Antlers and Other Dog Chews
Antlers and other dog chews are gaining popularity as consumers seek a variety of long-lasting chews.
Here’s some wildlife trivia, courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: antlers, on members of the deer family, are grown as an extension of the animal’s skull. They are true bone, are shed and regrown each year, and the new set is generally larger than the previous year’s rack.
Antlers are also a big trend now in dog chews. Consumers looking for long-lasting chews for aggressive chewers often look to deer, elk or moose antlers. Meanwhile, other chews are also gaining popularity as dog owners seek items that are flavorful, natural, made in the USA and will keep the pup entertained. If the chews perform some important dental functions and do not smell bad, that’s even better.
Redbarn, based in Long Beach, Calif., offers a variety of chews, and antlers are the most durable option.
“Antlers check so many boxes for dog parents looking for healthy, natural and safe chews,” says Lindsay Tracy, director of new business and product development. “Redbarn only uses naturally-shed antlers, rich in essential vitamins and nutrients like calcium, zinc and iron. We also inspect each antler for overall safety and quality, then leave them as nature grew them—without additives, preservatives, chemicals, fillers or artificial colors.”
Tracy adds that solid antlers are durable, so they are great for power chewers. Antlers are also low in calories, so dogs can enjoy chewing them without pet parents worrying about weight management. They are also renewable and biodegradable, two features that consumers pay attention to, as well as odor-, mess- and stain-free.
Redbarn offers four lengths of naturally shed solid and split antlers. The split antlers are for puppies, seniors or light chewers and are safely cut down the middle, providing easy access to the nutrient dense marrow.
The challenge for antlers is they have higher retail prices than other chews. Retailers can overcome this by educating consumers about the value of the products. Tracy recommends posting educational signage that focuses on health benefits, durability levels and the stink-free qualities.
A tidy display also helps. “The shelf space dedicated to antlers should be well organized with a clear order of size, price point and animal,” Tracy says. Bulk displays are particularly effective. “Allowing parents to review each antler for the appropriate size, thickness and length should help increase overall customer satisfaction and, most importantly, ensure the dog’s safety.”
Racks of All Sizes
The main benefit of antlers is that they last a long time. Dallas-based QT Dog offers Antlerz, 100 percent naturally-shed, mineral-rich deer antlers in five sizes: small, medium, large, jumbo and monster.
“Other than splitting an antler to expose the core, there is not a lot of room for differentiation in the category,” says Mike Thomas, vice president of development. “Our Monster Elk Chew is still pretty unique. It’s a one pound hunk that will last weeks, even for the most aggressive chewer.”
Thomas acknowledges that antlers have high price points but says dog owners will spend more if they perceive value.
“Consumers need to be assured they are paying for the longest lasting all-natural chew on the market, period,” he says.
QT Dog also offers Water Buffalo Hornz in small, medium, large, sections and flanks. Thomas notes that Water Buffalo is gaining sales volume because it has lower price points and a sturdy chewing profile.
Water buffalo is the focus of a newer company, Honey I’m Home!, which offers water buffalo horn chews and water buffalo jerky treats coated with honey.
“Honey is a great natural preservative,” says Lisa Momberger, a co-founder of the company, which launched the products in February. “It mixes the sweet with the salty flavors and dogs are going crazy over it.”
The Los Angeles-based company sources free-range, grass-fed water buffalo from India. The top selling product is the Horn Core, a long lasting chew that contains B vitamins as well as A, C, D, E and K.
“We take the marrow out of the horn shell, dry it and turn it into a treat,” Momberger says. “We coat it in honey as well. That adds that extra element. I think you’re going to start seeing more of that in the industry.” The company also offers buffalo chews such as Bully Sticks, Crunchy Ears and Jerky Strips.
The chews category is gaining momentum as dog owners seek variety and premium ingredients, but some manufacturers see a downside.
“That trend has created somewhat of a wild west retail environment as dog chews—particularly if no nutritional claims are made—are essentially considered pet toys and are virtually unregulated,” says Stephen Duensing, owner of Wholesome Hide based in Dolton, Ill. “This has opened the door for some manufacturers to make broad claims about their chews being safer than others or containing better ingredients than other products that have been a staple in the marketplace for decades.”
Duensing points to rawhide chews as an example, saying that some manufacturers use hides from pigs or from cheeks and faceplates of cows and claim not to be rawhide, while other competitors’ products are made in developing countries and are purported to be healthier than rawhide.
“As a U.S. manufacturer of rawhide dog treats, Wholesome Hide contends that rawhide chews, when made correctly with USA-sourced ingredients, are a safe, rewarding and long-lasting treat for dogs,” he says. “There’s solid veterinary research that shows rawhide does an excellent job of keeping dogs’ teeth clean and gums healthy.”
Wholesome Hide plans to soon launch what Duensing says is the first USA-sourced, USA-made, compressed rawhide chew. The product is made from one piece of rawhide, has an extended chew time, and is designed to keep dogs’ teeth clean and gums healthy.
“Nearly all compressed rawhide chews currently available on the market are produced in China,” he says.
Duensing adds that retailers should display chews and other products with country of origin information, and make USA-made and USA-sourced chews and treats highly visible in the store. Also, it helps if store associates are educated about products’ ingredients and origin, so they can make recommendations.
The rawhide alternative segment is also thriving in the chews space.
“Obviously, dogs need to chew, so chewing is not a trend,” says Stephanie Volo, vice president of marketing and sustainability for Southport, Conn.-based Earth Animal. “What is a trend is people are conscientious of what their dogs are chewing on and the ingredients that are in those chews.”
Earth Animal makes No-Hide Dog Chews and Stix, which are easily-digestible, healthy and nutritious treats available in Chicken, Beef, Venison Recipe and more. New this year is holiday packaging for the two best-selling flavors, Chicken and Beef. The top of the package has a to and from tag so a dog can give a friend a gift, Volo says, or a human can give a dog a gift. In fact, according to the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 78 percent of dog owners give their dogs gifts, and at Christmas 48 percent give their dogs gifts. The packaging features the color patterns Black Watch Green Plaid or Black Watch Red Plaid.
Earth Animal plans to add another flavor to the No-Hide lineup in 2019. “There are all types of chews out there on the market,” Volo says. “We have created an alternative to products that are out there that are not good for dogs, are not nutritious at all and have chemicals. Retailers are very savvy and know what their customers want.” PB