Can Dogs Eat Cow Hooves?

Photo by Adeel Anwer on Flickr

How do you keep a dog entertained?

For many pet owners the answer is to give them something to chew, something to keep them busy for a long time.

Cow hooves are a popular choice for many people, as they are widely available and cheap.

Oh, and dogs love them.

The question is can dogs eat cow hooves?

Are cow feet safe for dogs? 

There are no easy answers to these questions.

There are those who maintain cow hooves are great dog chews, while others warn about the many risks these treats pose.

In this article we’ll have an in-depth look at cow hooves for dogs so you can decide if a temporary distraction for your pet is worth all the risks.

What are cow hooves?

Cow hooves are basically the feet of the animal.

The hoof is made of keratin and water.

Keratin is a protein and it’s the same stuff in our hair and nails.

Or in cattle horn.

Many people choose this type of treat for their pets on the assumption that they are all natural and therefore unlikely to pose any health risks.

However, this is not the case for many of the products found in pet stores.

How are cow hooves processed?

Cow hooves are a byproduct in the food industry. When the cow is slaughtered, meat plants have no use for the hooves. Instead of letting them go to waste, they sell the hooves to pet chew companies which process the hooves into yummy treats.

This is one of the main problems with these supposedly natural treats. First of all, the dog chew producers clean the hooves of all biological residue. Next comes washing the hooves.

Some companies do indeed use non-toxic products to clean the hooves, but many others use harsh chemicals, including lye or bleach. You can imagine the consequences for your dog if the hooves are full of chemicals.

One way of avoiding this risk is to make sure to only buy hooves from a reputable company that doesn’t use dangerous chemicals. 

Unfortunately, many pet stores sell cheap hooves imported from countries like China, where regulations are lax. You cannot expect a Chinese chew producer to lose sleep over the health of a pampered pooch living in the US or UK.

Sadly, some Western dog chew companies buy their stuff from some far away country and sell the hooves under their own brand. 

If you want to keep your dog safe, make sure to inquire whether the hooves come from cows raised and slaughtered locally.

During the processing stage, cow hooves are also trimmed into a more appealing shape. Sometimes, they remove a thin layer off the bottom of the hoof, the part that comes into contact with the ground. Also, the upper part of the hoof is also cut off, and this is a good thing as that part has thinner walls and can splinter easily.

What are the pros of giving cow hooves to your dog

The main reason people buy cow hooves for their dogs is that they can keep a dog busy for many hours.

  • Dogs need to satisfy their chewing instinct. If they don’t get chewable treats, they might satisfy this need by chewing your shoes or your furniture. Also, a bored dog might resort to chewing on its own paws, which can cause serious injuries.
  • Another reason is that giving a dog something to chew on helps keep their teeth clean. If you’ve ever struggled to brush your dog’s teeth, you’ll surely understand why many pet owners prefer this option.
  • Giving a dog a chewable treat is also a way to provide the dog with the mental stimulation he needs. As a human, you might not find the simple act of chewing as mentally stimulating, but for a dog it poses a lot of problems and it gives his brain something to work on. Especially if there’s some peanut butter inside that hoof and he needs to find a way to lick it clean.

What are the cons of giving cow hooves to your dog

If you’re giving your dog a hoof to chew on while you get about your business you’re putting your dog at great risk. You simply cannot leave a dog chewing on a hoof without supervision.

A lot of bad things can happen when you leave a dog alone with a hoof. 

Your dog might get a few broken teeth

Cow hooves are hard, which makes them all the more fun for a dog. That is until a dog chips a tooth while gnawing at the treat. The risk is particularly great if your dog is an aggressive chewer. Such a dog will work himself into a frenzy and will attack the treat furiously. 

When a dog breaks a tooth you will have to take him to a doctor and it will cost quite a bit of money to have it fixed. Way more than the few dollars you paid for a bag of hooves. Not to mention the dog’s pain and suffering.

Cow hooves are a choking hazard

If your dog is a strong chewer, he might be able to break the hoof into smaller pieces. A large piece can easily get stuck in the dog’s throat. This is yet another reason why you cannot afford to leave the dog unsupervised. 

Cow hooves can get stuck on the dog’s jaw

As cow hooves have a circular shape, there’s always the risk that the chewable treat will get looped around the dog’s lower jaw. While this is not deadly, your dog will be very distressed. In many cases, pet owners are unable to remove the hoof on their own. You should not try to pry the hoof loose as this might damage the dog’s teeth. 

If that happens, try to calm the dog as best you can and rush to the vet. Often enough the dog will need to be sedated while the vet saws the hoof off. 

Large hoof pieces can cause bowel obstruction or internal bleeding

When the cow hoof splinters the pieces might have sharp jagged edges. Even if the dog manages to swallow, such a piece can damage the stomach or intestinal lining, causing internal bleeding. When a splinter is sharp enough to pierce the stomach wall there’s a risk your dog will develop peritonitis, a bacterial infection that can be lethal if left untreated. 

A large piece stuck in the intestines can cause a bowel obstruction. The main symptoms are:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Dehydration

If your dog presents such symptoms after having some fun with a cow hoof, you should see a vet right away. The doctor might order an X-ray to determine if there’s indeed an obstruction. If the hoof splinter is too large to pass safely, your dog might need surgery. 

Cow hooves stink

If you’ve never fed your dog cow hooves, be prepared for a stomach-churning smell like you’ve never experienced before. Cow hooves do not stink when you open the dog. It’s the chewing process and coming in contact with the dog’s saliva that makes them give off a revolting smell. It will foul up the whole room and it will be a long time till you get rid of the stench. 

Dog owners often complain that the stench lingers on the floor or the dog’s bedding, no matter how hard you try to scrub it off. 

Are cow hooves safe for dogs?

If the hooves come from a reliable dog chew producer and are free of chemicals, you might try to give such a treat to your dog, provided that you keep an eye on him at all times. 

Here are a few tips to make the whole experience safe for your dog. Or as safe as possible, at least.

Make sure the hoof is not too hard

Before offering it to your dog, test the hoof to see how hard it is. The easiest way to do that is to scratch the hoof with your nail. If you can make a small dent in the hoof with your nail then it’s probably not too hard. If you cannot leave a mark on the hoof, there’s a high risk your dog might break a tooth.

Inspect the hoof every 15 minutes

It won’t be easy to get the dog to give up on his chew. Try offering a small treat, take the hoof and look for cracks or sharp edges. If it looks like the hoof is about to splinter it’s time to throw it away. Ignore your dog’s loud protest barks.

Also, inspect the dog’s teeth and gums, looking for scratches or bleeding.

Throw away small hooves

If the dog has managed to chew a cow hoof down to a small easy-to-swallow piece, throw it away immediately. Such a small piece can be a choking hazard. If it makes its way down, there’s always the risk of a bowel obstruction, and this is something you definitely want to avoid.

So, can dogs have cow hooves?

Cow hooves are not exactly a safe treat for dogs. If you have the guarantee the hooves were exposed to dangerous cleaning products, you can try offering one to your dog. But you will have to be there the whole time to watch him. Leaving the dog unsupervised is taking too much of a chance and it can have serious consequences, for your dog and for your wallet. Dog dentists are hard to find and every bit as expensive as human dentists.