A beloved treat of dogs far and wide, bully sticks have spiked in popularity over the years. For one, they’re a much safer alternative to rawhide and other hard plastic dog chews, as they don’t pose a choking hazard and are easily digestible. But for many folks, the question remains: what are bully sticks made out of? This article will explore how they’re made, their safety and health benefits, and other helpful information for pet parents who are curious about this unique dog chew.
The Benefits Of Bully Sticks: A Useful Guide
Also known as bull pizzle, pizzle sticks, beef sticks, beef pizzle and steer sticks, this natural dog chew is made from a singular ingredient: bull or steer penis. While this may be surprising to folks who’ve never heard of this specific type of chew, those in the know have turned to bully sticks as their go-to dog treat due to its myriad of health and safety benefits they offer. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, they are sold raw, dried or cooked – and most dogs go absolutely wild over them. Below, an overview of bully stick benefits:
- Supports Muscle & Organ Health: According to pet experts, bully sticks are good for dogs – a natural source of protein and amino acids including taurine, this nutritious snack actually helps to support a canine’s muscle and organ functions. What’s more, beef is a complete source of amino acids, which benefit a dog’s brain, muscles, coat, and skin. For dogs with allergies or sensitivities, natural bully sticks are an ideal chew option, since they’re gluten-free, grain-free, and produced without additives, preservatives or artificial chemicals.
- Supports Dental Health: While it’s important to incorporate regular tooth-brushing in a dog’s routine, bully sticks are a convenient and relatively easy way to keep a pooch’s teeth and gums clean. Did you know that canine periodontal disease (i.e., inflammation of the gums) is one of the most common diseases among dogs? Therefore, it’s essential for dog owners to provide pets with quality chews such as bully sticks. Because most dogs go crazy over these chewy treats, it won’t be very difficult for pet parents to promote healthy teeth and gums – dogs will consequently reap the benefits as the plaque and tartar buildup is scraped away during a heavy gnaw-fest.
- Easily Digestible: Unlike many other doggie treats and hard chews, bully sticks are easily digestible. For example, rawhide is made from beef hide, which can be very difficult for some pups to digest (and even more challenging if the rawhide is treated with chemicals). On the contrary, bully sticks break down easily in a dog’s stomach, making these highly-digestible treats a great option for pets. An added bonus: since they don’t splinter like other dog treats, pet parents don’t have to worry about pieces breaking off and being swallowed or lodged in the throat, potentially leading to internal injuries.
- Long Lasting: Featuring a firm consistency that’s just hard enough to make them an appealing chew for dogs to chomp on, they’re also long-lasting, which is great news for pet parents (since they are on the pricier side). What’s more, they are capable of staying fresh for up to three years.
- Safe Dog Chew Alternative: As mentioned previously, bully sticks are a much safer option when compared to other dog chews, such as hard plastic/nylon chews and rawhide – they don’t pose a choking hazard, and aren’t usually associated with chipped or broken teeth. Additionally, they won’t splinter like some chews on the market, meaning one less worry for dog owners.
- Available in a Variety of Sizes & Shapes: Yet another benefit of bully sticks is the vast array of shapes and sizes they come in – being that no two dogs are alike and breeds run the gamut in size, having the ability to choose the chew that’s just right has never been easier. For ‘destructive’ chewers, braided and curled bully sticks might be the answer, whereas bully rings (shaped bully sticks) are great for larger dogs as well as dogs who enjoy a puzzle-style treat. For nibblers or pups who take a long time to chew, a traditional straight stick is a smart option.
How Are Bully Sticks Processed?
For those wondering how bully sticks are made, the manufacturing processes may differ somewhat between companies, but the general steps remain similar for cooked bully sticks. To ensure safety and hygienic conditions, they are typically cleaned and sorted in a refrigerated facility. Next, the bully sticks are hung vertically from racks and cooked in an oven to ensure they’re free from harmful bacteria and safe for canine consumption. Hanging the beef sticks vertically also removes most of the moisture from the finished product – and the longer they’re dried, the less odor they have. Whether they’re smoked, dehydrated or baked, the curing process renders them a hard, jerky-like consistency that is highly appealing to dogs.
There are also specialty bully sticks that cater to both dogs and humans alike:
- Beef-Free Bully Sticks: For dogs who have beef allergies or sensitivities, pet owners may want to consider bully sticks derived from bison and water buffalo. In addition to being more costly than beef pizzle sticks, water buffalo sticks have a more pungent natural odor than beef or bison bull sticks – so pet parents, be warned.
- Odor-Free Bully Sticks: With most dogs, the stinkier, the better – but that’s rarely the case for humans. Due to their strong odor, many dog owners dislike regular bully sticks, and as a result, many companies now offer odor-free bully sticks. According to research, these odorless chews are dried longer and have less moisture, thus they don’t emit the offensive odor of their ‘regular’ counterparts.
Why Do Dogs Go Crazy Over Bully Sticks?
Simply put, most dogs go nuts over bully sticks because they absolutely love chewing things. In fact, chewing is a vital function for canines for a number of reasons. For puppies, it’s one of the most important activities, since a young dog uses his mouth to explore the world around him – and much like a teething infant, he needs to chew on things in order to ease the pain of cutting his teeth.
For an adult dog, chewing is just as important and takes place for many reasons:
- Because he’s anxious: In order to reduce anxiety and take his mind off what’s bothering him, a dog will often chew on things when he’s feeling stressed out. This behavior is similar to humans, who might bite their nails, or chew on a pen when experiencing anxiety. Anxious chewing is especially prevalent among dogs who suffer from canine phobias (such as canine separation anxiety) or panic upon hearing loud sounds (e.g., a thunderstorm, vacuuming or construction noise).
- Because he’s bored: Just like people, dogs gets bored, too – in fact, a pooch will find ways to entertain himself, whether it’s chewing a child’s toy, a sneaker, upholstered furniture, the wall, and pretty much anything else he can get ahold of! That’s why it’s important as pet parents to ensure dogs have appropriate chew toys available at all times – not only will it help alleviate boredom, but prevent him from getting into things that aren’t safe to chew.
- Because he likes to have fun: Dogs aren’t really much different than humans – they enjoy mindless fun activities, too, and chewing is definitely a favorite! For some dogs, chewing on a person’s shoes (or any object being held for that matter) may be a way for him to incite an entertaining game of chase or spirited tug-of-war.
- Because it tastes good: A dog doesn’t know that bully sticks are good for him – he just knows it’s delicious! Dogs like to chew on things that taste good, so since beef sticks are actually good for his health, it’s a major bonus for pet owners & pooches alike.
Are Bully Sticks Dangerous For Dogs?
While bully sticks are widely regarded in the pet community as a healthy, safe alternative to other types of chews, some dog owners may still have concerns, particularly if they’re unfamiliar with this popular canine treat. Here are some considerations to keep in mind when administering bully sticks to dogs:
- Buy from a reliable source: There are many varieties of bully sticks available on the market, both in-store and online. However, not all bully sticks are created the same – experts recommend choosing single-ingredient bully sticks to avoid chemical treatments, additives or any other artificial substances that essentially defeats the purpose of buying this otherwise natural dog chew. Bacteria only becomes a concern when they are poorly dried or cooked, so speak with a veterinarian to determine the best brand and style for pets before shopping.
- Offer as an occasional treat: While bully sticks provide an excellent source of protein, it should also be noted that they do have a fair amount of calories. According to studies from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, there are approximately 88 calories in the average 6-inch bully stick. While that may be just fine for a larger-sized breed, smaller breed dogs should consume bully sticks a lot more sparingly. Remember – bully sticks are a tasty treat for dogs, not a meal replacement.
- Administer with care: As in the case of any chew toy or doggie treat, be sure to throw away a bully stick once it’s become small enough to be a choking hazard to dogs and other household pets. Always monitor pets carefully when providing chew toys, and if there are small children in the household, be sure to keep pet chews and toys out of reach at all times to prevent accidental ingestion, choking hazards and exposure to germs/bacteria.
Due to its natural origins, the risk of bacterial contamination in bully sticks is there; however, unless very ill, consuming a small amount of bacteria is unlikely to affect a dog (or human, for that matter). Practice appropriate sanitary practices including washing up with antibacterial soap when handling any natural treat. However, in the case of immuno-compromised people living with pets (including pregnant women, individuals on antibiotics, very young, sick, or elderly people), it is highly advised to let another family member handle the bull sticks.
As with all dog treats and chews, speak with a vet to discuss questions and concerns, particularly if a dog has any known health conditions, allergies or weight issues. In some instances, a vet may recommend snack-sized versions of bully sticks – an ideal way of satisfying a dog’s chewing urges without excessive calories.
Are Bully Sticks A Safe Treat for Puppies?
While many first-time puppy parents may be concerned when choosing safe treats for their pet, rest assured: bully sticks are among some of the safest dog chews available. As a rule of thumb, if a pup is able to chew hard food and treats on his own, he’s old enough to chew on a bully stick. However, experts advise opting for smaller, thinner bully sticks at first, and gradually introducing larger types as he gets bigger. Although they’re not deemed appropriate as a puppy-training treat (as they take too long to consume), bully sticks may provide an excellent distraction during the teething phase, saving your clothing, shoes, furniture and other household items from being chewed up instead!
Did You Know…
Other Animal Parts: Depending on where they came from, other types of chews made from natural animal parts may be good or bad. Therefore, erring on the side of caution is always recommended – if there’s any uncertainty when shopping for safe dog toys or chews, ask a vet for professional guidance. ‘Safer’ animal-part dog chews include gullet, tripe, tendon and aortas as a rule of thumb, whereas ears pose more of a health risk, since they’re similar to rawhide and are harder to digest. Pig ears are even less healthy, since they usually contain a high percentage of fat. Additionally, certain types of animal horns may soften up when chewed; however, they should still be administered with care.
It’s easy to see that bully sticks go way beyond a tasty treat – they support optimal physical and dental health, and provide a safe way for dogs to satisfy their chewing and licking urges without the worry of choking or splintering. They are also easy to digest, long-lasting and available in sizes for dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes. Bully sticks are even suitable for puppies, as long as the pup is capable of chewing hard food and treats on his own. Ultimately, providing a cherished family dog with quality chews isn’t just fun and games – it’s good pet parenting.
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“What Is a Bully Stick?” Pet Central, April 3, 2018, https://petcentral.chewy.com/what-is-a-bully-stick/ . Accessed April 17, 2019.
Author: Alice. “Top 5 Facts About Bully Sticks.” Bully Stick Shoppe, February 20, 2019, https://bullystickshoppe.com/top-5-facts-about-bully-sticks/. Accessed April 17, 2019.
Dyck, Amy. “What Are Bully Sticks: The Facts, Myths, And Nutrition.” Homes Alive Pets, (no publish date), https://blog.homesalive.ca/what-are-bully-sticks/. Accessed April 17, 2019.
“How are Bully Sticks Made?” Best Bully Sticks.com, (no publish date), https://www.bestbullysticks.com/HowBullySticksMade. Accessed April 17, 2019.