Antlers are composed of a unique type of bone. Every year, male deer and elk sprout a new set of antlers. They start out as cartilage covered with a fuzzy skin (velvet) and are fairly soft in texture. As the antlers mature, they mineralize and turn into a bone-like substance that is primarily comprised of connective tissues, calcium, phosphorus, and water. The center of the antler is softer than the exterior.
Most veterinarians urge dog owners to not give their dogs bones to chew on, out of concerns that the bones will splinter into sharp pieces. If a dog ingests sharp bone splinters, they can tear holes in the dog’s digestive tract. Bones splinter because they are hard and brittle due to having completed the mineralization process that occurs as growth is completed. Children who fall down often suffer from “bent” bones rather than actual broken bones because their immature bones haven’t been fully mineralized and are therefore somewhat flexible and pliable. Adults have brittle bones and they don’t bend, they break.
Deer and elk grow new antlers every single year. The antlers start off as soft cartilage covered with skin and grow that way for months. They only begin to mineralize in late summer, and are considered ready for battle a month or two later. As a consequence, they do not develop the brittle consistency of mature bone. They contain more water and more flexible connective tissue than does bone, making them more flexible and less brittle, and very unlikely to break into jagged splinters.