“What’s a Pig Ear?”
It was a warm Sunday afternoon – one of the last good days before the seasons change – and we hadn’t gotten more than three feet into the store when the voice rang out.
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It’s the typical, good-natured welcome I receive from the store manager whenever I take my German Shepherd, Amber, into this particular pet store.
Although his words sound harsh, it’s delivered with a smile and all things considered, I think the manager has as much fun as Amber does … But that could just be my take on it.
Let me just point out, for the record, that Amber does not shoplift. She just, well – stealthily acquires and covertly relocates a sample of specific merchandise, for later tracking and inspection.
So, more to the point, at some point during our wandering through the store, Amber snags a pig ear and hides it somewhere else in the store.
It’s a game with the stock boy for him to find where Amber hid it before her next trip in, where she will head right to the last hiding spot to check on it.
Hey, I figure it makes everyone’s day a little bit more interesting in a fun way, and they seem to enjoy it as well. No harm, no foul.
Since I got a sideways look from my bestie that asked, “what did she do?” and I’m trying to explain all this to my shopping companion to make us not all seem a few fries short of a happy meal, she quite seriously asked me – I kid you not – what a pig’s ear was.
Yes, she is blonde.
What Are Pig Ears
In other words – the pig’s ear.
I know, I know – it sounds so simple it’s almost silly, right?
But before you get your leash all tied up in a knot – the truth is that it’s really not as simple as that.
Like anything else you can buy from a store or the internet, just because something is called or labeled one thing, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what it really is.
Ever wonder what the heck ‘vegetarian chicken breast’ is? – cuz I can guarantee you there’s not a bit of chicken in it.
Just because a chew is labeled as a pig’s ear doesn’t really mean it is a pig ear.
So … What it comes down to is understanding that it’s really more important to know what a pig ear isn’t as much as what it is.
Natural Pigs Ears Are …
Like you would expect, natural pig ears should be just that – specifically and uniquely processed and dried ears from a pig.
Now before you get all wiggly and jiggly, remember that no matter the animal, ears are formed from cartilage – and when processed and dehydrated this makes them quite tasty, enjoyably chewy, and easily digestible. The perfect treat for our pups.
Pig ears are also a natural source for several essential minerals, and simple fats – plus the naturally dehydrated texture helps keep their teeth clean!
Like any other animal product (like bully sticks), ears are humanely acquired during the processing of the rest of the pork for everything from bacon to rump roast, and every other delicious morsel in between.
The fresh ears are blanched – that is, they go through the flash process of water boiling for about 30 seconds then into ice water – and dried, then dehydrated. Simple as that.
Some manufacturers may add flavoring, but it’s not really needed because of their inherent flavor and consistency of the natural product. Some ears may also be smoked for a slightly different flavor and texture, but it’s still all the same in the end.
Pet stores most commonly sell pig ears as a whole ear; this makes them easily recognizable and easier for retailers to manage. However, they may be trimmed into small strips for little dogs.
As a side note, pig ear treats are also easily made at home – blanch then follow any homemade strip meat jerky recipe.
… And Are Not
If that treat in your hand is not labeled specifically that it is a naturally occurring pig ear – then it’s probably not. At this point, there are several options of what the chew may be.
And sometimes it’s best not to think about what it might be …
Probably the most common faux form is rawhide. Swine hide can be labeled “natural pig ear treats” under the guise that the ear-shaped chew is, in fact, made from pig – and rawhide is natural.
Yeah it’s a play on words and probably more of a bait-n-switch then we’d be comfortable with – but that’s not to be surprising when you can but a product called “vegetarian chicken breast”. Yuck.
Basically, anything that is from a pig can be remarketed as a “natural pig ear treat”.
On the other hand, if it looks like an ear but isn’t labeled as anything other than a dog chew, it’s probably best to just put it back and move on.
My Picks for the Best Natural Pig Ears
These are the two pig ear products that I’ve tried (well, my dogs have tried) and I can recommend.
- Raw Paws Jumbo Pig Ears – These guys make quality products with an emphasis on using natural ingredients with no hormones, antibiotics, or preservatives
- Brutus & Barnaby Whole Pig Ears – No added colorings, chemicals, or hormones in these and they are cheaper than the Raw Paws chews
Mom is right: Safety first.
Pigs ears are a natural chewing alternative to rawhide or your favorite easy chair. But, like with any chew, they are not without risks;
As when introducing any new chew or treat, always observe your pup to see how he reacts to the new chew. Naturally delicious and fun to chew, some dogs that do not regularly exhibit ‘sharing issues’ may become territorial with their treats at first.
- Give them space and a chance to adapt.
- Pig ears tend to have a higher fat content – so share sparingly with your overweight pup. Also, if Fido has a delicate digestive tract, the increased fat may cause, uh, tummy trouble. You know what I’m talking about.
- Similar to other chews, pig ears should be chewed, and not swallowed in large chunks. If your canine companion tends to wolf down his meals and treats, there may be risk for choking or intestinal blockage. If this is the case, then perhaps pig ears – and most chews – are not for them. Always try to be on hand to monitor them for the initial ‘new chew excitement’ until they settle down for a chewing spell.
- Although very rare, pig ears from unscrupulous distributors can contain trace amounts of salmonella bacteria. You can avoid this by only purchasing chews from trusted pet stores – or contact a local butcher and make your own treats at home.
Are They OK for Puppies?
Short answer: For the most part, yes.
Like I mentioned earlier, pig ears are high in fat content, can cause diarrhea, and carry a choking hazard risk. Is it safe to let them gnaw on some swine cartilage? Probably.
But there are better options available for your fur baby. At least during the puppy phase.
Pig Ear Alternatives for Puppies
- If you’re into the raw food diet, carrots make a good chew toy, though they don’t last nearly as long as pig ears
- A Kong toy filled with peanut butter will keep your pooch happy and busy for a while.
- Bully sticks are another natural animal product that a lot of people like (we recommend these).
- I’ve heard really good things about these Himalayan Dog Chews. They’re made from “yak and cow milk, salt, and lime juice”, are high in protein, and low in fat. I (or my dogs) haven’t tried them but I’m thinking of giving them a shot.
The bottom line is not all natural pigs ears are actually natural pig’s ears. But, once you find a reliable source for the real thing, you may find the pig’s ears quickly become a favorite treat for your pet.
Natural, healthy, nutritious – and a whole lotta fun – your dog will agree that pig’s ears are quite possibly the best chew treat on earth.
The pig, on the other hand, might have a different opinion …