Does Size Matter?

Your pooch whimpers pathetically at you as you throw his rawhides in the garbage, but you recently learned how rawhides are processed… and how many hazardous chemicals they contain. Now you’re looking for a healthier, safer option to keep your pup occupied.

Bully sticks are promoted as a healthy, 100% natural alternative to rawhides, but are they really better dog chews? Let’s find out! We’ll learn what a bully stick actually is, what to avoid in bully sticks, and how to choose the best product. Once you know all about bully sticks, you can make an informed decision whether they are a good choice for your dog.

What Are Bully Sticks?

You may be surprised to learn that bully sticks are dog chews made from dehydrated bull pizzle, or penis, so they’re also called pizzle sticks or bull pizzles. The muscle of the bull penis is stretched, dried, and cut into smaller pieces. Bully sticks come in a variety of lengths and thicknesses to accommodate dogs of all sizes. Additionally, some bully sticks are twisted or braided, contributing to their longevity. Dogs love gnawing on these tough chews. 

Why Do Bully Sticks Have Such a Strong Odor?

Bully sticks can emit an extremely pungent odor while your dog is chewing. Some dog owners compare the smell to a dead animal or rotting fish. Yet, although the smell can be overpowering for people, the odor is heavenly to most dogs. 

A bully stick’s odor comes from the fact that the pizzle stick is made from real animal body parts. Although the dehydration process helps reduce the odor, a substantial stench still remains. Also, some bully sticks are smoked, which can add to the aroma. If you have a sensitive nose—or stomach—you may want to find a different chew for your four-legged friend.  

Are Bully Sticks Safe for Dogs?

Bully sticks are promoted as a rawhide alternative that is 100% natural and fully digestible, meaning the risk of intestinal blockage is low. However, they may be safer than rawhides, but they still carry a few risks that should be considered before giving them to your dog.

Bacterial Contamination

Bully sticks have received bad press for bacteria contamination. In 2018, the FDA announced a major recall of thousands of bully sticks because of Salmonella contamination, but this is not the only bacteria associated with the sticks. Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Escherichia coli have also been implicated in bacterial infections through bully stick contact. Any product that is “all-natural” undergoes minimal processing, which means harmful bacteria can remain on the surface. However, bacterial contamination risk can be greatly reduced by buying bully sticks from reputable companies that manufacture dog treats in a hygienic facility. To keep yourself safe from a potential bacterial infection, always wash your hands after giving your dog a bully stick. Additionally, disinfect the area where your dog ate the bully stick, and avoid kisses from your pooch afterward. 

Odorless Bully Sticks

Bully sticks that are labeled “odor-free” or “low-odor” may appeal to people who find the natural smell too overpowering. However, the bully stick naturally is not odor-free, and any process that strips the chew’s odor by reducing bacteria is controversial among pet owners. 

Irradiated Bully Sticks

These bully sticks are treated with radiation, to reduce or eliminate potentially harmful bacteria. Reducing bacterial contamination is great, but the end result is that your dog’s treats are exposed to radiation, which can cause potentially harmful chemical changes. If you are concerned about this practice, check the manufacturing company’s treat-production process.

Are Bully Sticks a Healthy Treat for Dogs?

Before you toss out your dog’s favorite chew in disgust, take a moment to learn about the benefits of a bully stick for your pooch.

Oral Health Benefits of Bully Sticks

Bully sticks are attractive to pet owners, mainly because of their oral health benefits. Since bully sticks are such a tough chew, they can give power chewers a good 30 minutes of chewing time. Small dogs may get a few hours or days out of a single bully stick. All that chewing is great for your dog’s teeth, as the mechanical abrasion helps remove plaque and tartar buildup. 

Mental Health Benefits of Bully Sticks

This long-lasting chew can provide hours of licking and chewing, two activities that stimulate endorphin release in dogs. If your pooch suffers from separation anxiety, a bully stick can help reduce their anxiety, while providing mental stimulation. 

Digestibility Benefits of Bully Sticks

Many dog chews are somewhat indigestible, particularly when they’re touted as long-lasting. But, bully sticks hold up to their claim of being easy to digest. Since bully sticks are natural and not overly processed, they’re highly digestible, and they break down in the stomach relatively easily. This exceptionally digestible chew carries a low intestinal blockage risk, which is not often seen with dog chews. 

Calorie Content of Bully Sticks

Although bully sticks are appealing to dogs as a daily chew, they are extremely high in calories. Their mean caloric density is 15 kilocalories per inch, which means a small, six-inch bully stick is approximately 90 calories. To put that number in perspective, a single six-inch bully stick comprises a third of a 10-pound dog’s daily caloric requirements. That’s one huge treat!

In Summary

When feeding your dog bully sticks, you must exercise caution to avoid bacterial infections, but the risk of intestinal blockage is low. In addition, you cannot feed your pup too many bully sticks because they are shockingly high in calories. Fortunately, these tough chews can last a long time, providing oral health and mental stimulation benefits. Bully sticks may not be good for dogs with certain health issues, such as obesity, pancreatitis, or dental disease, and you should take your personal preferences into consideration—you may not want bull unmentionables in your home! Always consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations for your dog, to ensure they remain healthy and safe.