Are Dog Bones Safe?

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Are Dog Bones Safe?” is the question with no one answer.

If you ask ten vets if it is safe to give your dog a bone, you may hear several different answers.

I was having coffee with a friend who has two Belgium Malinois that she competes in agility trials and who have placed several times.

While talking about our dogs, she mentioned that she had to hit the local butcher shop to get her pups some bones.

This comment started us down the road of the pros and cons of giving your dog a bone, primarily on whether or not they are safe and if the benefits of bones out weight the risks.

I went home that afternoon and did some research to find out if bones are safe for dogs.

Quick Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Clean Teeth
  • Keeps Your Dog Busy
  • Possible Nutritional Benefits
  • Dogs Love Them

Cons:

  • Intestinal Issues
  • GI upset
  • Dental Problems
  • Death

Are Dog Bones Safe?

As dog parents, I feel that should always be the first question, is it safe?

And unfortunately, the answer to the question “Are Dog Bones Safe” varies based on who you talk to and the type of bone you are considering giving your dog.

Some vets will say that there is no type of bone safe to give your dog, whereas others say it is a safe chew option for your dog as long as you choose the right kind of bone.

Bones are fully digestible, which is a bonus when you consider other options such as rawhide which isn’t easily digestible, or Nylabones, which are not digestible.

The most common risk of giving your dog a bone is that it can cause internal blockages if your dog bites off a piece too large.

Additionally, bones can have sharp edges, so internal punctures and lacerations are also serious concerns.

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Other issues include broken teeth since bones are hard and can cause breaks or cracks, both of which are painful for your dog.

Also, raw bones carry the risk of bacterias such as salmonella, E.coli, and listeria.

Types of Bones

The type of bone you choose to give your dog is a significant factor. Some bones, especially poultry and rib bones, can easily splinter and are often far too small.

Chicken and Turkey Bones

Most vets say no, but it is usually not the end of the world if your dog gets one by accident.

If your dog has taken the time to chew it and not just swallowed the whole bone, the bone will likely be digested before it causes issues.

However, if your dog scarfed the bone down after a quick chomp or two, it may cause issues due to pointy or sharp edges. Additionally, poultry bones can be a choking hazard.

Keep in mind that turkey bones are larger than chicken bones and may be of greater concern.

But overall, they are not a type of bone that is ever recommended.

Beef Bones

Beef bones usually come in a few different forms, knucklebones, femur bones, and shank bones.

Most vets say that knucklebones and femurs are the best options

Bones with Holes

And bones with holes like shank bones need to be large or small enough that they will not be able to get over your dog’s canine teeth to avoid it getting stuck on their upper or lower jaw.

Venison Bones

Venison bones are smaller than beef bones but carry many of the same benefits and risks.

Are Raw or Cooked Bones Better?

In addition to the type of bone, whether it is cooked or not plays a significant role in the safety of the bone.

Most raw bones given to dogs to meet your dog’s chewing needs are usually beef bones. 

  • Cooked Bones – It seems that the majority of the vets agree that cooked bones pose a greater danger in splintering than raw bones. Cooked bones include boiled, roasted, and smoked.
  • Raw Bones – Though it is possible, most raw beef bones are less likely to splinter.

Most vets will all agree that beef vertebrae bones are too pointy to safely give your dog regardless of if they are cooked or raw.

Other Factors to Consider Before Giving Your Dog a Bone

Another thing to consider is the type of chewer, aggressive or lighter chewers. Some dogs are too aggressive for most bones and can damage their teeth. 

Also, some dogs want to scarf down the bone as fast as possible, making bones, not a safe option.

For pups looking to chew and gnaw patiently on their bone, then bones are generally a pretty safe choice.

In addition to the dogs that eat the bones too quickly, dogs with GI issues or those at a higher risk for health issues such as older or young puppies bones may not be the best option.

And when it comes to bones, size matters. Dr. Karen Becker recommends that if you give your dog a bone, you choose one approximately the size of your dog’s head to avoid issues such as choking and swallowing chunks that are too large[1].

The bottom line is that every year dogs die from complications caused by chewing on bones.

Benefits of Giving Your Dog a Bone

Are there benefits to giving your dog a bone?

Absolutely! For dogs, chewing is an essential part of their life.

Chewing on bones can help keep their teeth and gums healthy.

Plus, raw bones offer some nutritional benefits, such as their calcium and phosphorous content.

Bones also help keep your dog busy, which can be pretty helpful at keeping bored or anxious dogs out of trouble.

And chewing helps alleviate frustration and releases endorphins.

Things to Remember

If you choose to give your dog a bone, it is essential to always monitor your dog when they are chewing.

Bones are not a good option to offer when you are heading out the door or aren’t available to take the bone away if it gets too small.

Additionally, if you give your dog a raw bone, it is vital to take certain precautions to reduce the chances of contamination.

For example, when I give my girls bones, I put down a towel so that the bones aren’t touching the carpet. And I wash the towels after each use.

Also, when the girls are done chewing on their bones, I wipe off their mouths and paws to reduce bacteria transfer from the raw bone.

I buy the largest ones possible and only allow them to chew for 30 minutes and then refreeze the bones. The bones are only chewed on three times or less, depending on how fast they are chewing them up.

Once the bones are small enough to fit the whole thing in their mouth, I get rid of it.

When choosing the right bone, I avoid the ones with sharp points and, when available, will get a whole knuckle bone.

Final Thoughts

Like most things, bones come with a risk, and in this case, bones come with more significant risks than some other chew options.

In seven years, the FDA had reported 90 cases of dogs who became sick due to chewing bones[2], and of those 90 dogs, 15 died.

What it all comes down to, is it worth the risk? Only you can decide that for your dog.

FAQs

What Types of Natural Bones are Safe for Dogs?

No bone is 100% safe, but some are safer than others, such as raw beef knucklebones.

Are Dental Bones Safer Than Natural Bones?

Dental chews such as Greenies and Zukes are often considered safer than natural bones. They do not run as high of contamination risk and will not splinter, plus they are 100% digestible.

Resources

  1. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_dg_raw_bones_or_cooked_bones
  2. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/no-bones-or-bone-treats-about-it-reasons-not-give-your-dog-bones
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