I recall several times walking into veterinary appointments and being asked what I do for my dogs’ dental health, accompanied with praise for how sparkling white they are. I smile, knowing full well what to expect when I give them my answer.
“I feed raw meaty bones once a week,” I answer with confidence and without hesitation.
It is often met with dismay and cautionary tales against feeding bones, though there have been a few rare veterinarians that approve of my choices. I’ve heard negative opinions and positive from different sources, but my personal knowledge and experience lend me to my own insights and viewpoints on the subject. Should dogs be getting bones? Or are the horror stories valid? The answer is definitely not a straightforward one. Let’s delve a little deeper.
Canines in their natural habitat eat prey, including the meat, bones and stomach contents. In fact, your pup has a biological requirement for the nutrients found in bone marrow and the bones themselves. Dogs love to chew raw bones for the yummy taste, the mental stimulation, and also because all that gnawing is a great exercise for the muscles of the jaw. They can absolutely be a safe and healthy option for your dog, provided you have some guidelines. A common thought is that as bones are natural, they are safe to feed. However by that logic, mushrooms are also natural, but some will kill you if you eat them. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that between Nov. 1, 2010, and Sept. 12, 2017, it received accounts of 90 dogs who became sick after eating commercially-available smoked or baked bone treats. Fifteen of the dogs died. There is certainly validity in the fear of feeding bones to dogs. It should also be noted, however, that not all bones are created equally.
Cooked and Roasted Bones
Bones that have been cooked should always be off limits to dogs. This is because when you cook a bone, it changes the cellular structure of it. When a bone is cooked, it becomes brittle and breaks into sharp shards and big, hard chunks. They are not easily digested if they do successfully consume them and can cause blockages. These pieces can cause damage to your dog's gastrointestinal tract and can become lodged in your dog's throats. All of these things will end up costing you a hefty vet bill to remove.
Weight Bearing Bones
Knuckle bones are another controversial bone for dogs. The knuckle is a bone designed to bear the full weight of a cow, and cows are huge animals. There is no denying this. An adult male bull can weigh up to 2,400 lbs. Meanwhile, the breed with the strongest measured bite force is a Turkish Kangal, with a bite pressure of 743 PSI (pounds per square inch). There is no general average for bite pressure in dogs as it varies between breeds, but studies done showed that it can range from 57 PSI to 743 PSI. Regardless of the statistics, the PSI generated by a dog’s bite force is clearly no match for a bone designed to bear 2,400 lbs! These bones are known to cause fractured teeth as well as pose a huge choking risk to your dogs. Knuckle bones (unless sliced into thin pieces by your local butcher) are generally in the off-limits category as well.
Short Marrow Bones
If you go into your google search and lookup “marrow bone jaw,” you will be overwhelmed by the photos of why these bones can present a problem to your dog. Marrow bones are a favorite of many dogs, and they can be safe, however, the short ones can easily become lodged around the lower half of your dogs’ jaw and require the assistance of your vet to remove. Often, removal requires anesthetizing your dog. Larger marrow bones don’t seem to present this problem as they are too long.
What Bones Are Safe?
There are two categories of bones, one being recreational and the other edible. All bones fed should be raw bones or air dried bones.
Recreational bones are bones like marrow bones, femurs, and hip bones. Recreational bones are NOT meant to be completely consumed. They offer an excellent way for dogs to exercise their jaws and clean their teeth while consuming amino and essential fatty acids.
Edible bones are soft and pliable. They are the hollow, non-weight bearing bones of birds and small animals. They can easily be crushed in a meat grinder and mixed into meals. They can be completely consumed by your dog. These bones provide calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals which can be an essential part of your pup’s balanced raw food diet.
5 Helpful Tips When Feeding Bones
Supervise your dog. Accidents with bones almost always happen when pets have been unsupervised with them. You want to be sure to keep an eye on your dog so that you may remove any potential choking hazards that come from your recreational chews. When the bone has been gnawed down to a small enough size to present a choking risk, throw it out.
Separate dogs. In a multi-dog household, bones can be a highly coveted resource. Even the best of friends will sometimes quarrel over a valuable bone. It’s better safe than sorry in this situation. Feed bones separately to prevent any brawls in your household.
Feed bones in crates or on easily cleaned surfaces. Bones are not clean eats for most dogs. They can leave stains on furniture and leave behind unhealthy bacteria that will breed and become a problem for us and our pets. Feed your bones on a surface that is easily cleaned and sanitized, and be sure to do so after every bone treat is finished.
Do not give bones to dogs with dental work
Do not give bones to dogs with a predisposition to pancreatitis. Marrow is very fatty and can cause a flare up for dogs with pancreatitis. Scoop out the marrow if you would still like your dog to reap the benefits of recreational bones.
Do not give bones to dogs who bolt food or are likely to swallow the bone whole.
Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9693626 http://pawcastle.com/dog-jaw-power-bite-strength/https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm208365.htmhttps://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evrnutritionalaspectsofbone_compositionhttps://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evrdgrawbonesorcookedboneshttps://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2010/05/19/caution-bones-can-kill-your-dog-find-out-which-ones-are-safe.aspx http://help.real.dog/products-and-food/are-bones-safe-for-my-dog