As dog lovers, we’re constantly on the lookout for toys and treats like bully sticks that will please our best buddies. In fact, we spend a small fortune on such things and consider it all well spent. Current research indicates that the average American spends approximately $126.19 on dogs and other pets in any given month.
If you’re thinking about buying bully sticks for your dog, you may have several questions. What is a bully stick? What are bully sticks made from? Are bully sticks safe for dogs? And the list goes on.
In this post, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know in order to determine whether bully sticks are good treats for your dog. Keep reading!
Bully Sticks Fact #1: You might be surprised to learn what goes into making bully sticks.
What are bully sticks? Well, at their most basic, they’re meat-based treats for your dog. They’re not made from muscle meat, though. Bully sticks for dogs are created using a unique ingredient -- something an animal only has one of.
Bully sticks are made from bull pizzle. That’s why they’re sometimes also referred to as “pizzle sticks.”
Now you’re wondering, “What is bull pizzle?”
“Pizzle” is actually an archaic term that originated in Australia, and it means “penis.” Bully sticks are made from penises! Although if we’re to get technical here, bully sticks are generally made from the penises of steers, not bulls.
A bull, after all, is kept as a breeding animal. Not all that many bulls are kept by farmers and ranchers, since one bull can service many cows. A steer, on the other hand, is a male bovine that has been castrated early in life, and fed for about 18 months. At that point, the steer is slaughtered for beef.
Since approximately 39,000,000 cattle are slaughtered each year, just in the United States, that adds up to a lot of penises! Most humans are not disposed to eat this part of the steer, but effective livestock management means using every part of the animal. Hence, bully sticks for dogs.
Fact #2: Bully sticks may be cooked, or not.
It’s unlikely that you’ll find bully sticks for dogs in a truly raw state, unless you have access to a slaughterhouse. For that matter, you probably don’t actually want to give your dog raw bull penis.
But here’s another thing – when you give your dog a bully stick, is it actually cooked, and is it safe?
How are bully sticks made? It depends on the manufacturer. Some manufacturers will cook bully sticks before they dry and then package them. Others will simply run them through a dryer. Drying does, to a certain extent, “cook,” but it will never remove all the bacteria that would be taken out during cooking.
Now granted, drying is technically a form of cooking, but what happens when bully sticks are simply dried as opposed to being cooked before drying? For one thing, there’s a higher chance of bacterial contamination. Accordingly, every additional step in the curing and cooking process lessens the risk of bacteria remaining in the bully sticks.
Fact #3: Bully sticks come in several forms and flavors.
In addition to being usually either dried, cooked, or both, bully sticks for dogs are available in a variety of sizes, dimensions and flavors. You can find small, medium and large bully sticks, braided bully sticks, extra-thick bully sticks and more.
Clearly, this tells you that, since bull pizzles come in roughly uniform sizes (and are never braided or curled!), what you’re actually getting is a processed product that could be made from several different bull pizzles. You will not, however, find a combination of processing methods in your package of bully sticks. They will either be made from dried meat, or meat that has been cooked and then dried.
Bully sticks also come in different flavors. If you’ve been scratching your head and wondering “What is a beef bully stick? Why do they call it that? It’s made from beef, right?” your confusion is understandable.
All bully sticks for dogs are, by definition, made from beef. The term “beef bully stick” is simply used to indicate that the product either has no added flavorings, or may have some beef extract added to give it a more robust flavor. Bully sticks may also come in bacon, hickory smoke, chicken or other flavors.
Fact #4: Bully sticks are generally safe for dogs.
In considering the question “Are bully sticks safe for dogs?” it’s worth noting that pet food production isn’t regulated to the same extent as food that’s intended for human consumption. However, it’s also worth noting that manufacturers of pet foods do exercise a high level of caution – the last thing they want is irate pet owners suing them or causing them a ton of bad publicity. For that reason alone, you can assume that American-made bully sticks are generally going to be safe for your dog to consume.
As previously mentioned, however, you do have to think about the possibility of bacterial contamination. Giving your dog bully sticks is very much like feeding a raw diet, if the sticks are not cooked before drying, or if they’re cooked improperly. If bully sticks seem soft, or have an odor, don’t offer them to your dog. A bully stick should be hard, and have little or no odor. Additionally, if the bully sticks you’ve purchased for your dog come into contact with moisture, it’s best to throw them out.
Since bully sticks are hard when properly made, there is another concern. Some dogs don’t do well with hard treats that could lead to tooth fractures. Always choose bully sticks that are size-appropriate for your particular dog, and don’t give bully sticks to dogs that have dental issues. If your dog’s teeth are healthy, though, bully sticks can help to remove tartar and plaque that could lead to dental problems down the road.
As is always the case, if you have any doubt as to whether what you’re doing is safe or appropriate for your dog, consult your veterinarian. Some vets advise against any animal-sourced treats at all, again because of the danger of contamination. Others don’t object to bully sticks, pig ears and the like, provided that the treats are sourced from reputable manufacturers and used as part of a balanced nutrition program.
Fact #5: You can give your puppy bully sticks.
Bully sticks, being made from organ meat, are fully digestible. In fact, they’re safer for dogs than rawhide chews, which really aren’t digestible. So, in the same way that you can feel good about giving bully sticks to your dog, you can do so with puppies. A few words of caution, though.
Puppies aren’t exactly known for their impulse control, and for your puppy to be safe when enjoying a bully stick, you’re going to have to supervise. Of course, this goes for anything that you’re going to give your puppy to play with or chew.
The main danger here is that as the bully stick is chewed, it gets smaller, and eventually it’s going to present a choking hazard. Choose a bully stick that’s small enough for your puppy to hold in his paws and to get his teeth around, but big enough that you can take it away when it’s close to being used up.
So bully sticks are okay for puppies, provided you supervise. But are they actually good for puppies?
It depends. If you’re throwing bully stick after bully stick to your puppy, it’s too much and could cause him to develop an upset tummy and other digestive issues. However, since bully sticks are made from meat, they do provide some nutritional benefits.
Moderation is the key here. A bully stick each day isn’t going to hurt your dog or your puppy. It might hurt your wallet, though, since bully sticks can be expensive. It might be best to reserve bully sticks for an occasional treat, and go with other things like bits of carrot or green beans for treats, and quality chew toys for play.
Fact #6: When it comes to bully sticks, you have to be careful where you buy.
As previously suggested, your best choice when choosing bully sticks for your dog or puppy is to go with American-made products. You’ve probably heard the horror stories about dogs and puppies getting sick or even dying from treats manufactured overseas and imported into the United States.
Simply stated, dog treat manufacturers in China or India aren’t going to worry much about grieving pet owners suing them if something horrible happens to their dogs. They’ll make tons of treats, ship them to dollar stores, and let the chips fall where they may. So read your labels carefully, and avoid any bully sticks that are made from beef sourced anywhere other than North America or South America.
Fact #7: Free range bully sticks are not necessarily better.
Often, when we think of the food that we eat, and that we give to our dogs, we assume that free range is invariably better. That’s not always the case.
A bull or steer might, for example, be free ranged, but getting a substandard diet if he’s fed on poor pasture. Also, “free range” does not necessarily mean “organic.” Even if the bull is on outstanding forage, there’s no guarantee that the pasture hasn’t been treated with herbicides and pesticides.
As a general rule, all that “free range” means is that the animal was allowed a certain freedom of movement as opposed to having been confined in a feed lot. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what he was eating was any safer than commercially processed feed.
Fact #8: You have to deal with a reputable seller.
What this means, at its essence, is that if you’re looking for bully sticks for your dog or puppy, stay out of the dollar stores when you’re buying bully sticks. Find a reliable source that sells only bully sticks made in America.
Most pet stores that have “name recognition” will not sell you bully sticks that come from questionable sources. Will you pay more for bully sticks from respected pet stores?
Yes, you will. But what price are you willing to put on your dog’s health?
You can also buy bully sticks from Amazon, usually at a far lower price than you’d pay at a retail outlet. You’ll still need to be vigilant about which brands you choose, though. We’ll talk about some of the best brands of bully sticks in a bit.
Fact #9: Bully sticks can stink.
We talked about odor earlier in this post, but mainly in reference to poor processing. The fact is, though, even bully sticks made by reputable manufacturers can stink – a lot!
Why is that?
Well, because they’re made from penises. And what are penises used for? In bulls, they’re used for fertilizing cows, and for urinating. In steers, they’re just used for urinating.
Let me digress here for a moment. When I was growing up, my parents weren’t all that well off. Organ meats at the time weren’t the desirable things they were today, and one of the things my mother used to do to stretch the household budget was to include things like tripe, liver and kidney into our diet.
The liver was actually pretty good, and the tripe not all that bad. The kidney, though, was horrible. The first time she presented it at the dinner table, I took one bite, screwed my nose up and said “Yuck! Tastes like pee!”
Well, of course it did, because it came from kidney. No matter how much my mother cleaned and scraped and washed and parboiled that particular organ, it was always going to taste like urine. Even the many seasonings she applied to that particular organ meat weren’t going to make a difference.
Although there are companies that claim to offer “no odor” bully sticks, but I kind of doubt if such a thing is possible. I do know that the longer a bully stick is cooked or cured, the less odor it will retain, but I doubt that it can be removed entirely. It could, however, be “masked” by adding flavorings like bacon or hickory smoke.
If you care about the odor, you can go with a flavored variety of bully stick. If you don’t mind the odor, that’s fine too. There’s nothing dangerous about the odor, or even about the presence of urine in a bully stick – urine passes through the kidneys and emerges as a sterile liquid.
Fact #10: Some bully sticks are better than others.
You might have a brand of bully sticks that pleases you, and that isn’t on this list. If that’s the case, great! But for people who are just getting used to the idea of offering bully sticks to their dogs, here is a roundup of some of the best.
Best Bully Sticks for Large Dogs: Pawstruck 12” Straight
These long bully sticks from Pawstruck are perfect for dogs that have a strong bite and need a bit of a workout when it comes to their chew treats. They contain no artificial additives, and are highly digestible. You can buy them in quantities from 10 up to 250, and they have a shelf life of up to three years. If you’re looking for something to keep your large dog’s teeth in good shape, you won’t go wrong with these bully sticks.
Best Bully Sticks for Medium-Sized Dogs: Best Bully 6” Supreme
If your dog is medium-sized, Great Lakes Pet Treats has the right bully stick for you. They’re all-natural, and very tough, so your dog will get a lot of enjoyment out of these bully sticks. They’re made from 100% grass-fed beef, with no additives or preservatives.
Best Bully Sticks for Small Dogs: Nature Gnaws Extra Thin Bully Sticks
If you have a small dog, you want a bully stick that’s a bit thin, and Nature Gnaws delivers just that. These treats come in bags of 25, so if you’re just offering one bully stick per day, a bag will last you a long time. As previously suggested, though, your dog or puppy should be closely monitored when chewing small bully sticks so that they don’t splinter or present a choking hazard.
Best Premium Bully Sticks:: Jack & Pup 12” Premium
Can you imagine a dog treat that’s actually inspected at a USDA certified facility that approves human food? That’s what you get with Jack & Pup. These bully sticks are individually inspected and determined to be free from any contaminants while being prepared. As you might expect, you’ll pay a bit more for these bully sticks than you would for other brands, and you’ll get fewer in a package – just 10. If you’re the type to obsess over the quality of your dog’s chewies, though, you won’t do better tha Jack & Pup.
Best Odor-Free: Best for My Pets 12” Bully Sticks
As I’ve already pointed out a couple of times, bully sticks can be stinky, and I very much doubt if the odor can ever be truly eradicated. But if there’s one company that at least comes close, it’s Best for My Pets. The odor in these bully sticks is, if not entirely unnoticeable, at least as close to odor-free as it gets. And the company donates a portion of each purchase to dog rescuing, so it’s an ethical purchase as well.
Best Variety Pack: Pawstruck Bully Stick Variety Pack
If you’re anything like me, your house could be filled with dogs of all different breeds and sizes. If that’s the case, then the variety pack from Pawstruck could be just what you need. It contains bully sticks ranging from 5” to 7”, along with braided sticks, rings and barbells – and even a filled esophagus!
Okay, so an esophagus isn’t exactly a penis, but who cares? Dogs love them!
Fact #11: Bully sticks last a long time.
Bully sticks are one of the most durable treats for dogs. They’re also very safe, and they’ll last a long time. Because they take so long to break down, they can help your dog entertained and discourage destructiveness that can result from boredom.
Because they last so long, bully sticks can also help to reduce plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth.
Bully sticks, stored in the package, can last for up to three years. If the package is opened, re-bagging the bully sticks that your dog has not used and putting them in the freezer can extend the life of the bully sticks practically forever.
Bully Stick Bonus Fact #12: You can make your own bully stick alternatives.
Yes, you can! And you can control the ingredients that go into the bully sticks, as well as the cooking time.
All you need is a food dehydrator, or even your oven.
Oh, and a source of bull pizzle, if you don’t want to use other meat products.
A true bully stick is made from bull penis, but quite honestly, not all of us want to be handling that sort of thing. So you can make treats using muscle meat. Just take any kind of beef, chicken or pork, and cook it the way you would for you and the rest of your family. Then take it and put it in a food dehydrator and leave it for about 12 hours.
If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can use cookie sheets. Place thin slices of cooked meat on a cookie sheet, set your oven to about 250 degrees, and leave the meat overnight. In the morning, it should be very dry and chewy.
Your homemade jerky will last for several weeks in a sealed container.
So, that’s pretty much everything you need to know about bully sticks. But here’s a bonus fact!
Well, most people who have just learned about bully sticks have questions, so let’s deal with some of the ten most common ones.
1. Is it okay for dogs to swallow bully sticks?
There is nothing in a bully stick that will harm your dog. However, we don’t advise allowing your dog to chew up a bully stick to the point where there are only small fragments that your dog could choke on.
2. How long should a puppy chew on a bully stick?
As long as he likes, provided that he’s being supervised and there’s no danger of him swallowing small fragments.
3. Who makes the best bully sticks?
There are many good manufacturers. Just steer clear of those that are outside of North America and South America.
4. What is in a bully stick?
Bull penis. And sometimes flavoring.
5. Does Petco sell bully sticks?
Yes, they do. Most reputable pet stores sell bully sticks.
6. Do bully sticks make dogs hyper?
No. There is nothing in a bully stick that will cause a dog to become hyperactive.
7. What are bully sticks mixed with?
Nothing, usually, other than a bit of flavoring. They’re mainly pure bull pizzle.
8. What if my dog swallows a bully stick?
Unless he’s choking on it, it’s not the end of the world. Bully sticks are digestible.
9. Can bully sticks give my dog diarrhea?
Any food, eaten to excess, can give a dog diarrhea and other gastric upsets. Keep the bully sticks to about one per day, and you should be fine.
10. What is in a bully stick?
Why are you still asking that? Penis! Penis! PENIS! A bully stick is made of PENIS!
The Final Word
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at bully sticks. They’re great treats, made out of completely natural ingredients. They’re nutritious, delicious, and dogs love them!