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This is a question that comes up a lot in raw feeding. People who are new to raw feeding or who have been drinking the Anti-Raw Koolaid ask if bones are safe for dogs. I've covered this topic several times on my blog and will probably be covering it a lot more in the future because it's important.
Past Blog Posts About Raw Bones for Dogs
- Raw Dog Food | This Week I Learned About Weight Bearing Raw Bones
- Still Learning to be Comfortable with Raw Bones for Dogs
- 3 Ways to Feed Raw Meaty Bones without the Mess
Can Dogs Eat Bones?
Yes! No! Maybe!!!
Dogs can eat raw bones. Cooked bones are dangerous for dogs and should be avoided. When bones are cooked, they become harder and can break a dog's teeth, which can lead to health issues down the line if we don't immediately notice that our dogs are rocking a tooth injury. Cooked bones also break down into sharp pieces as they're chewed that can puncture the esophagus and digestive tract, which requires emergency surgery to correct or else the dog will die.
Sounds a bit dramatic right? That's because it is.
I have met people who say “I've fed my dog steak bones all his life and he never had a problem.” If someone like that is in your life, close your eyes and plug your ears while shouting “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” as you run away.
Raw bones, however, are softer and easier for dogs to chew. But they're not always safe. I've learned that it's important to understand a dog's chew style and monitor my dogs when they're eating bones to keep them safe.
Raw Bones and Strong Chewers
Rodrigo is a strong chewer. It's like he's on a mission to destroy everything in seconds. Because of his destructive nature, I was very careful about introducing raw bones to my pack. I monitored each chewing session to learn how my dogs chewed their bones and make a list of Safe vs. Non-Safe bones.
Safe Raw Bones
These are the raw bones that are safe for my dogs to enjoy. They don't splinter, my dogs don't try and swallow whole chunks, and my dogs don't chew so hard that they risk a broken tooth.
- Duck, Turkey, and Lamb Necks
- Beef Knuckle Bones
- Beef Knee Caps
- Beef Marrow Bones
Why Some Raw Bones Are Dangerous for My Dogs
When it comes to leg bones, I have been tempted every time to end the embargo, but then I remember the shards when Rodrigo was going to town on a bone. My dogs did great at first – tearing off the meat and gnawing on the cartilage. It was when Rodrigo took a huge bite into the bone that I realized that they're not safe for my dogs. He tried to swallow a long, sharp bone piece and that action landed these bones on the Non-Safe list in our house.
The first time I gave my dogs rib bones, I regretted it instantly. The bones broke into long shards and the dogs weren't biting them into smaller pieces. Instead, they were trying to swallow them down. Nope! Not going to happen. I took them away and gave the bones to someone who had dogs who chewed them into small pieces.
I love giving my dogs beef marrow bones, but they do come with a warning. The marrow (which the dogs love) is fatty and rich and can lead to vomiting and diarrhea if dogs are fed too much. Slowly introduce your dog to marrow bones, especially if they have GI issues. And dogs prone to pancreatitis shouldn't consume marrow bones.
Benefits of Feeding Raw Bones to Dogs
Veterinarians warnings and experiences of other dog parents that I've read about have led me to be very careful about giving my dogs raw bones. Please don't allow fears associated with feeding raw bones to your dog to lead you to remove this nutritious component to your dog's diet.
- Raw bones are a natural source of calcium and phosphorus to support a dog's skeletal structure.
- Raw bones naturally keep a dog's teeth clean and white. The tearing of the meat from the bone flosses the teeth while gnawing on the bone scrapes tartar from the teeth.
- Raw bones satisfy a dog's chew drive and reduce behaviors brought about by anxiety. A 30-minute chew sessions with raw bones help calm and relax my dogs.
- Raw bones help a dog feel full. None of my dogs will turn down food, but Rodrigo and Zoey are notorious beggars. Raw bones help satisfy their craving for food.
How to Safely Feed Raw Bones to Your Dog
- Take the time to learn what bones work best for your dog's chew style.
- Always feed your dogs bones under supervision so that you can step in and take away the bone if you fear that it may not be the right bone for your dog.
- If your dog isn't keen on allowing you to take away his/her bone, have alternative bones or other treats on hand so that you can trade if you need to take away a bone.
- Never feed a hungry dog bones; instead, feed them as a snack. This will prevent them from trying to swallow the bone whole because they're so hungry.
- Avoid pork bones and rib bones – these are the bones that are most likely to splinter and injure your dogs.
- Feed your dog in a place that is easy to clean – in a crate, outside (always under supervision), or on a thick towel. The bone can become a mess in no time and you don't want to ruin your carpet or rugs.
- Some dogs become territorial when they have raw bones so allow your dogs to eat with some distance from each other. Each of my dogs has a space Inside and Outside that's their “chew spot” and it never changes.
- I don't think it's a good idea to give puppies recreational bones; their puppy teeth are too soft. Instead, I give puppies raw meaty bones like duck necks – holding on to them to make sure they understand not to swallow them whole.
- If your dog has an underlying health issue, like bad teeth or pancreatitis, feeding raw bones may not be an option. Speak with your holistic vet (one experienced in raw feeding) about your options.
Shopping for Raw Bones for Dogs
I buy the following bones for my dogs:
- Duck Necks
- Lamb Necks
- Beef Knuckle Bones
- Beef Knee Caps
Most of the bones I buy for my dogs are purchased through a local raw food co-op. You can buy them from local farms, meat distributors, local butchers, or from the following brands:
- Vital Essentials Raw – beef knee caps
- Raw Paws Pet Food – beef neck bones, duck neck bones, turkey neck bones, beef marrow bones
- Primal Pet Foods – beef marrow bones, turkey neck bones
- Darwin's Pet Food – beef marrow bones, duck neck bones
There are more raw food brands that offer recreational and raw meaty bones; I have been happy with bones purchased from the brands in the above list.
I am not a veterinarian or a certified dog nutritionist.