Which Dog Bones Are Safe?
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. 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.
That said, you should always have a discussion with your vet before giving your dog new foods, bones, or chews to make sure you’re being as safe as possible.
Here’s some information you’ll need to help you determine which bones will be good for your dog and which ones to avoid.
Avoid cooked bones
Cooked bones, including those that come from table scraps, are not safe for dogs to eat. They can easily break and splinter.
Dogs who 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
- Rectal bleeding
- Peritonitis–a bacterial infection of the abdomen caused by punctures in the stomach or intestines
What about store-bought bone treats?
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.
Companies often dry these products through smoking or baking and add preservatives, seasoning, or smoke flavoring.
The dogs in the reports suffered from the following:
- Gastrointestinal blockage
- Cuts in the mouth or on the tonsils
- Rectal bleeding
- Death (in the case of eight of the dogs)
If you are considering store-bought chews or bones for your dog, it’s best to consult your vet to make sure you’re getting appropriate products for your individual pet.
What about rawhides?
Rawhide chews sometimes cause similar conditions as store-bought bone treats. The manufacturing process of these bones can leave 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
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. Always talk to your vet first.
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.
Bones with marrow are high in fat. Make sure to adjust your dog’s diet to compensate, and if your dog needs a low-fat diet, you may be better off not giving marrow-filled bones to your dog.
With raw bones and meat, there is some risk of bacterial contamination. You can reduce these risks with proper handling. Ask your vet for suggestions about the best way to safely handle and store raw bones.
Again, there are risks to giving your dog these kinds of bones, though if you follow the safety guidelines, your pup should be able to safely enjoy them.
If you’d like to give your dog a bone to eat or chew, follow these rules so they enjoy their bone safely.
- Supervise chewing. Don’t leave your dog to chew a bone alone. They may bite off too much and choke or gnaw too aggressively and cause injury.
- Throw out gnawed-down bones. If your dog chews a bone 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 bones to a dog who has had restorative dental work. These dogs are at risk for tooth breakage and dental problems.
- Do not give bones with marrow to dogs who get pancreatitis. Marrow is high in fat and can cause a flare-up or diarrhea.
- Do not give a bone to a dog who’s likely to bite it in half and swallow large chunks. You know how your dog eats. If your dog swallows food quickly rather than chewing, a bone presents a risk.
- Give the bone after a meal. A less hungry dog is less likely to chew and swallow a bone quickly.
- Don’t feed your dog bones that can be swallowed whole. This depends on the size of your dog. A small chicken bone is not safe for a Great Dane, for instance.
- Give your dog bones that are longer than the length of their muzzle. This will make it impossible for them to swallow.
- Don’t feed your dog a bone cut lengthwise. A cut leg bone, for example, is more likely to splinter.
- Don’t feed your dog pork or rib bones. These bones are more likely to splinter.
- Only let your dog chew for ten to 15 minutes at a time. This reduces the likelihood of injury.
- Refrigerate bones when not in use. Throw them out after three to four days. This reduces the likelihood of contamination.
The health benefits of bones
Chewing is a natural and important behavior for dogs. Recreational bones act like a brush and floss for dogs’ 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 who chew on bones are also less likely to scratch or lick their 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.
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.
Is it worth it to give your dog a bone?
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 parent 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. And, now you know which dog bones are safe, why not check out our guide to bad food for dogs, or our guide to feeding your puppy?
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