Can dogs eat bones?
We’ve seen it countless times, a dog chewing a bone and seemingly very happy with it. But the reality is, bones pose a significant health risk to dogs and vets have often advised against them. But there is also this growing trend of giving raw bones to dogs as a form of chew treat, and some people believe that providing bones can actually have health benefits. So, what is the verdict surrounding the safety of feeding bones to dogs? The answer is not as simple as one would expect. We’ll discuss in detail the hazards that go along with giving bones to dogs, and if there are actual nutritional benefits to it.
Are bones dangerous treats for dogs?
Despite what most cartoons portray, bones pose a serious health hazard to dogs. Their gastrointestinal (GI) system is not equipped to digest bones, and this can lead to numerous health problems.
A common problem associated with feeding bones to dogs is intestinal obstruction. Bones cannot be digested and broken down by a dog’s digestive system, and if they ingest a big enough piece, it can partially or completely obstruct the intestinal tract. GI obstruction is a serious health problem in dogs that requires intensive care and oftentimes surgical intervention to treat.
Dogs with GI obstruction often will have general signs of illness like vomiting in the initial stages of the problem. Depending on where the obstruction is, the progression of symptoms can take a few hours or a few days, which can make early detection difficult. If not detected and treated early, intestinal obstruction can be fatal to dogs.
Another health hazard commonly associated with giving bones to dogs is intestinal laceration and perforation. Pieces of bone shrapnel often have sharp and pointed edges that can cause wounds, lacerations, or worse, perforation along the intestinal wall and lead to serious complications.
Lastly, feeding bones to dogs can cause tooth fractures. The pressure dogs apply to chew on hard bones, especially the large ones, can potentially crack your dog’s teeth. Tooth fractures can increase the risk of periodontal disease and can possibly cause jaw fractures.
What are the benefits of giving your dog a bone to chew on?
Feeding bones to your dog has substantial health hazards, and it’s understandable why most experts would recommend not giving bones to dogs as chew treats. But the other side of the argument claims that feeding bones can provide nutritional benefits that can help keep your dog healthy, or even help manage certain conditions.
Any nutrients a dog gets from chewing on bones don’t actually come from the bone itself, but from the tissues attached to it. Ligaments and tendons attached at the ends of long bones or surfaces of flat ones can be a great source of collagen. Collagen helps maintain healthy bone, joints, and skin. Bones also have traces of meat and fat attached to them that can provide protein and energy for dogs.
Bones can be a good source of calcium and phosphorus when ingested, digested, and absorbed, but given the risk of intestinal obstructions, it has never been recommended. However, there are ways dog owners can utilize the potential nutritional benefits of dog chews and treats while mitigating the health risks associated with them.
Lastly, bones make a great chew toy for dogs. And anyone who has had a dog knows that they love to chew on things, and sometimes they chew on a particular object for hours on end. This can keep a dog occupied for a long time and can help in cases of anxiety or stress.
Safe Ways for Your Dog to Chew on a Bone
It’s undeniable that bones have serious health risks when given to dogs. However, it has also been proven that bones can be a great source of nutrients, especially if given regularly. Surely there must be a way for dog owners to take advantage of the untapped nutrients and not risk the health of their canine buddy at the same time.
Thankfully, dogs can be given bone chews with minimal health risks, but it has to be done properly. As a general rule, dog owners should avoid giving cooked bones. Contrary to what most people think, cooked bones can be more hazardous than raw ones. Sure, cooking the bone before giving them to dogs will kill any pathogenic bacteria that may be present on the surface, but the cooking process will soften the bone.
A cooked bone will be significantly easier for dogs to break into smaller pieces. This can lead to serious health problems like intestinal obstruction, laceration, and perforations. Leakage of abdominal contents can happen in cases of intestinal perforations and can lead to peritonitis, a very serious and often fatal health problem in dogs.
Raw bones, on the other hand, retain their strength and integrity and will be harder for dogs to break by chewing. But the size of the bone should be large enough that the dog will not be able to physically swallow it whole. Even if they aren’t able to break it into smaller pieces, if there’s a chance for them to swallow the whole bone then the risk of obstruction remains.
Raw long bones, such as humerus or femur, from large livestock animals like cows or pigs can be ideal bone chews for your dog. They’re big enough that your dog can’t swallow them whole and they’re hard enough that they cannot be broken or chewed into smaller pieces. Avoid giving bones from small animals such as chicken or turkey as these can easily be swallowed or broken.
As with everything else, it’s best to consult your vet first to determine if feeding bones is safe and ideal for your dog.
Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s food, treats, or another condition?
Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.