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This post was originally published in September 2018. It has been updated with new information and republished. Enjoy!
One of the biggest fears about raw feeding surrounds feeding raw bones. I held out on feeding raw bones to my dogs because I had a long list of fears…
- My dog will break a tooth and I won’t know about it until an abscess develops.
- The bone will splinter and puncture my dog’s esophagus, digestive tract, or stomach.
- My dog will choke on the bone.
- The bone will create a blockage.
Basically, I was afraid that my dogs would die if I fed them raw bones, despite knowing that raw bones are part of the raw diet and would help keep my dogs' teeth clean. Plus, I was assured that my dogs would LOVE to eat raw bones, so I took some steps to make sure that my dogs safely consumed their bones.
Benefits of Feeding Raw Bones to Dogs
I feed raw bones to my dogs to keep their teeth clean by scraping tartar from the tooth and flossing between the teeth (as our dogs tear at the remaining meat on the bone), but that’s not the only benefit. Feeding raw bones also…
- satisfy our dogs' chew drive, allowing our dogs to be dogs.
- calm our dogs down; it's fun to see them zone out and relax as they're chewing their bones.
- add a natural and fresh source of calcium to our dogs' diet.
- clean their teeth and freshens their breath.
- work out our dogs' neck, shoulder, and back muscles (as they chew).
Always Feed Raw Bones Under Supervision
My dogs eat their bones outside. Each dog has a space that they prefer for eating and I sit on the porch and watch them enjoy their bones. I did this initially to figure out the bones that are a good fit and which are not. I also supervised this time to make sure Rodrigo and Apollo don't steal bones from the other dogs – they can both be a dick. Now that we have a routine, I continue to supervise their time with bones for safety (you never know) and it’s wonderful to watch them being dogs. I love the sound of the crunch, I love when they zone out, I love that they love eating their bones.
Never Feed Weight Bearing Bones
Recently, I saw a tip on Facebook about feeding raw bones to dogs – the person wrote: “if the bone won’t bend over your knee, then it’s too hard for your dog to eat.” This is a great tip, however, when I thought about the bones that I give to my dogs, there are several that don’t meet this guideline, so I stick with the rule of never feeding my dogs bones that were intended to keep a 2,000-pound animal standing.
Often, I see people attribute this warning about weight-bearing bones to all animals. I don't have an issue feeding rabbit, quail, chicken, or duck leg bones because they are easy to grind, which, to me, means that they're easy for my dogs to chew up and consume.
Always Have a Back Up for Trading
If I notice my dogs are having trouble with a bone, I will offer a trade. Raw bones are a high valued treat and while most of the time if I say “drop it,” my dogs will let it go, it’s a lot easier for me and less stressful for them if I say “drop it,” and give them something as a trade.
What do I mean by “having trouble with a bone?” Glad you asked! If I noticed that when one of my dogs is eating a bone, they're trying to swallow sharp pieces, then I'll offer a trade and take the offending bone away. An example that immediately comes to mind are duck wings. Why??? Duck bones seem harmless, right? NO! They are NOT harmless (and I say this as a paranoid dog mom). After eating whole duck wings, I found big pieces of bone in my dogs' poop. Some will tell you that this is normal, for me, it's scary. The drumette doesn't break down enough for me so I grind duck wings instead.
Bones that I Feed to My Dogs
Over the years, I’ve found that the following bones work best for my dogs:
- Beef Knuckle Bones
- Buffalo Knuckle Bones
- Lamb Necks
- Duck Necks
- Duck Frames
- Rabbit Legs
- Whole Quail
- Lamb Shanks
- Pork Ribs
I don’t feed turkey or chicken necks because of Rodrigo’s poultry sensitivities (he does fine with duck and quail). And, as I stated above, because of past experiences, I don’t feed duck wings to my dogs.
Where You Can Order Raw Bones for Dogs
I order my bones through a local raw food co-op. If you don't have a co-op in your area, check out the following sources:
- Local, independent pet stores
- Local farms/homesteaders (people who raise their own meat)
- Raw Paws Pet Food
This is only a short list, there are many more sources.
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Alternatives to Bones for Dogs
Despite my list of “safe” bones (of course, this is just for my dogs) and the benefits of feeding bones to dogs, there are still going to be many reasons why someone doesn’t want to feed bones to their dogs. Some dogs can’t have them or won’t eat them. So what do we give them instead?
Alternative Sources of Calcium for Dogs
There are a lot of foods that offer calcium, however, it’s important to understand how much calcium your dog needs on a daily basis and compare that to the foods that you are considering. If I’m feeding a meat and organ only meal, I’ll often add green tripe because it offers the perfect balance of calcium and phosphorus. Of course, there is phosphorus in meat and organs too, so the diet overall isn't balanced – good thing I balance over time.
If I had to find an alternative source of calcium, I'd look to:
- Green tripe
- Organic bone meal or bone dust
- Whole food calcium supplement
What About Ground Eggshells?
I used to add ground eggshells to my dogs' diet in place of bone, however, it's not the ideal ingredient for my dogs. I'm not always able to get locally, farm-raised eggs. The grocery store eggs have been washed to clean them up and I'm not sure what was used. In an effort to remove as many toxins from my dogs' life, I avoid adding grocery store eggshells to my dogs' diet. I do save eggshells, but I use them in my vegetable and flower gardens instead of adding them to my dogs' dishes.
This is a personal choice. Not a hard and fast rule for raw feeding.
Alternative Sources of Chews for Dogs
If you’re looking for a safer chewing option for your dog, then I recommend the following:
- Real Dog Box offers a Chew Only subscription box for less than $25/month. It comes with 3 bags of chews. One box monthly offers plenty for our four big dogs and Real Dog Box offers more than just chews – so check them out.
- Monster Bully Sticks by PawStruck.com are long-lasting and I trust the sourcing.
- Monster Himalayan Chews are a great option if you don’t like the odor of bully sticks.
And if these don't work for your dog, I have a list of 28 dog chew alternatives that you can check out.