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Are Pig and Cow Ears Good for Dogs? The Surprising Vet-Approved Answer

Dean Eby

By Dean Eby

husky eating cow ear

Vet approved

Dr. Maja Platisa Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maja Platisa

In-House Veterinarian, DVM MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pet care is changing. People are becoming more aware of how things affect their pets’ health, causing them to make healthier and smarter choices to keep their dogs in better health. As such, many treats that have always been provided for pooches without much thought have come under scrutiny.

If you’re concerned about the effects of offering your dog treats like pig and cow ears, then you’re just being a responsible pet parent. Just because something has always been done traditionally, doesn’t mean it’s a great thing to continue. Pig and cow ears can be safe chews for some dogs if you take certain precautions. Granted, there are some things to be aware of when offering this treat to your canine companion, which we’ll explore below.

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Are Pig and Cow Ears Safe for Dogs?

Under most conditions, both pig and cow ears can be safe treats for most dogs. They’re made up mostly of cartilage, which is soft and won’t splinter as bones can. Most pig and cow ears are an entirely natural treat, but not all of them are. If you want to ensure that what your dog is chewing on is good for its health, then you’ll need to be very particular about which pig and cow ears you choose to purchase.

However, there are several things you need to be aware of. First is the presence of bacteria on the pig ears due to the way they are manufactured and processed. In 2019, CDC reported a multistate outbreak of Salmonella due to pig ear dog treats, with the risk of making both the dog and their owner sick. This shows that food of animal origin always carries a risk of bacterial contamination and needs to be sourced from a verified supplier. Even then, usual hygiene measures need to be taken. There is no way to protect your dog from Salmonella, unless you decide not to give them pig ears at all.

Another issue is their appropriateness for various dog breeds and sizes. They are generally not recommended for miniature, small, and even some medium dogs, as they are large and may be a choking hazard. Even large dogs that love their food a little bit too much may try to swallow a large chunk, which can lead to choking and may block their airway or cause a stomach or intestinal blockage. All of these need urgent veterinary attention. You should always supervise your pooch when eating chews that may cause such issues, particularly when offering them for the first time. For dogs that like to swallow bigger pieces, you should remove the chew when they get toward the end.

In all reality, dogs are dogs, meaning for some, no treat is safe. But in most cases, considering these risks, both cows’ and pigs’ ears can be a tasty occasional chew.

bernese mountain eating pig ear
Image Credit: ESTELLE-R, Shutterstock

Are They Beneficial for Dogs?

Many treats that we offer our dogs are safe but don’t offer any benefits for our pets. Pig and cow ears can actually be beneficial for some dogs, but only when offered in moderation. As mentioned, they’re mostly made up of soft cartilage, which is great for a dog to chew on.

While your dog chews, the cartilage may be slowly helping clean their teeth by scraping away any tartar and plaque that has built up on your dog’s teeth. So, this treat can actually improve your dog’s dental health, though it doesn’t do too much to help with bad breath! However, this is not a replacement for regular brushing and can only be a little bonus when it comes to your pooch’s dental health.

Cartilage contains chondroitin, which may provide some benefits for joint health in dogs with arthritis, although research findings are still divided when it comes to this.

Aside from helping your dog’s teeth stay clean, cow and pig ears provide plenty of beneficial nutrients. These treats can be moderate to high in fat, with some ranging from 15% onwards, and high in protein. Most cow ears are only 1%-3% fat and between 66%-90% protein. Still, there are plenty of calories in a cow or pig ear, so be sure not to offer it to your dog too often, or it could lead to a stomach upset or pose a risk of making your dog overweight.

How to Choose the Right Pig & Cow Ears

One of the most important things to consider when feeding your dog pig and cow ears is how the treat is made. Even though ears are natural, not all of them on the market are made the same. Many of them are processed and altered, which means you’re no longer offering your dog an entirely natural treat.

First and foremost, ensure that the ears you choose to offer your dog actually look like ears! Processed ears don’t look the same. Natural ears still have the same shape they had when they were on the animal. Look for ears that still retain this shape and check the list of ingredients, so that you know they’re not processed. This generally indicates that all of the natural nutrients and flavors are still present in the ear. In processed ears, a lot of the nutritional benefits that your dog could be receiving will be absent.

Nature Gnaws Cow Ears for Dogs

Possible Risks of Offering Pig and Cow Ears to Your Dog

The main risk of feeding your dog pig and cow ears is the extra calories. Despite being low in fat, these ears still contain calories. When overfed, this can easily contribute to weight gain in your dog.

Some dogs might not do as well with ears as other dogs. For these canines, pig or cow ears might cause diarrhea. For this reason, it’s best to offer your dog a piece of an ear first and see how it does. Usually, diarrhea only occurs in dogs that have eaten too many cow or pig ears or if they’ve never had one before. For the most part, cow and pig ears are well tolerated by most dogs.

Choking is also a possible hazard of cow or pig ears. Because they’re made up of cartilage, they’re not too hard, but they are hard enough to potentially cause choking in your dog if they try to swallow them. This is especially true when your dog gets to the end of the ear. That last little chunk is very susceptible to swallowing. If your dog swallows it, the chunk might become lodged in your dog’s throat. To avoid this, always take the last little bit away before your dog has the chance to choke on it.

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Many dog treats are far less healthy than we’d like. Still, these have been offered to dogs for generations. But in today’s health-conscious society, many people are considering healthier alternatives and giving more thought to the treats they’re offering their canines.

Cow and pig ears have long been given to dogs without much thought. Luckily, these treats are still safe to give your dog. They contain lots of protein. Plus, the cartilage can clean your dog’s teeth and even provides plenty of chondroitin for your pooch. Just be sure to pick unprocessed ears to be certain you’re giving your dog the healthiest, most natural treats possible, and make sure you are supervising your dog while chewing so accidental swallowing of larger pieces can be avoided.

Featured Image Credit: fotoliza, Shutterstock

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