Anyone who has raised a puppy knows that the teething period is intense. Unlike human babies, dogs get their “baby teeth” early on, sometimes within weeks of being born. “Baby teeth usually come in long before we meet our pet dogs,” explains veterinary dentist MJ Redman, DVM, DAVDC. When a puppy is “teething,” its baby teeth are falling out and its adult teeth are coming in, and this all happens within a roughly two-month period between 4 and 6 months of age. “Most adult dogs have 42 teeth, and they all come in within those two months,” says Redman. “That’s a lot of activity, and it makes them want to chew on everything.” It’s important to be especially mindful during this time because naturally curious puppies are still learning what they can and cannot eat, which can get them into trouble. “The best thing is to have lots of things that are appropriate for them to chew on and keep them busy,” says Redman.
But what, exactly, are the best treats and toys for teething puppies? To find out, we spoke to four people who know a lot about dogs: Redman, Annie Grossman of School For The Dogs training center, Anthony Newman of Calm Energy Dog Training, and Randy Klein of Whiskers Holistic Pet Care. They told us about their favorite items for teething puppies, but Redman stresses that the one thing more important than any product is patience: “Realize that it’s just a stage and they go through it fairly quickly. Sometimes puppies will backslide a little on their training and housebreaking during this period, and that’s to be expected.”
Best overall thing for teething puppies
Chew toys are the first line of defense when it comes to teething puppies gnawing on everything in sight, according to Newman, Grossman, and Klein, all of whom say “bully sticks” are the ultimate chew toy. It should be noted that bully stick is a euphemism for … dried pieces of bull penis. Some humans might be uncomfortable with this, but, as Newman says, “these are the crème de la crème of chews, stinky and disgusting enough to be loved by pretty much every dog.” Other popular animal-derived chews, like antlers and bones, are too hard for puppies and can chip their teeth. Bully sticks are “fully digestible, and chewing them is good for the teeth and gums,” says Klein. And while they’re definitely softer than bone, they’re still tough enough to last a long time.
Deciding on a brand can be tough, though, because it’s hard to tell the difference between the sticks. Newman and Grossman both recommend getting a 12-inch stick unless your puppy is really small (then you could opt for 6 inches). Best Bully Sticks, Grossman’s brand of choice, are on the more expensive end, but they’re made in the USA (which most experts told us is a good thing to look for). Grossman also recommends using a bully-stick holder to further extend the pup’s chewing time and to be extra-safe. “You don’t want them to swallow it, and the smaller it gets, the better the chance that can happen.” Or, as an alternative, “let your puppy chew on one end while you hold the other. This is a really nice way to let your dog spend time with you and be near your hands without using your hands as chew toys.”
Best (non-bully-stick) chew toys for teething puppies
Klein stresses the importance of avoiding chews with additives that could be harmful to your puppy. “Sometimes with rawhide, the tanning process adds chemicals like formaldehyde,” she explains. That’s why she likes the Tasman’s brand; its animal products are high quality and all natural. And although you don’t want anything so hard that it could break your puppy’s teeth, you do want something tough enough, like this, to “really chew on and keep them occupied. That’s what gives the teeth and gums a good scrubbing.”
Klein says pig ears make a great chew for puppies. “They’re 100 percent cartilage, so you have no fat and no worry that it’s not digestible. The chewing and gnawing of the ear alone can take down the inflammation of the gums and clean whatever little teeth are in there.” One important note: Everyone we spoke with cautions that, with any sort of chew toy, it’s essential to pay close attention to what your puppy is doing, especially when you first introduce the item. “If it’s something they can break up into little bits, you have to be careful they don’t swallow it,” explains Redman.
If you’re looking for a vegetarian all-natural chew (or just want to mix things up a little), Newman highly recommends Himalayan Chews: “They’re made up solely of yak and cows’ milk and were created as a digestible alternative to rawhide. Dogs love the flavor and the chewing challenge. Pop it in the microwave if you need to soften it.” And after your puppy gnaws it down to just a small piece, the company says you can soak that part in water and then microwave it for 45 seconds to transform it into a puffed-up treat with a crunchy texture.
Klein often tells customers with teething puppies to experiment with putting food and toys in the freezer. “The coldness is soothing for the puppy’s gums,” she says. She likes this classic Chilly Bone toy that’s designed to be soaked in water and then frozen before you give it to your puppy to chew on. For a healthier snack, she says you can also try freezing a carrot, which a lot of puppies like to gnaw on.
Best non-chew toys for teething puppies
Newman, Grossman, and Klein all suggest rope toys as a great idea for teething puppies. “A lot of puppy ‘mouthing’ is actually just the puppy wanting to play,” says Newman, and tug-of-war is an easy game to play with your pup indoors. As Grossman puts it, “Tug is a great way for your puppy to let out some energy, exercise their jaw, and spend time with you. Win, win, win!”
A big part of the battle with a teething puppy is giving it things to stimulate its mouth and gums, but keeping it occupied and engaged is almost equally important because the puppy will then be less inclined to chew up your favorite slippers or pillows. This ball, which Newman likes, does both — puppies love to chase it around, and, though it’s technically not a chew toy, they can gnaw on it. Plus, he says it really holds a puppy’s attention: “As a diversion, they go NUTS over the squeak. And the funny shape gives it a goofy, unpredictable bounce.”
Best things for giving teething puppies a treat
If you love giving your puppy treats but hate getting accidentally nipped with those sharp baby teeth, Grossman suggests trying liquid treats to encourage licking. This liquid-treat dispenser is her business’s best-selling product. “You can fill it with cream cheese, peanut butter, liverwurst, spray cheese, etc.” she says. Just squeeze a small amount onto the back of your hand.
When it comes to teething, Redman has a general rule of thumb for evaluating the material of anything you might give your puppy. “You don’t want something so hard that you couldn’t flex it with your hand or indent it with your finger.” She likes the classic rubber Kong toy, and this one is designed in a slightly softer material specifically for puppies. Put peanut butter or your puppy’s favorite treat inside, and you can even throw it in the freezer. It’s also just as fun for your puppy to play with and chew on when it’s empty, too.