By: Kayla Kowalski, Certified Canine Nutritionist
Bones have long been the quintessential dog toy/snack/do-it-all dog treat, but are bones actually safe for dogs? Also, are they good for dogs, or do they pose more safety risks than health benefits? The answer is surprisingly complicated. Some dog bones can provide your pup with several benefits, while others should be avoided altogether.
Let's strip this complex topic down to the bone and talk about when, why, and how to give your dog this treat.
Can Dogs Have Bones?
The first thing to note when discussing bones for dogs is that when we say "bones," we actually mean the meaty bits (flesh, cartilage, fat, and connective tissue) surrounding the bone. The bone itself should not be consumed. Additionally, not all bones are created equal. Some types of bones are too hard and may cause damage to your dog’s teeth. No snack is worth ending up in the oral surgeon's office.
Are Bones Good for Dogs?
In addition to the proteins and healthy fats found in most animal flesh, and the calcium in their bones, animal bones offer other health benefits for dogs, including mental stimulation and teeth cleaning.
Bones Provide Mental Stimulation
Bones are the original long-lasting treat for dogs, and they make great rewards and outlets for good behavior. Whether you want to redirect some of their wild energy or add more stimulation to their day, bones are a great way to engage your dog's brain during snack time. Choosing flavorful bones encourages your dog to work for their food, as they evolved to do.
They can also be a good distraction to give your carpet, curtains, or couch a break. As well as reducing damage around the house, bones and chews can be an excellent distraction for dogs prone to getting in the trash or hunting for "treasure" in the yard.
Bones Can Improve Dental Health
Dental disease is one of the most commonly discussed concerns at routine veterinary check-ups. It is estimated that by age two, up to 80% of our furry friends have developed periodontal disease from tartar accumulation.
To the dismay of pet parents everywhere, dogs haven't evolved to brush their own teeth. This has led humans to get creative in supporting our pups' oral health - with or without a toothbrush. Gnawing on raw bones or chews helps to scrape off surface tartar and reduce the progression of periodontal disease. The strings of meat can also act as floss, naturally cleaning gums. So, in a way, dog bones are a natural toothbrush!
Which Bones Are Safe for Dogs?
Generally, most dogs can eat the following animal bones:
- Raw chicken or duck wings
- Raw chicken or duck feet
- Raw chicken or duck necks
Raw turkey necks are also an option but should only be given to large dogs.
How to Safely Feed Your Dog Bones
Ensuring all bones are appropriately stored and handled is vital for preventing bacterial contamination, which can wreak havoc on their digestive system, causing constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting.
Raw bones should be kept in the fridge for no more than a couple of days before feeding. Alternatively, they may be frozen and defrosted (but kept chilled) before feeding. Never leave raw bones outside, as sitting out in the sun increases the risk of bacterial contamination that cause gastrointestinal distress and upset your dog’s stomach.
You should always supervise your pup when they are enjoying bones. Eating bones too fast or being startled can cause your dog to (literally) bite off more than they can chew. This can cause even the safest bones and pieces to become choking hazards or a blockage in your pup’s esophagus. You can also hold on to the bone to ensure your pup stays safe during snack time.
Which Bones (and Other Chews) to Avoid Giving Your Dog
The following bones and chews are generally considered unsafe for all dogs and should be avoided:
- Cooked bones or smoked bones of any kind: bones become brittle when cooked and risk splintering, posing a choking hazard to your pup.
- Rawhide: these are highly processed and very dangerous
- Plastic, nylon, or other synthetic bones.
- Beef ribs: these are very dense and can break teeth.
- Large weight-bearing bones (such as beef knuckle bones, marrow bones, and femur bones): these can cause broken teeth, especially in dogs that are aggressive chewers.
Dog Bone Alternatives
If your pup isn't a chewer, but you'd like them to get the mineral and protein benefits dog bones offer, try a bone broth supplement. Bone broth is a great way to add natural joint, immune, and heart support. Add it to their dog food for a nutrition boost, or mix it with water for increased hydration.
If you want your pup to get the dental health benefits of bone chewing without letting them actually chew bones, there are a couple of options for you.
If your pup isn't anti-toothbrush, you can use soft children's toothbrush to clean their teeth. Toothbrushes provide extra reach to avoid accidental biting, but gauze wrapped around your finger or silicone finger brushes can also be used. In an ideal world, we should brush our pup's teeth every day, although a minimum of a few times a week can help to decrease tartar buildup.
Dental chews are also available at most pet stores and can aid in oral health. Just make sure to choose an option with high-quality ingredients and no artificial flavors or preservatives, as these chews are sometimes more like “treats.”
Lastly, if the health benefits of dog bones are just a nice bonus and you're just looking for a nutritious, long-lasting something with all-natural ingredients, we recommend pig ears, cow ears, bully sticks, or yak chews (our personal favorite natural chew).
Are Dog Bones Bad to the Bone? Not Entirely.
Dog bones are a complex and controversial topic in the world of pet parenting. While some dog owners choose to stay entirely away from animal bones of any kind, other pet owners prefer moderation and supervision while allowing their pup to indulge in a delicious and nutritious treat.
Bones can be a beneficial addition to any pet's diet to provide a tasty treat, a mentally-stimulating activity, or a boost to their dental health. However, they can also pose certain risks if eaten too quickly or not adequately prepared. Choosing what food, snacks, and treats to give your dog can be challenging, but we're here to help. For more articles on dog health and nutrition, check out the Native Pet blog.
Kayla Kowalski is a Certified Canine Nutritionist (CertCN) who has guided over 4,000 pet parents through custom diet transitions. For more information about the safe and beneficial incorporation of bones and chews into your pet's diet, visit KaylaKowalski.com.