Antlers and hard chew toys break dogs’ teeth

Q: Ava, my 2-year-old dog, was chewing an elk antler when she started licking her lips and grinding her teeth. Later, she rejected a small, soft treat, which she’s never done before. Is it possible she broke a tooth on the antler? Are antlers OK for dogs?

A: Dogs should never chew hard objects such as elk or deer antlers, dried cows’ hooves, dried pigs’ ears, natural bones, hard plastic or nylon chew toys, ice cubes or rocks. These objects are harder than dogs’ teeth and commonly fracture them.

It does sound like Ava may have broken a tooth, inflamed the tooth’s pulp or damaged the tip of a tooth root while chewing on the hard antler, so you should schedule a visit with her veterinarian.

The teeth that usually break are the dog’s largest and most powerful teeth: the carnascials. Dogs have four carnassial teeth, an upper and a lower on each side, situated with their molars.

Carnivores use their carnassials to chomp down on their kill — or their kibble, depending on individual lifestyle.

Carnassial teeth have multiple deep roots, so when a tooth fracture exposes the sensitive pulp, root canal therapy or extraction could be necessary. Therefore, it’s best to prevent fracture by keeping the dog from chewing on hard objects.

Veterinary dentists point to two rules to determine whether a chew has enough “give” that it won’t break a dog’s teeth. First, you should be able to indent the chew with your fingernail. You’ll see the dent from your nail on a hard rubber toy but not on an antler or a hard plastic or nylon toy.

Second is the “kneecap” test. If you bash your kneecap with the toy and it hurts, then it’s too hard for your dog to chew. Personally, I prefer the fingernail indentation test.

The Veterinary Oral Health Council reviews research data on chews and publishes a list of dental chews that are safer than antlers and actually decrease tartar and plaque. Visit for a list.

Q: I love lily of the valley and have the perfect place in my garden for it. My indoor-outdoor cats chew my plants, so I want to be sure this one is safe for them. Is it?

A: Unfortunately, lily of the valley is poisonous to pets.

The plant contains cardiac glycosides, chemicals that are extremely toxic to the heart. All parts of the plant — flowers, leaves, stems and especially the roots — are poisonous.

Even the water in a vase with a lily of the valley contains enough of these cardiotoxins to poison a cat.

Initial signs of toxicity include emesis, drooling and occasionally diarrhea. Then the cat develops a slow heart rate, low blood pressure and eventually an irregular heartbeat.

Loss of coordination, tremors and seizures also can occur. Sometimes death is so sudden that no abnormal clinical signs are observed.

If the affected cat reaches a veterinarian quickly enough, the prognosis is good.

You can enjoy lily of the valley in your garden if you keep your cats inside. For instructions on converting an outdoor cat to an indoor cat, talk with your veterinarian or contact me.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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