Bully sticks are beloved by dogs everywhere, some dogs just go crazy for them. The manufacturers of bully sticks claim a variety of health benefits, and how bad your dog wants them speaks to their delicious flavor. These high protein chewable sticks are typically intended for pups and small dogs that could not chew antlers. What are they, and why does your dog love them? How real are the claims regarding the beneficial values? As a treat and training tool that is so readily available and has such widespread use, it doesn't seem like many people really know much about them. To answer these questions, we are going to have to take a brief look at the ingredients, and how they affect your dog.
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The Root of the Behavior
Well, let’s not beat around the bush. Bully sticks claim 100% beef, which inherently comes with the proteins and nutrients that beef would. All of that is true. What they don't mention to you for sake of decency is that bully sticks are made from the penis of the bull.
You probably didn't want to know that, we get it. To be honest, it is not necessarily important to know. The sticks themselves are not any less nutritious for your dog but these are the facts.
The truth is that this meat in particular, though it may not sound the most appetizing to us, is packed with flavor specifically because it was an organ. That is what made them the favorite treat of dogs everywhere.
As far as nutritional value these sticks, which are essentially jerky, pack a lot of good proteins and nutrients.
That flavor may come with a hidden cost. A research study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal was conducted in 2013 regarding bully sticks. It does contain all the protein claimed, however for pups and small dogs weighing around 10 pounds, the caloric intake from a single six inch treat equates to a third of the recommended total daily intake. This means a dog with a perfectly healthy diet, given one treat on top of their regular meal, would way overshoot their calories for the day, potentially leading to obesity if it is done on a regular basis.
The research study goes on to state that bacteria such as E.coli were found to be contaminating the treats, but steps that claim back a bit. The study was conducted with 26 bully sticks which is only a tiny margin of the market.
Now that we have done our due diligence, we can look at the benefits. After all, 2013 was many years ago, and hopefully some of these issues have been addressed, though additional studies from credible sources conducted since then could not be found.
Encouraging the Behavior
They are touted as a safer and healthier alternative to other chewable treats on the market, and there are a few feathers in that cap we should note. They are easily digestible and are easy on even the weakest stomachs. They are not brittle and do not splinter like other bone style chewable treats, which is essential, as the ones that do can splinter and cause serious medical complications as the sharp shards travel through the esophagus and into the stomach lining. If you know not to give your dog chicken bones, it is for the same reason, though chicken bones are exceptionally prone to splintering in this way.
Rawhide, as well as many other products on the market, contain a lot of harmful artificial ingredients from preservatives to chemicals intended to alter the physical properties of the bone. These are not found here, which is good in its own right, however the lack of preservatives may be a contributing factor to the harmful bacteria found in the study on bully sticks.
Apart from all of this, something to really consider, does your dog like them? Most do, a lot. Like everything in life, be it human or canine, moderation can make all the difference. Using this as a permanent alternative to chewing on your couch is probably not the best idea, and neither is using these as a reward for doing a trick, as the days you practice the trick could lead your dog into obesity from the immense amount of calories each contain.
However, and this is just one example out of hundreds of good reasons to use these, if your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, but chewing on one of these calms them down and provides them some relative comfort, then by all means. Just be sure to wash your hands after touching them!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Bully sticks are great for maintaining a healthy dental profile for your dog. Although they do not replace a real cleaning, they do remove plaque and can prevent tooth decay. The mouth is the entry point for all nutrients and vitamins to the body and is directly connected to so many systems in the body, so this is no small thing. Unlike another chewable counterpart, antlers, these sticks are not as hard, and so do not cause potential cracking on the rear teeth.
The proteins contained in the sticks are also pretty essential to the development of healthy muscles and organs of your pup, and when given in moderation, the high calories are not even really a bad thing. Even Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has a cheat day.
Why does picking a chewable treat for your dog have to be so complicated? They need one for their teeth and for the protein a growing pup needs, but it seems none are exonerated from some marks in the con section. The only way to get it perfect is by speaking to your vet or pet nutritionist, as each dog is different.