The popular depiction of a dog holding a massive bone into its mouth is wired deep in our minds.
Many cartoons, movies, and commercials made sure the dog with a bone image is permanently imprinted in everyday life.
But is this idyllic image real, and most of all, is it safe? Is chewing bones something we should encourage?
In this article, we will debunk some popular myths regarding dogs and bones. We will review the different types of bones, their benefits, and risks.
Finally, we will talk about some alternative options that are actually safer than old-fashioned bones.
Do Modern Dogs Need Bones?
There is a favored misconception that eating bones is natural for dogs.
Eating bones is natural for wild dogs and wolves. These relatives of the modern dog need bones mostly to maintain normal calcium levels in the blood.
The bone marrow found inside the bones is also very nutritious, and wild dogs and wolves benefit from its rich nutrients.
When it comes to modern dogs, eating bones is not so natural.
Modern dogs, as long as fed nutritionally rich, complete, and well-balanced dog foods, do not need nutritional supplements, especially those found in bones.
However, eating bones is mentally stimulating for modern dogs. Dogs are genetically wired to chew.
Wild dogs and wolves use their teeth as weapons. Modern dogs do not need to be armed with weapons, but they are true to their chewing heritage.
All in all, dogs need bones to satisfy their natural inclination to chew. While chewing real bones is more amusing, it is also riskier than gnawing on a chew toy designed specifically for that purpose.
The Different Types Of Bones For Dogs
1. Lamb Bones
Cooked lamb bones and table scrap lamb bones are definitely not good for dogs.
However, raw lamb bones are suitable for dogs – they are heavy, large, and do not break easily. They are especially convenient for smaller dogs that are tenacious chewers.
The lamb bones are more rigid than most small bones and will definitely keep the dog occupied for quite some time.
It should be noted that not all lamb bones are equally good.
Namely, tail bones, lamb ribs, and flaps are the ideal choice. To avoid constipation, dogs should not be given more than a lamb bone or two per week.
But… Can Dogs Eat Lamb Bones?
Final verdict: YES
Explanation: Smaller dogs can be given raw lamb bones.
2. Pork Bones
Pork bones are soft and prone to cracking and splintering regardless of whether served cooked or raw. Therefore, pork bones are appropriate exclusively for tiny dogs with low chewing powers.
Another problem with pork bones and the density is their size – pork bones are tiny. If the pork bone fits into the dog’s mouth, the dog will swallow it, which may lead to gastrointestinal issues.
Plus, if instead of swallowing, the pork bone finds its way into the throat, it poses a choking hazard.
Can Dogs Eat Pork Bones?
Final verdict: NO
Explanation: Toy dog breeds and dogs with particularly weak chewing habits can be offered pork bones.
3. Chicken Bones
Cooked chicken bones are incredibly brittle and prone to cracking and splintering.
Consequently, cooked chicken bones are forbidden to all dogs, regardless of size and chewing tendencies.
Raw chicken bones can be given to puppies trying to expedite the teething phase and lose the first set of teeth. Raw chicken bones can also be suitable for weak chewers.
Raw chicken bones are small and easy to digest, making them an appropriate bone choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs and digestion issues.
Can Dogs Eat Chicken Bones?
Final verdict: NO
Explanation: Raw chicken bones can be given to puppies and weak chewers with sensitive stomachs, but only if supervised. All in all, the risks outweigh the benefits.
4. Turkey Bones
Just like chicken bones, turkey bones are too brittle, and even if given raw, extra precautions and close supervision are necessary.
They are easily digestible and not likely to cause digestive upset. However, they are linked with other risks, such as internal damage due to splintering.
Can Dogs Eat Turkey Bones?
Final verdict: NO
Explanation: Raw turkey bones can be given to puppies and weak chewers with sensitive stomachs, but only if supervised. Anyway, the risks definitely outweigh the benefits.
5. Beef Bones
Beef bones are the largest and most rigid bones you can find on the market, and therefore, they are suitable for medium and strong chewers. They are the ideal bone choice for a dog with destructive chewing powers.
There is a bit of controversy about whether cooked beef bones are safe or not. Because of their incredibly dense texture, they are not very likely to break and splinter even if thoroughly cooked.
However, there is a small risk, so it is better to stay on the safe side and offer them raw.
Can Dogs Eat Beef Bones?
Final verdict: YES
Explanation: Beef bones are hard, large, and tough to break, thus ideal for heavy, destructive chewers.
6. Kangaroo Bones
Raw kangaroo bones are the right choice for smaller dogs whose chewing powers require something more robust than the traditional raw lamb bone.
Plus, kangaroo bones come in shapes different from the typically available bones, making the chewing process more mentally stimulating and enjoyable.
Can Dogs Eat Kangaroo Bones?
7. Elk And Deer Antlers
Elk and Deer Antlers are the toughest bone choices, which is probably why their popularity is on the rise.
They are incredibly long-lasting and will provide even the most tenacious chewer with hours of entertainment. Plus, antlers are natural of better said, sustainably harvested – elk and deer shed the antlers on an annual basis.
On the other hand, they are likely to cause puncture injuries in the mouth because of their sharpness.
Elk & deer antlers are not recommended for smaller dogs – as they are strong, they can easily fracture the teeth of a little dog.
Veterinary dentists are accepting the risk associated with this type of bone and recommend close supervision.
If the antlers’ ends are becoming worn off and sharp, they should be removed and discarded. Finally, elk & deer antlers come with a hefty price tag.
Can Dogs Eat Elk And Deer Antlers?
Final verdict: MAYBE
Explanation: Elk & deer antlers are generally safe for dogs with powerful chewing potential.
8. Cow Hooves
Cow hooves used to be quite popular, but nowadays, they are going out of favor.
Although not as popular, they are still easily accessible and, for most dogs – quite enticing. However, they are too strong, even for diligent, tenacious chewers.
Cow hooves are frequently associated with fractured teeth and oral puncture injuries.
Can Dogs Eat Cow Hooves?
Final verdict: NO
Explanation: Cow hooves are too harsh for dogs.
9. Pig’s Ears
Pig’s ears are rich in nutrients, easily digestible, tasty, and offer a substantial chew time.
These facts are non-disputable. However, the fact that pig’s ears come coated makes them a bad fit for dogs. Namely, the coating is hard to digest and, more often than not, causes digestive upset.
What is more, dogs are not the only ones who find pig’s ears to be tasty – bacteria love them too. Pig’s ears harbor a variety of potentially harmful bacteria.
If, instead of chewing on them, the dog tears of whole chunks, they become a choking hazard. Finally, if you allow your dog to play with pig’s ears, it is reasonable to expect tons of greasy stains on your floor.
Can Dogs Eat Pig’s Ears?
Final verdict: NO
Explanation: Although naturally healthy, their added coating makes the pig’s ears unworthy of the potential risks.
Rawhides are a relatively inexpensive and easily available chewing options, but they are definitely less nutritious and less digestible than pig’s ears.
Rawhides are generally safe for dogs that actually chew on them. However, dogs that bite off whole chunks or tend to swallow the entire piece of rawhide are at risk of choking (if the rawhide finds its way into the windpipe) or gastrointestinal blockage (if the rawhide blocks the stomach or intestines).
Can Dogs Eat Rawhides?
Final verdict: MAYBE
Explanation: The answer depends on the dog’s chewing habits.
11. Nylon Bones
Nylon bones are not actual bones. They are toys made of durable rubber and designed to follow the real bones’ concept.
They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and hardness levels. Plus, they are often additionally enriched with certain flavors that even the pickiest dog might find enticing.
Can Dogs Eat Nylon Bones?
Final verdict: YES
Explanation: When it comes to nylon toys, there is a perfect fit for every dog.
The Benefits Of Chewing Bones
It should be acknowledged that there are certain benefits of giving dogs bones.
These are the most important pros of throwing a bone to your dog, every now and then:
- Chewing stimulates the saliva enzymes and prevents tartar accumulation which decreased the risk of dental and gum diseases
- Bones are rich in certain nutrients, especially minerals like calcium and phosphorus
- Bones serve as roughage and have a cleansing effect – promote normal intestinal motility and production of a healthy poop
- Bones can be useful in the prevention of bloat and anal gland problems
- Chewing on bones is a good alternative to destructive chewing on furniture and items – it redirects unwanted chewing habits
The Risks Of Chewing Bones
It is the general rule of thumb that cooked bones must be avoided at all costs. Cooked bones are fragile and prone to splintering which may cause life-threatening internal damage.
However, this does not mean that raw bones are completely safe. Raw bones are often contaminated with harmful bacteria.
In most cases, the dogs’ stomach acids are strong enough to destroy the bacteria but there is still a small risk of infections.
If the bone’s ends are too sharp they can cause puncture wounds in the mouth and if the bone is too hard for the dog’s teeth it may cause dental fracturing.
Finally, if a bone piece or splinter finds its way into the throat and windpipe it poses a choking hazard.
If the piece or splinter ends up in the lungs, it will trigger a life-threatening infection known as aspiration pneumonia.
Bones For Dogs – Guidance Tips And Precautions
When feeding your dog bones, take into consideration the following factors:
1. Bone Type
As already mentioned not all bones are equally safe. Different bone types are better fitted for different dogs and some bone types are not suitable at all.
If you are not sure whether a certain bone type (animal origin and anatomic location) is appropriate for your dog, do not hesitate to consult with your trusted vet or licensed dog nutritionist.
2. Bone Quality
Pre-packaged bone products are filled with preservatives.
One of the most frequently used preservatives is sulfite which if commonly ingested causes thiamine deficiencies (potentially life-threatening condition caused by lack of vitamin B1).
To avoid this issue, make sure you only fed your dog with human-grade quality, raw meaty bones.
3. Bone Preparation Method
The cooking process makes the bones more fragile and prone to splintering and also deactivates or destroys most of their nutrients.
Table scrap bones, in addition to being cooked and brittle, are seasoned and spiced and consequently even less appropriate for dogs.
In terms of splintering, raw bones are safer as they are harder and less likely to crack. However, raw bones can harbor a plethora of potentially harmful bacteria.
Finally, there are commercially available bones found in most pet stores. These bones are smoked and generally not as dangerous as cooked and raw bones. However, whenever a dog is playing with a bone, close supervision is vital.
4. Bone Size
The size of the bone should correspond with the dog’s size. If a large dog is given a small bone, it will try to swallow it whole instead of slowly chewing.
On the flip side, if a small dog is given a rather large bone it will not be able to open its mouth enough to actually chew.
5. Quantity And Frequency Of Use
Bones are not meat substitutes. They are a treat and like any other treat they should not make up more than 10% of the dog’s diet.
Simply put, large dogs can be given two pieces of bone per week, medium-sized and small dogs should be given one piece of bone per week.
Feeding your dog with too many bones or too frequently will cause constipation.
6. Pre-existing Health Conditions
Dogs prone to frequent diarrhea bouts, stomach issues, and irritable bowel should not be fed bones.
This is mainly due to the bone marrow’s high nutritional value which some dogs may find troubling and hard to digest.
7. Chewing Habits
The dog’s chewing personality is an important factor. Generally speaking, there are three types of chewing personalities in dogs:
- Inhaler – dogs with this type of personality tend to bite off huge chunks and swallow them whole. They are popularly known as “gulpers”.
- Destroyer – dogs with this type of personality destroy everything they can put their teeth on in a matter of minutes. Once they start chewing on something they do not stop until the enemy (chew treat) is completely destroyed.
- Nibbler – dogs with this type of personality know how to enjoy the little things in life. They take their time and slowly savor their chewing treats.
It is not just your dog that needs to be careful with its chewing treats. When giving your dog a bone:
- Store the bone in the refrigerator once your dog is finished with its chewing session (if there is anything left to store)
- Dispose the bone after a few days of use, preferably after three to four days
- If the bone reaches a swallowing size, get rid of it immediately.
All in all, although a bone may seem like the natural chew choice for dogs, it is not the safest one. Tasty and tempting, bones are simply not worth the risk.
It may take us a while to erase the dog and bone concept we are so dearly fond of, but considering there are far safer chewing alternatives for dogs, we must be reasonable.
Luckily, there is a perfectly safe chew treat/toy for every dog based on its chewing personality. In a nutshell, inhalers can safely play with rubber toys, rope toys, stuffed toys, and tennis balls.
Destroyers can safely play with rubber toys and edible chews & treats.
Finally, nibblers can enjoy the full specter of chew toys – rubber toys, rope toys, stuffed toys, edible chews & treats, and tennis balls.