There are so many great reasons to give your dog something to chew on. Not only can it relieve anxiety and boredom, it’s also a great addition to your dog’s dental routine. The gnawing action can help keep teeth and gums in good condition by getting rid of plaque.
There are a lot of factors that go into deciding what the right size bully stick is for your dog. Things like weight and chewing strength are two of them, but also the length, size and shape of the bully stick will affect your decision. Too small or thin can be a choking hazard, and too thick means your dog won’t be able to chew it.
**There are affiliate links in this post, which means if you buy something I may receive a small commission. This has no effect on the price you pay.**
What is a bully stick?
It is a chew made from the penis of a bull or steer, and is 100% pure beef.
Other names they are known by include:
- bull sticks
- steer sticks
- bully bones
- bully chews
- pizzle sticks
- bull pizzles
Are bulls killed to make bully sticks?
No they are not, they are harvested from bulls and steers that have already been slaughtered.
How bully sticks are made
If you want to know how they’re made here’s a very detailed article for you to read – “The 5 Fascinating Steps to Making a Bully Stick.”
Warning: It is a bit graphic.
This is how Best Bully Sticks make their product – “The bully sticks are cleaned and sorted in a refrigerated facility to ensure safety. The bully sticks are then hung vertically from racks and cooked in an oven to ensure that they are bacteria free and safe for dog’s consumption. Hanging the bully sticks vertically removes most of the moisture from the product.
The longer that they are dried, the less odor they have. We offer both odor-free bully sticks and regular bully sticks. The difference in how they are made is that the odor-free bully sticks are dried longer, lessening the moisture in them.
After drying, we sort and cut our bully sticks according to our sizing chart. Our high-quality products are consistently measured by hand for thickness. The thicker the final product, the longer it will typically take for a dog to consume.”
What are the benefits of bully sticks?
- They are a single ingredient treat, so no unhealthy preservatives or additives
- No gluten, soy, grains or wheat
- They don’t splinter like other types of chews
- Wide variety of shapes and sizes, so you’ll find one that best suits your dog
- Easy to digest
- Satisfies the instinct to chew
- Keeps your dog busy, staving off boredom
- The gnawing action can scrape your dog’s teeth, helping to get rid of plaque. Note: this does not take the place of daily brushing
- Stays fresh a long time
NOTE: A quality bully stick should only contain 100% pure beef, nothing else added.
What is the right size bully stick for your dog?
It all depends on your dog’s size and chewing style. Remember, too thick means your small dog won’t be able to chew through it, and too small is a choking hazard.
This is what Best Bully Sticks recommends on their website.
|Size of Bully Stick||Type||Size of Dog|
|Under 6 inches||bully sticks, bully bites, bully pretzels (3″-5″)||smaller dogs that are less aggressive chewers or larger dogs as a snack|
|6 inches||standard, odor-free, thick and thin||for dogs of all sizes|
|10 inches||curly bully sticks||small and large dogs, allows them to get a good grip because of the shape|
|12 inches||bully sticks||extra large and perfect for big dogs who are aggressive chewers|
How long should you let your dog chew a bully stick
If your dog is new to bully sticks, the high protein content can cause diarrhea and/or vomiting so start off slowly. Take it away after 5-10 minutes. Hopefully your dog already knows “drop it!”
Once they’re used to it, they can chew it until it gets to about 3 inches, then you should take it from them and throw it away. At that point it can be swallowed whole so is a potential danger.
How often can you give your dog a bully stick?
In a survey conducted by the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, bully sticks were found to contain between 9-22 calories per inch, so a 6” stick can be as much as 100 calories! That’s a lot.
Since over half of all dogs in the U.S. alone are overweight, it’s important to monitor their treat intake. Go ahead and give him one, but maybe not every day.
How often do most people give their dogs bully sticks? That varies from those who give their pups one a day, 3 times a week to once a month.
Note: wash your hands after handling
What to look for when buying bully sticks
There is no shortage of brands out there, so let’s take a look at some things to consider before making your decision.
If you’re concerned for animal welfare and the conditions animals are raised in, check for bully sticks made from animals that were allowed to roam (free range.)
Bully sticks can have a horrible smell, so choose a low odor option.
Check the ingredient list and choose a brand that is just meat, no added chemicals or preservatives.
Where the animals were raised
USDA or Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspected and approved
Ideally you would like the beef to be human grade and inspected
What my survey says about brands, frequency…
I was curious about what brand of bully sticks dog parents I know gave their dogs. I also asked about the weight of their dog and how often they gave them the treat.
Here’s a summary of what they said:
As expected, the answers as to size of bully stick, weight of dog and frequency were extremely varied. There were 10-15lb dogs that got 4” bully sticks while others got the 12” size. One woman’s 20lb dog got 6”and her 65lb dog got a 12”.
In terms of frequency it was anywhere from once a week, to whenever they remembered, to once a month. One even keeps a bowl filled with them so their dogs can help themselves. Personally I don’t think this last idea is a particularly healthy or safe option, but that’s just my opinion.
The most frequently mentioned brands were:
Are bully sticks safe?
A study conducted by the Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University found some bully sticks were contaminated with bacteria. “We tested 26 bully sticks for bacteria and found that one was contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics; one was contaminated with Clostridium difficile; and seven were contaminated with Escherichia coli (including one antibiotic-resistant sample).”
They went on to say that while it certainly doesn’t prove all bully sticks carry bacteria, it does show the importance of washing your hands after handling them.
Another thing they found in their survey was that “50% of dog owners underestimated the number of calories in bully sticks.” With each stick containing between 9-22 calories per inch, that’s a lot of extra calories your dog may be consuming.
Here’s what my research uncovered
During my research I was curious about what vets had to say, and whether or not they recommended bully sticks to their clients.
Some had concerns that because the treat industry is not regulated like the dog food industry is, bacterial contamination in products that have not been cooked well is a risk they were not willing to take. For that reason, they would not recommend bully sticks or treats made from other animal parts such as pigs ears, cows hooves and trachea.
What does all this mean?
Does all this mean you should avoid giving your dog bully sticks? That is a decision only you can make, but you can prevent your dog gaining weight by not feeding them to him too often, buying a quality product from a reputable company and never leaving your dog unattended.
Will a bully stick holder make them safer to eat?
There’s always the concern our dogs will choke on any chew, and a bully stick is no different. A bully stick holder can make it safer to eat, although you still need to supervise your dog.
There are several on the market, so here are a few for you to consider.
Things to look out for when buying a holder
- BPA free
- Will the bully stick you use fit through the hole?
- Does the holder also double as a toy?
- Will the holder be strong enough to cope with a heavy chewer?
- How easy is it to get to the chew/how much of it is covered by the toy?
Here are a few bully stick holders, along with pros and cons of each
- Durable enough for aggressive chewers
- The shape makes it easy for them to hold onto
- More challenging for some dogs than a Kong, so they’re busier longer
- Non toxic
- FDA compliant
- Dishwasher safe
- Not much of the bully stick is visible, so it’s difficult for your dog to get to it. On the other hand that can be positive since it will take longer to reach the treat. The question is, will it be so challenging your dog will give up?
- Locks the bully stick in place so prevents your dog from choking on the small piece
- Made of nylon
- Comes with a 4’ tether so it will stay where you want it to – he won’t be jumping on your couch with the bully stick!
- Only recommended for dogs under 30lbs
- Available in 6 sizes, so you’ll have no trouble finding one that suits your dog
- Veterinary vetted
- Super easy to use, put the bully stick in, tighten the screw at the end and give it to your dog – simple!
- Heavy duty nylon material is suitable for heavy chewers
- BPA free
- Sorry, there are no cons for this one!
- Simple design
- Keeps the bully stick in place so there’s no choking hazard
- This product is designed by Himalayan Pet Supply and was made to be used with their dog chews, so not all bully sticks will fit
- You need a Philips screwdriver to loosen and tighten the screw that grips the stick, and not everyone will like the idea of always needing a screwdriver handy
How to keep bully sticks fresh
Keep them in your cupboard in the re-sealable bag they came in, or store in an air tight container or ziplock bag at room temperature or in the fridge. They can also be frozen.
If your dog was chewing on a bully stick and you want to save it for another day, let it air dry first, then you can put it away.
What to give your dog instead of a bully stick
If you’re concerned about the number of calories and claims about the possibility of contamination, here are some alternatives to bully sticks your dog may enjoy.
Antlers: Naturally shed from deer, elk and moose, they are cruelty free so a good option to consider. They vary in quality and depending on the animal can be extremely hard.
To learn more about antlers and how to choose the right one for your dog –
Dried sweet potato: Dried sweet potatoes are a great chew because they’re a good source of fibre, contain vitamins and minerals, suitable for dogs with sensitive stomachs, low in calories and have the texture they love to chew on. Make them yourself or buy ready made for convenience.
It’s super easy to bake them yourself, just slice them or cut them into fingers, put them on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake 200-250F for 3-6 hours. The length of time depends on your oven and how dried out you want them, so check them periodically the first time you make them.
If buying them be sure they are 100% sweet potato with no other added ingredients. If you get them in a re-sealable pack they’ll stay fresher longer.
Himalayan Dog Chews: These chews are made by boiling yak and cow’s milk together, adding a drop of salt and some lime juice then formed into blocks and left to harden for a few weeks. Buy a size slightly larger than your dog’s mouth and limit him to 1 or 2 per week.
When it gets too small it will become a choking hazard so please take it away from your dog.
Kong Dental Stick Dog Toy: Made of the same long-lasting durable rubber as the classic Kong, the dental stick toy has one has ridges that provides texture and interest when your dog is chewing. Not only that, it can also help reduce plaque and provide a gentle cleaning.
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