Keratin is the protein that forms cow hooves, making them a great high protein chew.
I have purchased cow hooves in the past for my aggressive chewers, but unfortunately Ginger cracked her tooth while chewing on one.
We brought Ginger to see an oral surgeon specialist who sealed the crack in her tooth to prevent future damage.
Our $1.60 dog chew turned out to cost us a heck of a lot more than we expected!
I know people have mixed feelings on cow hooves. Some people have had similar negative experiences while others have never had an issue with them.
Even though Ginger cracked her tooth on a cow hoof, I don’t think they’re the worst dog chew out there.
Like most things, there are pros and cons to them.
Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Cow Poop? Is it Safe?
How are Cow Hooves Processed?
Animal processing plants do their best to ensure that nothing from the animal goes to waste.
One of the byproducts sold, instead of being disposed of, is cow hooves. Some companies buy the hooves and process them to make them into dog chews.
When the dog chew company receives the hooves, they clean them to remove unwanted biological debris.
Safety conscious companies wash the hooves using nontoxic methods, and some companies use harsh, dangerous chemicals like lye.
Is Your Dog Driving You Nuts During the Day?
Get Our List of 11 Awesome Indoor Activities to Keep Your Dog Busy and Out of Trouble!
After the first wash, the hooves are trimmed down to remove a thin layer from the bottom of the hoof; this is the area that would have come in direct contact with the ground and other undesirable matter like manure.
Also, the top of the hoof is cut off to give it a more aesthetically appealing look and less like its original state.
Many pet owners had issues with the physical appearance of the hooves when they were in their original state. An additional bonus to cutting down the top section of the hoof is that it removed the thinner walls at the top of the hoof.
The hoof is put through a series of washing, rinsing, and drying steps; some are even pasteurized.
The exact method for cleaning the hooves varies from company to company but are generally similar.
Finally, the hooves are put into a tumbler to smooth out the rough and sharp edges.
OMG! What’s that Smell?
If you have ever been in the same room or walked into a room after your dog has been chewing on a cow hoof, you are familiar with the pungent, foul odor associated with cow hooves.
Personally, I think that they smell worse than bully sticks. That’s saying a lot!
As mentioned earlier, cow hooves are made up of keratin. Keratin is the same protein found in hair and nails.
At some point in our lives, we have all smelled burnt hair, which is essentially burnt keratin.
When our dogs chew on the hooves, it has a similar reaction, though different smell. The chewing and moisture break down and manipulates the keratin causing it to release the foul odor.
Are Cow Hooves Safe for Dogs and Puppies?
Cow hooves can be safe for dogs and they can also be a health hazard.
If you were to ask a veterinarian, most would warn you away from cow hooves for the following reasons:
- Cracked or broken teeth
- Splinters causing punctures in a dog’s stomach or intestines
- Intestinal blockage
Two less common reasons why cow hooves are considered unsafe are:
- Salmonella poisoning
- Chemicals used to clean and treat the hooves before selling can be toxic
This last reason is most common in hooves processed in China due to lax quality control.
We all know of dogs who have chewed on cow hooves and never had issues. Other people’s dogs have been injured by cow hooves.
It all comes down to if you want to risk one of the possible health issues that may result from your dog chewing on a cow hoof.
When it comes to puppies, I would be more hesitant to give them a cow hoof than I would be for an adult dog.
If something horrible happened, most adult dogs would have a better chance of surviving an emergency surgery or food poisoning. Puppies are still developing and their overall constitution isn’t as strong as that of the average healthy adult dog.
Give them a safer alternative while they’re teething.
How to Decrease Risks Associated with Cow Hoof Dog Chews
If you have opted to buy cow hooves for your dog, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risks of injury or illness:
- Choose a cow hoof manufactured in the USA, not just distributed by a company based here
- Be sure that you choose a cow hoof of appropriate size
- Know what kind of chewer your dog is. Aggressive chewers would likely splinter or break dangerously large pieces off of the hoof, making these a lousy choice
- Always keep an eye on your dog when it’s chewing of a cow hoof (or any other chew toy!)
When is it Time to Take the Cow Hoof Away from your Dog?
It is time to take the cow hoof away from your dog if they are doing any of the following:
- Your dog is breaking large pieces off from the cow hoof. The cow hoof is supposed to gradually gnawed down over time, not eaten like a dog treat
- Your dog is biting into the hoof and causing splinters
- Your dog has gnawed the hoof down to a piece small enough for them to fit the whole thing in their mouth
Be Sure You Can Safely Take Away the Hoof
Before giving your dog a dental chew of any kind, you should always be sure you can safely take it away from them.
Being able to take an item of value from your dog safely is something that needs to be trained, ideally when they’re a puppy.
Even the friendliest dogs who will allow people to take their food away aren’t always so generous when it comes to chews, and especially high value chews like cow hooves.
The longer your dog chews on an item, the more possessive they may become, so it is essential to work with your dog slowly in taking the chew away.
If you have a dog that you didn’t work with as a puppy, you can still work with them on it as an adult.
If you are unsure how to work with your dog on this contact a reliable trainer or your veterinarian.
If you are in a situation that your dog has something and they aren’t willing to give it over, try exchanging a higher value treat such as a hot dog or piece of chicken for the hoof.
Safe Alternative Dog Chews
Many dental dog chew options are available, so if you are not comfortable with giving your dog a cow hoof, we recommend trying one of the following:
- Whimzees Natural Grain Free Dental Treats – There’s a variety of shapes and sizes and my dogs love all of them
- Natural Balance Dental Chews – Price competitive and comes in different protein flavors
- Zuke’s Z-Bone Dental Chew Dog Treats – These are a bit more expensive than Whimzees but my dog’s digest these better; they also come in different sizes and flavors
- Greenies – Great for helping keep your dog’s teeth clean (check out our article on how safe Greenies really are)
- VeggieDent Tartar Control Chews for Dogs – This is the brand most vet clinics carry
Bonus! The first three on this list are great if you have dogs with allergies.
Cow ears, pig ears, and water buffalo horns are other natural, safer alternatives. You’ll still want to keep an eye on your dog as they chew them, though!
Ultimately, all chews come with a certain amount of risk, but some carry less of a risk than others.
After the incident with Ginger, we no longer buy these.
It was just too expensive and our dogs are overly enthusiastic when it comes to chews, so they aren’t the safe option for our family.