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  • Jo De Klerk

    Are pig ears good or bad?

    What is your take on pig ears? I’ve heard both good and bad things about them, and I can’t decide whether to give one to Tommy, my Labrador – Harry

    Thanks for your question Harry. There are plenty of pros and cons to pig ears, and to unpack them further, let’s just look into what the treat is made of first.

    Pig ears are exactly what they say they are; the ears of a pig. They are a natural dog treat, humanely harvested as a by-product after the slaughter of a pig for bacon or pork. This ensures less of the pig goes to waste.

    Once the ear has been harvested, it goes through a process of blanching in boiling water for 30 seconds, followed by rapid cooling in ice water. This removes all the remaining hair. After drying, they are then dehydrated either on a dehydration rack, in an oven at a low temperature, or in a smoker for extra flavour. This process can take between four and 24 hours, depending on which method is used.

    Because pig ears have a large hide content, they are tough to chew and require some effort to eat. With that being said, they are not as tough as cow hide, and therefore do not cause excessive abrasion on the gums. The toughness is a good thing as the continuous chewing action will remove plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth. It’s a lovely natural treat to give your dog, that has no additives or preservatives, to help with preventing dental disease.

    However, there are some major downsides too. Because of the high fat content, dogs who are struggling with their weight should not be allowed to have pig ears. Obesity is a major welfare problem, and can be linked to diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes and liver failure. Also, a large amount of fat ingestion can trigger a disease called pancreatitis, in some dogs. There have also been Salmonella contamination scares in pig ear treats. Approximately 4% of commercially produced pig ears contain Salmonella. A Salmonella infection can cause vomiting and diarrhoea in your dog, as well as in humans. Nevertheless, if you source your pig ears from reliable places, such as butchers, reputable pet stores and veterinary clinics, then they are less likely to be contaminated. Finally, since they are hard, if your dog becomes over enthusiastic about their treat, then they might swallow large bits of it which can cause obstructions.

    So, what’s my verdict? I think pig ear treats can be nutritious and delicious treats for your dog to enjoy on a moderated basis. They can be beneficial to your dog’s dental health; however, they should be offered only with supervision to avoid your dog from swallowing pieces which could cause an obstruction. They should also be avoided if your dog is still a puppy, overweight or prone to bouts of pancreatitis, but if your dog is a healthy adult dog, then you can let him enjoy the occasional pig ear.

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    Jo De Klerk

    Jo is a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, London. She has a Masters degree in Tropical Animal Health, and has spent most of her career working in mixed veterinary practice.

    Recently, she has become involved in one of the UK’s fastest growing veterinary telemedicine services for dogs and cats.

    She is a published author of several books, and enjoys working as a freelance veterinary writer around her clinical work.

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