Are Bones Safe for Your Dog?

The Truth Behind the Tradition

By Dr. Becker – Source

It’s a classic image: a dog happily chewing on a bone. But the FDA is sounding the alarm, warning that this well-established practice could actually be dangerous and potentially fatal for your furry friend.

“Some people believe that giving dogs large bones, like those from a ham or a roast, is safe,” explains Dr. Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “But bones, regardless of their size, are never safe. Giving your dog a bone could lead to an unexpected trip to the veterinarian, emergency surgery, or even a tragic outcome.”

While the FDA doesn’t specify whether their warning applies to all bones or just cooked ones, for the purpose of this article, we will assume they are referring solely to bones from cooked food.

The Risks of Cooked Bones

The cooking process renders bones more brittle, increasing the risk of splintering and causing internal injuries to your dog. Additionally, cooking removes the nutritional value of the bones. According to the FDA’s April 20, 2010 Consumer Update, here are the dangers associated with giving your dog a cooked bone to chew:

  • Broken teeth: This may require expensive veterinary dentistry.
  • Mouth or tongue injuries: These injuries can be messy and bloody, often necessitating a trip to the vet.
  • Bone loops around the lower jaw: This can be painful for your dog and costly for you, as it usually requires a veterinary visit.
  • Bone gets stuck in the esophagus: Your dog may gag and attempt to regurgitate the bone, requiring immediate medical attention.
  • Bone gets lodged in the windpipe: This is an emergency situation that can lead to difficulty breathing. Contact your veterinarian without delay.
  • Bone gets trapped in the stomach: Although the bone passed through the esophagus with ease, it may be too large to exit the stomach and move into the intestines. Depending on the size of the bone, your dog may require surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy to remove it.
  • Bone gets obstructed in the intestines: This blockage may require surgical intervention.
  • Constipation due to bone fragments: The sharp fragments can cause severe pain and difficulty passing through the large intestine or rectum, potentially leading to a visit to the veterinarian. Bones are also high in calcium, which can harden stool.
  • Severe bleeding from the rectum: This is a messy and dangerous situation. Seek immediate veterinary care.
  • Peritonitis: When bone fragments puncture your dog’s stomach or intestines, it can result in a life-threatening bacterial infection. Your dog needs urgent veterinary attention, as peritonitis can be fatal.
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Are Any Bones Safe for Your Dog?

Raw bones can be safe and beneficial for your dog if you follow certain guidelines, which I will discuss shortly. Dogs’ wild ancestors and counterparts have historically consumed bones as part of their diet, including the meat, bones, and stomach contents of their prey. In fact, dogs have a biological need for the nutrients found in bone marrow and bones themselves.

Dogs love chewing on raw bones for the delicious taste, mental stimulation, and the exercise it provides their jaw muscles.

Two Categories of Raw Bones

At Hook’d Up Bar and Grill, our veterinarians recommend categorizing bones into two types:

  1. Edible bones: These are the soft, pliable bones of birds, such as chicken wings and chicken or turkey necks. They do not contain marrow and can be easily crushed. Edible bones provide essential calcium, phosphorus, and trace minerals for your dog’s balanced raw food diet.
  2. Recreational bones: These are large beef or bison femur or hip bones filled with marrow. They do not offer significant dietary nutrition but provide mental stimulation and contribute to your dog’s oral health.

When your dog chews on a raw recreational bone, particularly one with cartilage and soft tissue, it acts as a natural toothbrush and floss. This helps prevent tartar build-up and reduces the risk of gum disease. Dogs in the wild exhibit excellent dental health due to the extensive chewing required by their natural diet.

Guidelines for Safely Feeding Recreational Bones

The health risks associated with cooked bones also apply to raw recreational bones if your dog has unrestricted access to them. Here are some do’s and don’ts for feeding your dog raw bones (remember, they must be raw, not steamed, boiled, or baked):

  • Do supervise your dog closely while they chew on a bone. This way, you can quickly react if your dog chokes or if you notice any signs of excessive gnawing leading to bleeding.
  • You should also be conscious of when your dog has chewed down to the hard, brittle part of a knuckle bone, as splintering becomes more likely. Discard the bone when it becomes small enough for your dog to swallow.
  • Do separate dogs in a multi-dog household before giving them bones. Dogs can become territorial and may fight over bones.
  • Do provide fresh raw bones in your dog’s crate, on a clean surface, or outside where you can supervise. Raw bones become greasy and messy until your dog has finished gnawing on them, so it’s important to protect your furniture and floors.
  • Don’t offer bones to dogs with restorative dental work or dental crowns.
  • Don’t give bones to dogs prone to pancreatitis. The rich marrow in raw bones can trigger diarrhea and exacerbate the condition. Instead, remove the marrow to reduce the fat content before feeding.
  • Don’t give recreational bones to dogs that attempt to swallow them whole or bite off large chunks.
  • To prevent accidents, choose raw knuckle bones in sizes that your dog can’t crack off and swallow. You can find these bones labeled as “soup bones” at your local butcher shop or supermarket. Store them in the freezer and thaw one at a time before feeding. It’s best to offer a bone after your dog has finished a meal to reduce the likelihood of swallowing it whole or breaking it into large pieces, which increases the risk of digestive tract obstruction.
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Additionally, avoid feeding small bones that can be swallowed whole or pose a choking hazard, as well as bones that have been cut, such as leg bones, as they are more prone to splintering. Pork bones and rib bones are also more likely to splinter and should be avoided.

A Healthy Alternative: Edible Dental Bones

If circumstances prevent you from offering raw bones to your dog, consider a softer alternative: high-quality edible dental bones. These fully digestible chews provide mechanical abrasion to control plaque and tartar build-up, mimicking the effect of eating whole, raw food in the wild.

Many popular chew bones are indigestible, and if your dog swallows one whole or a large portion of it, there is a risk of intestinal blockage. Furthermore, traditional dog chews often contain unhealthy ingredients like gelatin, artificial sweeteners, and other additives and preservatives, which may have cancer-causing properties.

We highly recommend opting for a premium dog dental bone that is 100% natural, containing no corn, soy, gluten, extra fat or sugar, or animal byproducts.

Whether you choose raw bones, high-quality dog dental bones, or a combination of both, the key is to remember that your furry family member instinctively needs to chew. Ensure they have regular opportunities to brush and floss their teeth as nature intended while exercising their jaw muscles.

For more information on dog-friendly dining and entertainment, visit Hook’d Up Bar and Grill.