Surprising Misconceptions About Bully Sticks


If you’ve ever fed your dog a bully stick, you know the joy they bring! Dogs certainly love them. But you may unknowingly be adding excessive calories and potential harmful bacteria to your dog’s diet.

Researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University (TCSVM) conducted a study in 2013 to determine the caloric density and bacterial contamination of bully sticks and surveyed pet owners to evaluate their knowledge about these popular treats. The study’s findings revealed that there are definitely some widespread misconceptions. While this study is not new, we know bully sticks remain a common treat given by pet owners and want you to be informed about what you are feeding your dog.

What is a bully stick?

The study surveyed 852 adults and showed that only 44% of the general respondents knew that bully sticks are made from bull penises! Bully sticks are a raw animal-product treat. Surprisingly, the study showed 71% of people feeding bully sticks to their pets stated they avoid by-products in pet foods. Professor of Nutrition at TCSVM, Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN, states, “…bully sticks are, for all intents and purposes, an animal by-product.” While by-products are not inherently bad for your pet, the survey results illustrate that there are clear misconceptions about pet foods and treats currently on the market.

A side note about meat by-products:  The phrase meat by-product is widely misunderstood due to aggressive marketing campaigns by many meat-only pet foods in order to create a perception of quality.  The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines by-products that are allowable for use in pet foods and treats as the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals.

Examples include, but are not limited to, livers, stomachs, intestines freed of their contents, kidneys, spleens and lungs.  Bully sticks, raw hide, pigs’ ears, and other common pet treats are also meat by-products. Muscle meat alone is deficient in many nutrients, whereas meat by-products can be a valuable source of energy, vitamins, and nutrients.  There are many high-quality pet foods that include meat by-products, not as cheap fillers, but to increase the nutritional value of the feed with the goal of optimal health of your pet.  (Remember, eating habits are cultural!  Just because you aren’t interested in eating animal innards or other animal parts doesn’t mean they aren’t relished in other parts of the country or world.)  Again, meat by-products are NOT inherently bad for your pet.

Bully sticks pack a big caloric punch!

The TCVSM study tested a random subset of 26 bully sticks made by different manufacturers from retail locations in the U.S. and Canada for caloric content. Calories of the products tested ranged from 9-22 calories per inch. Ultimately, your average 6-inch bully stick would account for 30% of a 10-pound dog’s daily calorie requirements (or 9% for a 50 pound dog)!

According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA’s) article about the TCVSM study, “Dr. Lisa Freeman, who was the first author of the study, said owners could be inadvertently increasing their dogs’ obesity risk by regularly feeding them bully sticks.”

The veterinarians at Family Pet Animal Hospital are facing a growing (no pun intended) pet obesity problem. Our conversations with pet owners are very telling – in diet considerations, people often forget to factor in treats, which can be a major source of calories in a pet’s diet.

Bacterial contamination risk

All 26 bully sticks were tested for bacterial contaminants. Researchers reported the following:

  • One stick was contaminated with Clostridium difficile.
  • One stick contained methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
  • Seven sticks were contaminated with E. coli – one of which was resistant to tetracycline.

The AAHA article states, “Despite the limited sample size and the knowledge that not all of the bacterial strains are known to infect humans, researchers recommend that people wash their hands after handling treats like bully sticks that are uncooked.”  Be sure to follow safe handling instructions, such as these guidelines from the FDA.  Households with young children, elderly adults, pregnant women, or those that are immunocompromised should consider the risks carefully.

Other considerations

Our doctors here at Family Pet Animal Hospital have occasionally seen incidences of cracked teeth from bones and other hard treats, like bully sticks. We’ve definitely seen our share of diarrhea or other gastrointestinal upset from bully sticks as well.  The study referenced in this post utilized a small sample size and stated that further research was needed to determine if the caloric content and contamination rate found in the study is representative of all bully sticks. We recognize there are various preferences about what to feed your pet and simply want our pet owners to make informed decisions.


(1) Creative Commons Harvey with his bully stick” by Jelly Dude is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Knight, Kalimah Redd. “Misconceptions About A Popular Pet Treat.” Tufts University. TuftsNow, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 5 Aug. 2016.

“Study Reveals Surprising Misconceptions about Bully Sticks.” NewStat. American Animal Hospital Association, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.

Tips for Safe Handling of Pet Food and Treats.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. N.p., 12 July 2016. Web. 05 Aug. 2016.


Most Valuable Player of the Month for August 2016 – Katie Doan

Katie and ArthurWe’ve just launched a new staff recognition program at Family Pet Animal Hospital to encourage peer-to-peer recognition of staff members that embody FPAH’s core values of ethics, professionalism, empathy, energy and focus, pride, and being a team player and work to forward our mission and vision.

We are happy to announce that Katie is our Family Pet Animal Hospital Most Valuable Player (FPAH MVP) of the Month for August of 2016, chosen by Lilly, one of our Client Care Managers!  Katie joined the Family Pet team as a Client Care Coordinator in October of 2010.  She returned to school in 2014 to obtain her Associates in Veterinary Technology, graduated in late 2015, and transitioned from the “front of the house” to the “back of the house,” joining our medical team as a Certified Veterinary Technician.

We are lucky to have Katie, as she is dedicated, intelligent, funny, and always willing to help out all her fellow team members.

Question and Answer with Katie

Do you have pets?  If so, tell us about him/her/them.

Yes, I have two dogs. Arthur is a puppy mill rescue Havanese. He is the dog love of my life and just plain precious. We adopted him in 2013. It was a big victory for me as my now husband didn’t want to get a dog because he has allergies but luckily he met Arthur and also fell in love.  Byrdie is a rescue dog too that was one of the dogs that we vetted and took care of at tech school and I fell in love with her.  She is probably a Chihuahua/ dachshund mix (picture Chihuahua face/ears with doxie body).  She’s a hyper sweetie pie and she came home in 2014.

What is your favorite thing about working at Family Pet?

It is hard to choose just one thing. My coworkers are probably my favorite thing about Family Pet; client care coordinators, technicians, and doctors. We all work as a team and have a good time together too. We all have the same values and the pets we are treating get the best care because of it.

What is the moment at FPAH of which you are the most proud?

Probably September 1st 2015 when I walked into work as a technician after almost 5 years as a CCC. I worked really hard at school to become a certified veterinary technician and I was glad that I was welcomed to the treatment room side of the hospital and that everyone was excited to have me.  That meant a lot to me.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to snuggle with my dogs and watch TV, I love reading, and going out to eat with my husband.

If you could communicate with our patients, what would you most want them to know?

That I understand they are nervous and that we are only there to help them and that what I’m doing will make them feel better if they are sick or is in their best interest if there for an annual exam.  Also, I would want them to know that if they stay still, we will be done faster and then they can have a treat 🙂

What is the funniest thing that’s happened at Family Pet?

Oh jeez, I might want to save you all from these stories as most of my funny stories have to do with dog poop.

How would you spend one million dollars?

I would probably pay off my husband and my student loans, pay off our mortgage/home, and buy myself a car. Then I would take my husband on a European adventure since he has never gone abroad.

Tell us something about yourself people would be surprised to know.

I had a temporary position at The Shedd Aquarium after I interned there to raise Magellanic penguin chicks (from eggs, I saw them hatch!). I worked 60 hours a week, midnight to noon for a couple of months. It was the coolest thing I have ever gotten to do.

What would be the title of the movie about your life?

“That WOULD happen to you, Katie”

What’s your favorite activity to do with your pet(s)?

We love to snuggle together. I find myself in a snuggle-fest with my dogs at least once a day and try hard not to move so that I don’t disrupt the adorable-ness.

What is your favorite junk food?

Ice Cream is my favorite food. Period.

Congratulations, Katie!  (Katie gets to pick next month’s FPAH MVP, so stay tuned…)