helping your doggo cooling down on a hot day.
If you don’t already have one, save yourself the trouble of making ice in a cheap $1 ice tray and go with the OXO ice trays – would it be too much to say it’s a total delight to make my ice?
My preference is to only fill a standard ice-cube tray halfway to prevent the frozen treat from being too thick and hard. Ice is quite tough and there is always a risk of damage to teeth when dogs chew on hard things. By freezing a thinner layer, the ice is less tough and my dog is still happy.
Ingredients possibilities include:
- Peanut butter
And anything else you can think of that’s doggie-safe. Serve these individually, or mix and match. Find a combination that your dog goes crazy for and you’ll be able to make simple and easy homemade dog treats whenever you want.
Other Long-Lasting Dog Chews
The below are some other long-lasting dog chews that are sourced from the extremities of farm animals. These include:
- Bull Horns: there is some concern about the hardness of bullhorns and should not be offered to aggressive chewers.
- Cow Hooves: smelly, and similar to bullhorns, these are hard and have a high likelihood of damaging teeth, or splintering and hurting the gums.
- Pig Ears: tasty for dogs, but easily chewed so it doesn’t last very long. Comprised of cartilage and fat, so high in calories. These ones are sourced from the USA.
- Pig Snout: similar to pig ears (i.e. comprised of cartilage) but without the fat. These look very scary so I’ve never gotten them for my dog.
- Chicken / Duck Feet: Dehydrated chicken/duck feet are supposedly safe for your dog. As long as a bone has not been cooked, it will generally break instead of splinter when your dog chews it.
- Rawhide: Likely the most popular dog chew due to its availability, rawhide is the residual that is left over from the leather industry. The leather is made from the top part of an animal hide and the rawhide is made from the inner portion. This means that similar to how leather is processed, rawhide is doused in chemicals to preserve the hide, then treated with hydrogen peroxide or bleach, and then painted to look nice. In addition to the array of chemicals and toxic substances used to produce this rawhide, if a dog is able to chew off a piece and swallow, it may cause blockage in the esophagus or digestive tract. Best to avoid.
- Other parts of a cow used for chews: Tail, tendons, esophagus, kneecap, and straps (back muscle), among others.
No More Bully Sticks
Bully sticks and rawhide are perhaps the go-to when it comes to durable dog chews. Rawhides have (deservedly) been having a PR nightmare due to the chemical-heavy production methods. However, many people still know and love bully sticks. But what are bully sticks, really? I never knew. I always figured it was just a normal body part that I just wasn’t familiar with like trachea.
I cannot believe I’ve been giving these to my dog for 4 years and have never known what a ‘bully stick’ was! For your knowledge, it’s also known as a pizzle stick. If you were a bit lax about washing your hands after touching a bully stick, I hope this fact sets you straight.
I’ll generally stick to the vegetarian (and eco-friendly) alternatives mentioned above. How about you?
Eco-Friendly Dog Chews
Given the environmental toll of animal agriculture, generally the less reliance a treat has on farmed animals, the more eco-friendly it is.
If you’re looking for an alternative to bully sticks and rawhide for the sake of the environment or to reduce the demand on animal agriculture, I hope you find a dog chew that your dog loves just as much from the list above.
What other eco-friendly dog-chews should I add to the list?