Food Guidelines

Bully Stick Treats: Delicious and Dangerous

Bully sticks, also known as pizzle sticks, are an increasingly popular treat for dog owners. Dogs love the taste and texture, and parents love their long-lasting, natural source of protein they provide. But, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding these tasty sticks of meat.

In a study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, Tufts University, researchers analyzed the bully sticks both for their nutritional values and for their potential to harbor bacteria. The team also revealed several common misconceptions about the popular chewy treats through a series of interviews to consumers and veterinarians. You might be surprised by their results!

Misconception: Bully sticks are a healthy, low-calorie snack.
Truth: Bully sticks are actually found to be very high in calories, containing between 9 and 22 calories per inch.

Researchers analyzed 26 bully sticks sold across Canada and the United States by different retailers and brands. On average, a 6-inch bully stick contains around 88 calories, that’s 9% of the daily calorie requirements for a 50-pound dog, and 30% of the daily calorie requirements for a 10-pound dog. With dog obesity on the rise, thanks in big part to the popularity of treats and chews as an easy way for pet owners to reward good dog behavior or entertain a restless pooch, pet parents need to take into consideration the extra calories these treats add to their dog’s diet, and compensate by cutting back on their food intake.

“While calorie information isn’t currently required on pet treats or most pet foods, these findings reinforce that veterinarians and pet owners need to be aware of pet treats like these bully sticks as a source of calories in a dog’s diet,” said Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, professor of nutrition at TCSVM who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.

Misconception: Bully sticks are completely safe and free from contaminates.
Truth: The popular treats are known to harbor dangerous bacteria, harmful if not handled correctly.

All 26 treats were tested for bacterial contaminants. 4% of the sticks were contaminated with Clostridium difficile; 4% were contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics; and 27% were contaminated with Escherichia coli, including one tetracycline-resistant sample.

The number of treats sampled was small and not all of these bacterial strains have been shown to infect humans. However, the researchers advise all pet owners to wash their hands after touching such treats. The very young, elderly, pregnant, immuno-compromised and other high-risk individuals should avoid all contact with the treats.

Continue to page 2 for more misconceptions and truths about bully sticks…

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53 Comments

53 Comments

  1. Avatar Of Deputy Weinerdog

    deputy weinerdog

    says:

    Great article! But the opening line leaves me a bit confused. “Bully sticks, also known as pizzle sticks, are an increasingly popular treat for dog owners.” After munching on quite afew, this dog owner doesn’t care for them. They leave a strange taste in my mouth. Am I missing something?

    • Avatar Of Marsha Henegar

      Marsha Henegar

      says:

      Laughing…

    • Avatar Of Pet Veteran

      Pet veteran

      says:

      > On average, a 6-inch bully stick contains around 88 calories

      That’s a lot to be honest! Sometimes when I don’t want to give my doggy a stick I feed him with fruits. I struggled to search for fruits that are low in calories but high in energy and I found this https://foodmer.com/most-energetic-fruits

      I tried everything but finally stopped with mix of banana and mango. Tasty but not cheap tho)

  2. Avatar Of Sharon Sharon says:

    My reason for researching this question is that my lean trim little guy has been putting on weight since I got him the bully sticks. It takes while for him to whittle one down. I knew they had calories, just wasn't sure how many. I got them to help him with tarter on his teeth. He lets me brush his canines every day which are his biggest problem. I don't want to put him under every 6 months to have his teeth cleaned and it saves me $1000 a year not having to have his teeth cleaned. At 5 years old, my 7 pound Yorkie still has a mouthful of healthy teeth and gums which is rare. He had a horrible skin condition (he was a rescue) which is going away with a raw diet. He gets probiotics daily along with some other holistic supplements. Overall he is doing well. As long as he is content, I will hold back the bully sticks for when he needs something to occupy him to keep his weight at a healthy one.

  3. Avatar Of Shawna

    Shawna

    says:

    I would just be careful with them not digesting properly. I’ve been nursing my sick pup all night and finally put the pieces together. Everytime she eats these sticks she gets sick. She seems worse this time. I’m Monitoring till the morning, I may have to
    Get her to vet :/

  4. Avatar Of Nicole

    Nicole

    says:

    I work as a vet tech and today I witnessed a 10 month old bulldog puppy vomit up two completely intact bully sticks after being pre-medicated for a routine neuter. After speaking with the owner we found out that the bully sticks had been given 2 weeks ago, but the dog had only shown some mild GI symptoms that did not raise enough concern to warrant treatment. Had it not been for these drugs making him nauseous, the treat would have likely stayed in the dog’s system much longer until it created a life-threatening situation. We x-rayed his housemate as a precaution and found that he too had large pieces of the bully stick from weeks ago still in his stomach. Always use caution and supervision when giving any type of rawhide or other animal byproduct treat. Digestibility is just as important as nutrition, and an undigested treat can quickly become a $2000 foreign-body surgery.

    • Avatar Of Maggie

      Maggie

      says:

      I don't think I'm going to give these to my dog anymore. He is a dachshund and has a tremendous urge to chew. I was watching him with this, because when it gets too small I distract him and take it away. This time it only too one minute and he swallowed the one inch piece. I induced vomiting immediately and fortunately he produced it.

  5. Avatar Of Ingrid

    Ingrid

    says:

    After reading all your concerns, a little worried myself. I buy the ‘organic’ kind and frankly, my dogs teeth is the major reason I buy them and of course the fact that the love them. I have two miniature poodles and their teeth are so clean and white after I give them one to chew, one a week only. I do know there is a risk in everything, but I thought clean healthy teeth is a good trade off, or is it?

  6. Don’t be too complacent with the safety of bully sticks. I know from experience with a one year old dog suffering from antibiotic resistant skin bacteria which has resulted in difficult skin issues that resemble Demodectic Mange. After a series of attempts to treat with antibiotics, 6 biopsies were taken and sent to the local university veterinary school for analysis. She was infected with several different bacteria, some of which were noted as antibiotic resistant. Bully sticks were flagged as a possible source. Humans are warned about hand washing after handling bully sticks. It appears that a dog’s handling of bully sticks could be equally risky.

    Consider freezing and thawing the bully stick before use to kill bacteria.

    • Avatar Of Donna

      Donna

      says:

      Freezing does not kill bacteria!

      • Avatar Of Caroline

        Caroline

        says:

        Of course freezing kills bacteria. It just does not sterilize (it does not kill ALL bacteria). For example, if you put yogurt in the freezer the acidophilus will be killed by the cold. However, if it has some ecoli in it that might not be killed off. In addition, freezing also stops the GROWTH of bacteria, which is one of the reasons why you need to freeze meat. So, it does seem that freezing your bully sticks may be a good idea. Thanks for that idea!

        • Avatar Of Brit Brit says:

          Freezing does not kill bacteria. It simply retards the growth of bacteria. Many micro organisms have defense mechanisms like entering a vegetative state or are spore forming which protect them in unfavorable environments. Sterilization is not possible unless you have the right equipment. Sterilization is the killing off of all organisms which can only be done with autoclaves, UV light, or other devices. Just because freezing retards the growth of bacteria doesn’t mean they are gone.

    • Avatar Of Wendy Wendy says:

      My dog has the same issue and we have been trying to treat him for over 2 years with no success. How did you treat the skin infection?

  7. Avatar Of Cynthia Johnson

    cynthia johnson

    says:

    This is ridiculous. Yes…bully sticks can be dangerous to your dog. Yes…you should wash your hands after handling them. But really people…do you believe everything you read on a label. Don you think all dog food is safe? Do you think organic is always organic? Do you take your dog for a walk? To a dog park? To petsmart? Do you pet it when you come home? What you are telling me is that you sanitize yourself every time you come home…change your clothes and shoes…take a shower…before touching your animal…NO YOU DONT!!!! Yes…there are risks with a bully stick…just like with everything else in this world. We cannot completely protect our pets from all things anymore than we can our children or ourselves. All we can do is be conscientious pet parents and do the best we can. I cannot give my dogs any kind of hide…rawhide or pork hide…due to them both being parvo survivors after vaccination. So what do you do with a 7 month old 75 pound puppy who likes to eat your couch? Keep buying new couches? No…I give him bully sticks. It is a choice…just like their food and treats. I make homemade treats for my babies. That is MY choice. So make up your own mind for your puppy. After all…they say a cut onion kept in the fridge becomes toxic. Guess my mom and grandma were trying to kill us our entire lives. Imagine that…here I am…still alive!!!

    • Avatar Of Raquel Raquel says:

      OMG, so true.. I do n ot know what to give my English Bulldog, and especially because he is a chewer!!!!

    • Avatar Of Michelle V

      Michelle V

      says:

      Love your comment! Exactly what I was thinking. It was also nice to read that you had a 7 month old 75 lb puppy that eats your couch as I have a 85 lb, 10 month old and a 1 1/2 yr old, 65 lb German Shepherds that likes to eat mine. It’s really not nice to read, but it’s nice to read that I’m not alone in it. Gone through 4 couches/love seats now and have realized I will not have any furniture until they are older. I am going to try these treats since I will not give them rawhide and I’ve tried most everything else. Thanks for your comment.

    • Avatar Of Michelle

      Michelle

      says:

      I absolutely agree with you? My dog loves bully sticks and she chews them properly. I had many bad experiences with my late dog around rawhide chews. When I had my late dog, I did not know about bully sticks, but his life would have been better, had I known of them. Just be sure to buy the “Stink Free,” sticks, which are (probably) safer as they have been boiled many times. If your dog swallows them in chunks, don’t give them to him/her any more. I buy large, thick sticks for my medium/small dog and let her chew a third each day. It is a little difficult for her to chew the large ones, so she has a challenge to overcome. Just make sure you supervise your dog when it chews anything other than its food.

  8. Avatar Of Linda Frieden

    Linda Frieden

    says:

    I fed my dog the USA Grass Fed Beef Bully Stick and he is sick from it.

  9. Avatar Of Jen Vazquez Jen Vazquez says:

    I just LOVE these bully sticks as they are made from grass fed, free range buffalo, which is a leaner meat! http://www.lifesabundance.com/Catalog/ProductDetail.aspx?realname=20152653&ProductID=420075(Pet_Base)

    • Avatar Of Chris C

      chris C

      says:

      There is no way in hell I would trust a food product from India. The website is allowed makes all kinds of USDA/FDA/WHO claims…free range, grass fed….in India. Yeah, ok.

  10. Avatar Of Linda B

    Linda B

    says:

    Delicious and Dangerous??…. When I found this article I was actually a little frightened until I read the whole thing. I thought for a second that I had been giving my baby a dangerous treat. Maybe.. “Bully Sticks are Great, In Moderation”. That sounds a little more appropriate. However, I did read the whole article, kudos Brandy.

  11. Avatar Of Shelley

    Shelley

    says:

    I was curious and google searched if daily bully sticks were harmful to my 8 month old collie pups. They truly enjoy the chewing part-especially one of them. I have not had or seen any trouble doing this. Their vet knows that they are on the raw food diet and they are within all normal limits of health and well-being. My suggestion is to go to Chewy.com as you can actually read ingredients of anything you feed your dog or cat. Knowledge is power!

  12. Avatar Of Nate

    Nate

    says:

    People are so ignorant when it comes to their dogs (which includes vets promoting nonsense to keep their doors revolving), that I can hardly sleep at night. That comment was a stretch (the sleeping part), but human beings cannot help but treat–and feed–their dogs like baby humans. I’m coming to realize that the thinking patterns of roughly 92.3% of the pet owner populace defy logic 99.3% of the time. Feel free to check my figures.

  13. Avatar Of Steve

    steve

    says:

    Bully sticks are a by-product since the main reason people kill a cow is for its meat. So, leather would be a by-product, bully sticks, cow tongue, etc

  14. I saw an article on Dog Food Advisor and it was said that Bully Sticks are actually made from tendons. Not sure why they would print an article with incorrect info in it. It was more or less an advertisement for the product made by a company in the USA.

  15. Avatar Of Heather Deere

    Heather Deere

    says:

    A male cow??? You meant a bull.

  16. Avatar Of Bindifry bindifry says:

    it’s SO easy & SO cheap to dehydrate your own meat. i buy a pound of fresh tilapia for 3 bucks, dehydrate & that’s it! high protein, nothing added. and FAR cheaper than stupid bully sticks that are incredibly expensive.

  17. Avatar Of Alison C.

    Alison C.

    says:

    This article is so poorly written and full of inaccuracies, I only have to go as far as the first sentence for the first one. “Bully sticks, also known as pizzle sticks, are an increasingly popular treat for dog owners.” As far as I know, they aren’t treats for dog owners, just the dogs themselves. Second, there are no such things as ‘male cows’ Male cattle are called steers, females are cows. Pizzles aren’t actually by products. My husband is a wholesale beef dealer and pizzles are sold in ethnic markets for human consumption. If the is as careful as the writing, I think my dogs will be just fine with a bully stick once in a while.

    • Avatar Of Cathy

      Cathy

      says:

      Male cattle are called BULLS. Steers used to be bulls, but were neutered. I would hope your husband knows the difference!

      • Avatar Of Lisa

        Lisa

        says:

        In the beef market, few males are bulls. Bulls are only kept for reproduction. Steer are kept as beef cattle – they are easier to handle than bulls. And while a steer is neutered he still has a penis.

      • Avatar Of Sheila

        Sheila

        says:

        Steers are also male bovines, they are neutered but they are still males. Cows are always females though most people refer to bovines generally as “cows”, even though technically/scientifically it is incorrect.

    • according to Wikipedia.org – ” Cow” is in general use as a singular for the collective “cattle”, despite the objections by those who insist it to be a female-specific term.
      If you were looking at one of these animals from a distance and couldn’t tell the gender, chances are it would be called a ‘cow’.

      • Avatar Of Sheila

        Sheila

        says:

        If you were looking at an adult bovine at a reasonable distance it’s pretty easy to tell a steer or a bull from a cow…cows have udders and male bovines have a penis that comes out of the middle of their abdomen. Pretty obvious if you know where to look. ( and if you don’t, then you should be more than a “reasonable distance”away…you should be on the other side of a stout fence, especially if that male is a bull!)

  18. Avatar Of Donald Cohen

    Donald Cohen

    says:

    So…what IS a good treat that’s safe for dogs?!

  19. Avatar Of Valerie

    Valerie

    says:

    My little guy is very picky — he wouldn’t eat these. I have found one treat he likes — they are called Minties — they are like Denta Stix but from a different manufacturer and about half the price — I’m waiting for something negative to come out about them!! LOL

    • Avatar Of Terri

      terri

      says:

      I am sure if they are anything like denta stix there is some negitive about them,. Just like the greenies, everyone thought they were great. but when a dog bites a piece off and it gets stuck in the intestines and gets blocked dogs die.

    • Avatar Of Andrea Bergstom

      Andrea Bergstom

      says:

      Haven’t looked at them. Are they made in the USA, or at least not in China? I’ll take a US bully stick over any dog treat made in China. Their pet food industry, and indeed their human food industry is mostly unregulated or if regulated, the inspection and enforcement is a joke.

  20. Avatar Of Erin

    Erin

    says:

    So… high caloric count, which just means not to feed them one every day, which I don’t. Bacteria on them that won’t harm my dog. The fact that they’re a penis, which I already knew. Yeah… if you actually know what a bully stick is then this article said nothing to stop you from giving it to your dogs. The only thing I think people freak out about is “I’m not going to give my dog a penis!” which is kind of silly because if they were wild I highly doubt they’d kill an animal and eat around the penis.

  21. Avatar Of Darlene Taylor

    Darlene Taylor

    says:

    And why would I want to contaminate my dog with these bacteria… if I feel it is unsafe for me to these things, I am certainly going to let my dog these things!!!!

    • Avatar Of Darlene Taylor

      Darlene Taylor

      says:

      And why would I want to contaminate my dog with these bacteria… if I feel it is unsafe for me to HANDLE these things, I am certainly NOT going to let my dog EAT these things!!!!

      • Great point. However, dogs are not affected by the same bacteria, in the same way, that people are. They have shorter gastrointestinal tracts and more acid in their stomachs. The bacteria present on bully sticks won’t harm a healthy dog, but it could make YOU sick if it’s contaminated.

        • Avatar Of Margaret Arnold

          Margaret Arnold

          says:

          I beg to differ where it comes to clostridium. It will and certainly DOES make dogs sick!

      • Avatar Of Naumann

        Naumann

        says:

        I didn’t notice them mention a control in their experiment. I suspect many of those bacteria present on bully sticks are present in many plae in the environment, and you come in to contact with many of them on an almost daily basis. Places like keyboards, door handles, etc. are breeding grounds for all kinds of bacteria and people don’t realize what they can carry.

      • Avatar Of Kris

        kris

        says:

        virtually every treat or kibble made contains some of these bacteria’s. dogs are not bothered by these as much as people. in fact, they are not bothered at all unless they are experiencing poor health or have some sort of chronic issue. if people would wash their hands it would not be much of an issue.

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