Is It OK To Give My Dog A Bone? Which Bones Are Safe For Dogs?

Dog eating bone on floor

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You’ve probably heard that dogs love to chew on bones. You’ve probably also heard that bones are dangerous for dogs. With all the contradictory information out there about feeding bones to dogs, it’s important to be able to sort out what the facts are, including both the health benefits and risks. The fact is that giving your dog a bone can be very dangerous, or, if you’re well-informed and follow some simple rules, it can be safe and even good for your pup. Here’s the information you need to help you determine which bones will be good for your dog and which ones to avoid.

Bones To Always Avoid

Dog with Thanksgiving turkey

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Bones that are cooked, including those that come from table scraps, are not safe for dogs to eat. They can easily break and splinter. Dogs that eat cooked bones may suffer from the following:

  • Broken teeth
  • Mouth or tongue injuries
  • Bones looped around the lower jaw
  • Windpipe, esophagus, or gastrointestinal blockage
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Peritonitis–a bacterial infection of the abdomen caused by punctures in the stomach or intestines
Retriever with bone chewing isolated

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Additionally, the FDA warns that commercially available bone treats, which are often processed and differ from the bones you might receive from a butcher, may present similar dangers and cause illnesses in dogs. In 2015, the FDA received 35 reports of dogs suffering from a variety of conditions related to commercially available bone treat products including Ham Bones, Pork Femur Bones, Rib Bones, and Smokey Knuckle Bones. These products are often dried through smoking or baking and can contain preservatives, seasoning, or smoke flavoring. The dogs in the reports suffered from the following:

  • Gastrointestinal blockage
  • Choking
  • Cuts in the mouth or on tonsils
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Death (in the case of eight of the dogs)
USA, Illinois, Metamora, Dog bone on kitchen floor

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Rawhide chews sometimes cause similar conditions. The manufacturing process of these bones leaves them with trace amounts of toxic chemicals, and they have the potential for contamination with Salmonella or E. coli. These chews can cause digestion problems, as well as blockages. Additionally, artificial dog chews can contain gelatin, artificial sweeteners, and other additives and preservatives that may be toxic or cancer-causing. Avoid chews with these ingredients.

Bones To Give Your Dog

Border collie gnawing on raw meat bone

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Most raw bones that have not been cooked are edible for dogs. Raw chicken, turkey, lamb, or beef bones are soft enough to chew, eat, and digest. That said, with all bones, there is a risk of choking if your dog swallows without thoroughly chewing, and bones that are too hard can cause damage to the teeth. As long as you follow the safety guidelines below, these bones should be fine.

Chocolate Labrador with big Bone

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Recreational bones are not designed to be edible, but rather chewed by dogs. These can include large femur or hip bones from bison or beef and are filled with marrow. These bones may have meat, cartilage, or soft tissue still attached. You can usually find these at your local butcher. Again, there are risks to giving your dog these kinds of bones, though if you follow the safety guidelines, your pup can safely enjoy them.

Safety Guidelines

If you’d like to give your dog a bone to eat or chew on, you’ll need to follow these rules to make sure that your dog enjoys their bone safely.

  • Supervise your dog. You can’t leave your dog to chew a bone alone. They may bite off too much and choke or gnaw too aggressively and cause mouth injury.
  • Throw out gnawed down bones. If your dog chews a knuckle bone, for example, down to the brittle part, splintering becomes a problem. Additionally, a bone that has been chewed down too small becomes a choking hazard.
  • Do not give a bone to a dog that has had restorative dental work. These dogs are more at risk for tooth breakage and other dental problems.
  • Do not give a bone with marrow to dogs that are susceptible to pancreatitis. Marrow is high in fat and can cause a flare up or diarrhea.
  • Do not give a bone to a dog that is likely to bite it in half and swallow large chunks. You know how your dog eats. If your dog is more interested in swallowing food quickly rather than chewing, a bone may present a risk.
  • Give the bone after a meal. A dog that is less hungry is less likely to chew a bone and swallow it quickly.
  • Don’t feed your dog a bone that can be swallowed whole. This will depend on the size of your dog. A small chicken bone may not be safe for, say, a Great Dane.
  • Give your dog a bone that is longer than the length of their muzzle. This will make it impossible for them to swallow.
  • Don’t feed your dog a bone that has been cut lengthwise. A cut leg bone, for example, may be more likely to splinter.
  • Don’t feed your dog pork or rib bones. These bones are more likely than other bones to splinter.
  • Let your dog chew for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. This will reduce the likelihood of injury.
  • Refrigerate bones that are not in use. Throw them out after three to four days. This will reduce the likelihood of bacterial contamination.

The Health Benefits Of Bones

Border Terrier chewing on a raw bone, front view

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Chewing is a natural and important behavior for dogs. Recreational bones act like a brush and floss for dog’s teeth. The sinewy bones break tartar down and reduce gum disease, cleaning the teeth. Chewing also stimulates the production of saliva enzymes, which prevent plaque buildup. Dogs that chew on bones are also less likely to scratch or like their own paws.

Raw bones are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals. They have benefits to the digestive system, including strengthening the stomach muscles, preventing bloat, fostering healthy bowel movements, and preventing anal gland problems.

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In addition to physical health, chewing has the benefit of mentally stimulating dogs. This can actually reduce anxiety, which is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

As to whether the health benefits outweigh the risks of feeding your dog bones, many veterinarians disagree on this issue. Ultimately, the choice is yours as the owner of your dog. Some advocate grinding bones into a powder to be sprinkled over food, which can provide the minerals from bones to your dog’s diet without the risks of choking or other complications. This does, however, also eliminate the benefits of chewing. When going over the pros and cons, you should do your research and discuss these issues with your veterinarian before you decide to give your dog a bone.

Does your dog enjoy chewing on recreational bones? Do you ever feed your pup raw, uncooked bones? Let us know in the comments below.

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