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How to Soften Deer Antlers for Dogs: 3 Expert Tips & FAQ

Ashley Bates

By Ashley Bates

beagle chewing antler

Deer antlers are becoming an ever-popular pick for dog lovers everywhere. This tasty treat is not only delightful for your dog to chew on, but also super nutritious and beneficial to their health. Pet stores have them readily available in both in-store and online shops. But if you are an outdoor person, we may have come across a few sheds in the wild. We’re going to go over how to soften the antlers for your dog and ensure they’re completely safe and healthy for your dog to eat.

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The 3 Expert Tips to Soften Deer Antlers

Deer antlers are highly durable. Sometimes, it can be difficult for certain dogs to chew due to their texture and size. So how can you make the eating experience easier? Luckily, there are a few ways to soften them up in the comfort of your home.

1. Soak Them in Water

If the antlers you bought or found are just too tough for your pup to chew, don’t worry! In just 2 days of soaking, the antlers will soften up a bit, improving the texture. This method reduces the risk of splintering because you are just soaking the exterior and not bringing it to a rapid boil.

If you are just choosing to soak and not boil, we only recommend this for store-bought antlers, as you would need to remove dirt and debris from those found in the wild.

Closeup of a brown chihuahua chewing a natural deer antler
Image Credit: Mlle Sonyah, Shutterstock

2. Boil Them

We recommend setting a timer. If you need to boil the antlers to soften and sanitize them, do so for roughly 30 minutes. Not only will this kill any bacteria on the surface, but it will also soften up the material without risking splintering. Limit it to this time and don’t let it go too long.

Like other decay, antlers have a putrid smell that can linger. If you are boiling them indoors, it can cause that smell to release into your home, which can be quite challenging to get rid of—and you won’t have much of an appetite with that aroma in your kitchen! Always boil the antlers outdoors instead of on your stove.

So, wait until you get the water to a roaring boil, add a pinch of salt, and let the water do its magic.

3. Remove Bulky or Pokey Parts

If the antlers are particularly bulky or have protruding parts, you can sand down these areas for a smooth finish. You can take a regular piece of sandpaper and gently work over the sharp bumps, which should only take a few minutes.

This extra step just helps your dog enjoy them without working around awkward textures.

A dog and it's antler A brown and white dog lying on it's bed chewing on a deer antler
Image Credit: Bill Pell, Shutterstock

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Are Deer Antlers Safe for Dogs?

Deer antlers are entirely safe for dogs, permitting that you prepare them correctly. Antlers provide a hard texture that caters to your dog’s primal instinct to chew (protecting your belongings from gnashing teeth in the meantime!).

First, antlers help your dog’s dental health. The material’s toughness helps scrape away plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and gum line. It improves overall dental hygiene and strength.

Chewing on antlers can also act as a natural stress reliever. So if you have a dog that excessively chews in moments of tension, it’s a wonderful alternative to potential destructiveness.

Antlers are not absorbent. That means unlike rawhide bones that turn to soggy mush, deer antlers will stay intact, leaving behind no stains or traces. If you have a big-time chewer, this can benefit your household even more.

Antlers don’t just affect dental health and stress. They also have a list of health benefits. These horns contain nutrients like magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and calcium. So taking in these ingredients satisfies almost every system in your dog’s body. That is something they do not get with regular chew toys, so it is definitely an added benefit!

Beware of Splintering

Be very careful when you are boiling your antlers. Antlers can be susceptible to splintering if you do it too long, much like bones. This can pose a choking hazard for our canine companions and should undoubtedly be avoided.

Dog chews antler
Image Credit: Tara Lynn and Co, Shutterstock

Why Should You Boil Antlers Found In Nature?

If you find antlers in the woods, it’s incredibly important to boil them before giving them to your dog. However, it’s not nearly as important if they came prepackaged from a store.

Antlers in the wild can have several different bacteria, dirt, and grime on them. If it’s the wrong kind, it can make your dog’s stomach upset or make them very sick. To be on the safe side, it’s always best to boil them just to loosen up any of that ick and kill any germs.

If you aren’t necessarily trying to soften the deer antlers but want to kill the germs, submerge the antlers in boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes.

Are Deer Antlers Bones?

Even though deer antlers look and feel like bones, that’s not exactly what they are. They are definitely made of bone, like any part of the animal skeleton. However, these growths have a velvety cover that provides blood supply to the growing bone.

In addition to bone, antlers are cartilage, skin, nerve cells, blood vessels, and fibrous tissue. These growths are designed to last only for a season before the animal sheds them and regrows new antlers. That is why you will find sheds without the entire skeleton in the woods.

Antlers are in a constant state of development. Typically, deer begin to shed their antlers in late December and throughout early March. As soon as the antlers drop, new growth starts immediately, though it might take some time to be visible to the naked eye.

antlers on a white background
Image Credit: Vera Larina, Shutterstock

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So, now you know just how to soften deer antlers a little bit to make them more palatable for your dog. Remember not to over-boil them, as this can cause splintering, which can lead to a whirlwind of other problems for your pup—including pricey vet bills.

Antlers are terrific chew toys for your dog, providing nutrition, aiding dental health, and relieving stress. Just remember to soften the antlers correctly and ensure there’s no debris or bacteria before serving.

Featured Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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