We believe that raw, meaty bones play an important role in providing our dogs with balanced nutrition, mental stimulation and pure happiness.
Ripping and chewing raw meaty bones is a great muscle-building activity for a dog – it builds a strong neck and spine. Bones also act as a fantastic toothbrush – especially a meaty one with cartilage and soft tissue still attached, as the teeth get the equivalent of a good brushing and flossing. This helps to break down tartar and reduces the risk of gum disease
But any old bone won’t do. In fact, the type of bone you give your dog matters an awful lot. Choose the right bone and you’ve given your dog an afternoon of fun activity. Choose the wrong bone and your dog could end up in the emergency room.
Bones can be dangerous and have been known to cause problems, severe in some cases: from fractured teeth, esophageal or intestinal obstruction, to vomiting and constipation.
Bottom line: You need to choose a bone that matches your dog’s size and chewing habits.
So let’s get started on the do’s and don’ts around feeding bones.
- Dogs should never eat cooked bones because they can splinter which could lead to choking or internal injuries. Cooked bones include boiled, fried, baked smoked or braaied bones. The heating process render bones brittle, hard and in most cases indigestible. This could also result in sharp, dangerous fragments. Besides, the heating process destroys most of the nutritional value.
- Make sure you know whether the bone you feed is a non-edible bone (e.g. beef/venison marrow bone), or an edible bone (e.g. pork/venison shoulder bone).
- A non-edible marrow bone can never be too big, but it can be too small – for example a large breed could attempt to swallow a solid piece of marrow bone because he/she reckons it’s small enough to get down.
- An edible bone must be matched to a dog in size – never give a small dog a large pork knuckle bone as the dog may not stop eating when he/she should.
- Should you have a number of dogs, best separate them before feeding bones and only if you’re going to be around to intervene if necessary, lest a brawl breaks out.
Here is a guide on what bones to feed and what to look out for.
Non-edible bones, e.g. beef or venison marrow bones:
- Know your dog, which means supervise him/her until you know how he/she behaves with this type of bone. If they chew the bone obsessively, you may need to step in to remove it after a while, to avoid your dog breaking his teeth or ending up with bleeding gums.
- This type of bone can never be too big, but it can be too small. These bones are for gnawing on, not swallowing. Therefore, make sure you give your dog the appropriate size that he/she cannot swallow it. A good rule of thumb is to match the bone size, to the size of the dog’s head. Anything smaller than his/her head is a no-no.
- This type of bone should never be fed to dogs with pancreatitis as the marrow is too rich/high in fat and entirely unsuitable for this condition.
Such as Pork leg and shoulder bones & Venison shoulder bones – these are found in the spinal column, ribs, pelvis and shoulder. These are softer than long (marrow) bones and don’t contain as much marrow. These bones can be chewed down / ingested.
- Because it can be eaten, make sure the size of the bone matches the size of the dog. If you have a small dog, never allow him/her to finish a whole pork bone, for example. Remove the bone when some has been eaten away.
- When feeding part of an edible bone to your dog, he/she should skip a meal. In other words, this bone will be offered instead of a meal.
- Remove any sharp pieces, should these form due to the bone being eaten down.
Chicken / Duck Bones
Chicken / poultry bones have always been given a bad rap – we have all heard that chicken bones splinter and are a choking hazard. The fact is that raw chicken bones are soft and pliable. It is when chicken bones are cooked that the density and structure changes, resulting in them being brittle and splintering easily.
- Chicken / duck wings and necks are great to feed small & medium breeds, or fussy eaters. Always instead of a meal.
- Chicken / duck carcasses are another handy alternative meal, and something that will keep your dog busy and stimulate him as he sets about taking the bird apart. But watch your dog and observe what he does with a carcass. Does he chew it down or try and get it all in at once? If he’s a ‘gobbler’, rather give him smaller pieces as to avoid the possibility of choking.
When you look at a dog’s anatomy and physiology, it is obvious that they are designed to digest raw bones. They have large canine teeth and strong jaws to crush bones, and their digestive track is much shorter than a human’s so that the food reaches the highly acidic stomach environment (for protein digestion) a lot quicker.
Yet, as we said earlier, for some dogs any amount/type of bones could have an undesired effect, even if fed raw. To know if this is your dog, you’ll have to watch him and get to know how he behaves with bones.
Further recommended reading:
- Article by Jodie Gruenstern, DVM, CVA, published on the Innovative Veterinary Care website.
- Article by Dana Scott from Dogs Naturally Magazine
- Article by Brenna Davis from The Nest
- Article by Dr Karen Becker, well known veterinarian specialising in pet nutrition