Bully sticks (pizzle sticks) are one of the more controversial chews for pups and adult dogs. Some owners swear by them as a natural and irresistible treat that will keep their pooch happy for an hour or so. Others are put off by the origin, odour and scary stories that they have heard about them. We have put together a no-nonsense guide to best bully sticks for dogs packed with all you ever needed to know about this doggy chew.
Best Bully Sticks Buying Guide & FAQs
What to Consider When Buying Bully Sticks for Dogs
As with most products, not all bully sticks are the same. When you are thinking of buying some for your pooch, here’s what you should bear in mind.
- Where it has come from
The source of the beef may be important to you and could be a safety factor. If you are buying from the USA, you can choose bully sticks from a USDA and FDA approved facility. Some will be maintained to the same standards as human food production. You may want the best bully sticks sourced only in the USA and you may want only grass-fed or even organic and non-GMO meat.
Some will be from herds that have not been reared using antibiotics or hormones. Some imported bully sticks may have been treated with harsh chemicals or bleached. In general, if they don’t smell, it is likely that they have been treated in some way.
- What has been added to it
Bully sticks for dogs do not need to have anything added. A 100% pure beef bully stick is less likely to cause an adverse reaction in your dog. They have a natural odour, and even though you may not like it, it is probably preferable to the chemicals that would have to be added to remove it. On the plus side, the smellier it is, the more your dog will love it! They should not contain any cereal products which can cause allergies. The important point is: the less added the better.
- Size you want
Your main concern here is choking. Make sure that the bully stick cannot enter your dog’s throat. The bigger the dog, the bigger the pizzle stick you need and always take them away when they have been chewed to a smaller stub.
- Size of the pack
Some bully sticks come in packs of up to 250 but it’s not a good idea to go for this as your first purchase. Start off with a small pack to see if you your dog gets on with them. You may prefer to have a variety with a resealable pack to keep them fresh.
Benefits of Using Bully Sticks for Dogs
Bully sticks are popular amongst dog owners for several reasons. Here are the main reasons that so many dog lovers rate them and why you may want to give them a try.
- They keep your pooch amused
You may not like the idea of where bully sticks come from and you may not be a great fan of the odour, but your pooch will adore them! This is good news for you. Depending on the size of the bully stick and your dog’s chewing capabilities, a single stick can keep them amused for an hour or more. They can be useful when you need to keep your dog busy whilst you get on with something else.
- They promote good dental health
The importance of good dental hygiene in dogs cannot be overstated and yet some owners don’t make as much effort in this area as they should. The American Veterinary Dental College has estimated that most dogs show signs of periodontal disease by the time they are three years old. So, paying attention to dental health begins with puppies.
The first sign of early dental disease is bad breath but many owners wrongly assume that this is a natural doggy characteristic. Whilst it’s true that your four-legged friend will not always have minty fresh molars, if their breath is bad enough to make you wince, it’s a sign that not all is well!
Along with brushing, dental wipes and professional cleaning, dog chews are an important component of canine dental health care. Nearly all dog chews are designed to promote oral health by cleaning tartar off teeth and preventing the build-up of plaque. The process of gnawing the chew physically scrapes the plaque off the teeth.
- They are great for puppies
Bully sticks are considered as a safe chew for puppies from a very young age. They actively help with healthy teeth and gum development.
They can also save your sanity! Puppies are notorious for relentlessly chewing shoes, furniture and even doors and a bully stick will give your footwear and soft furnishings a much-needed break!
As a note of caution, it is recommended that you always supervise a puppy with a bully stick to make sure that they are chewing them safely. Bully sticks for puppies are harder than many other dog treats and weaker sticks can present a choking hazard.
It is best to use an alternative as a training incentive because bully sticks for puppies take too long to chew and do not work well as a reward.
- They are digestible
Some dog treats and chews cause upset stomachs because they are not easy to digest. Bully sticks are easily digested by most dogs. Bully sticks made from 100% beef only will not cause allergic responses or adverse reactions that can happen with artificial flavourings, preservatives or colourings. They have no cereal grains added.
- They are nutritionally rich
Pizzle sticks for dogs are a healthy snack for pooches. They are low in cholesterol but very high in proteins and deliver a good dose of vitamins and minerals. Bully sticks deliver a lot of calories, so don’t over do them!
Difference Between Bully Sticks and Rawhides
Rawhide are another type of chewy treat that dog’s love. They are made from the inside layer of hide from a cow or a horse. When the animal is slaughtered, the hide is removed and the inner layer separated to be cleaned and cut or ground. It is then pressed into an attractive shape.
Rawhide chews usually have to have beef, chicken, or liver flavourings added to make them more appealing to dogs. Some owners prefer bully sticks to rawhide because they last longer and are more natural. Pizzle sticks for dogs are nutritionally superior and do a better job of cleaning plaque off teeth.
There are reports of rawhide chews swelling in the intestines and this causes gut problems in some dogs. Bully sticks, on the other hand, are easy to digest.
Q: What are bully sticks?
A: Bully sticks are sometimes called pizzle sticks, steer pizzle or beef pizzle which gives a clue about their origin. They are dried steer or bull penis. Many dog owners are completely unaware of this and are a bit shocked when they find out. A survey of vets has shown that not all of them were aware of this either! This may be because many producers refer to them as “tendons” or “dried muscles”, presumably to spare the blushes of their customers.
A pizzle stick is not made of the muscular part of the carcase that is used tor human consumption and so they are classed as an animal by-product. This causes some difficulty. Some dog owners are not happy about feeding animal by-products to their pets because of health or welfare concerns. It is a personal choice.
Q: How are Bully Sticks made?
A: The process of making bully sticks for dogs is fairly simple. The moisture needs to be removed so that the product will last long enough to be shipped to consumers. The penis is removed from the carcass and cleaned, stretched and twisted. Then it is either sun dried, oven baked or smoked to remove water.
The final product is a hard, brown stick which is about thirty to forty inches ling. It is cut into smaller sections (usually six or 12 inches) and packed up for sale. An authentic pizzle stick is 100% bovine (beef) penis with no other added ingredients.
Q: What sizes do Bully Sticks come in?
A: Pizzle sticks for dogs are available in a range of lengths and thicknesses. The most common lengths are six or 12 inches but widths are highly variable. Some producers hand-pick the sticks for packing to try and ensure consistency but this is not always possible because it is a natural product.
If you have a big dog with big teeth, you need to choose one of the thicker and longer versions. For an adult dog of one of the larger breeds, such as a Labrador, it’s best to choose one of the chunky ones to cut down the risk of large chunks breaking off and presenting a choking hazard.
The thinner bully sticks may be cheaper but may have a tendency to splinter and this can be hazardous for your pooch. Remember that it is important that your dog cannot fit the whole chew in its mouth.
Q: How can I store bully sticks?
A: Some brands of bully sticks for dogs are supplied in resealable bags with zip tops and these are handy for bigger packs that you need to open and close many times. You can store bully sticks at room temperature but some dog owners prefer to store them in the refrigerator or in the freezer. This increases their shelf life and makes them harder.
It is not necessary for your pooch to finish the whole bully stick in one sitting. You can take the uneaten portion off them and pop it in a sealed bag in the freezer. It will harden back up and stay fresh so that they can finish it off the following day. You should not store uncovered bully sticks in the open as they will attract insects and pests and you may not enjoy the way they make your house smell!
It is important to remember that bully sticks are not a human food product and could contain pathogens that could make your family ill. Therefore, store them away from human food and always wash your hands after handling them.
Q: Are bully sticks safe?
A: The two main areas of concern about the safety of bully sticks are physical and microbiological safety. In terms of physical safety, there are concerns about bully sticks presenting a choking hazard. This can be largely controlled by selecting a brand that is too large to fit into your dog’s pharynx and by close supervision. Once the stick is too small to be safe, take it off your dog. The other physical danger is teeth breaking on very hard sticks but, on balance, most vets think that the benefits to dental health out weigh the risks of broken teeth.
As for micro-organisms, there is no doubt that bully sticks can contain potentially harmful bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Whilst these can cause serious health problems in humans, a healthy dog should cope.
You need to remember that bully sticks are usually a raw meat product and there is little regulation governing how they are produced. You can cut down the risks by only buying from a reputable source. However, they should always be regarded as potentially dangerous to humans and good hygiene needs to be maintained. Always wash your hands after touching them.
Some vets prefer to recommend toys that can be filled with healthy treats and advise owners to avoid all raw animal products. Again, it is a matter of opinion and personal choice.
Q: How often should I give my dogs Bully Sticks?
A: Obesity amongst dogs is a real concern and bully sticks are very calorie dense. On average, each six inch stick will deliver 88 calories. This is a third of the recommended daily caloric intake for a 10lb dog and nearly 10% of the recommended daily caloric intake for a 50lb dog. However, if your dog does not eat the whole stick at once, it can last for several days and you can spread the calorie intake out.
As a general rule, you should not allow a pizzle stick to make up more than 10% of your pet’s total daily calorie intake. So, for example, an average adult Labrador should not have more than eight inches of bully stick per day.
- What is a Bully Stick? What are They Made of? Are They Safe? Labrador Training HQ
- 5 Tips for Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Clean American Kennel Club
- Something To Chew On Dogs Naturally Magazine
- What Are Bully Sticks? Paw Culture