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To Bone or Not to Bone: What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Feeding Bones

January 3, 2024

Feeding bones to dogs is a topic surrounded by both enthusiasm and caution. The image of a dog joyfully gnawing on a bone is almost iconic. However, is it safe? Are there benefits? What are the potential risks? This article will explore these questions in detail, providing a balanced view of the subject.

The Historical Perspective: 

Feeding bones to dogs is a practice rooted in the evolutionary history of canines. Wild canines like wolves consumed bones as part of their diet, obtaining essential nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus. As dogs were domesticated, their diets changed, and humans provided food, reducing the necessity for bones. However, the instinctual desire and dietary need for bones may still exist in some dogs. 

Throughout history, feeding bones were considered normal in many cultures and reflected the natural behavior of wild ancestors. In modern times, this practice has become contentious, influenced by concerns about health risks and the rise of commercial pet food. 

The historical context offers valuable insights but doesn’t provide a definitive answer. Whether or not to feed bones to a domestic dog is a nuanced decision, dependent on individual needs, breed, and health. Understanding this history allows for an informed choice that considers both the natural dietary history of dogs and modern health considerations.

Types of Bones: 

When considering feeding bones to dogs, it’s important to recognize the various types of bones available, as each type presents its benefits and risks. 

Raw Bones: Raw bones can be divided into meaty bones, such as chicken necks or lamb ribs, which provide both nutrition and chewing satisfaction, and recreational bones, like large beef or bison bones, meant for gnawing, not consumption. 

Cooked Bones: Cooked bones come in two categories: home-cooked, which can splinter easily, presenting choking hazards, and commercially prepared bones, often heat-treated to kill bacteria but still potentially splinter-prone. 

Bone Treats: There are also bone treats, including processed bones like bone chews and marrow bones, specially treated to reduce risks, though supervision is still required. In addition, there are artificial bones made from digestible materials, designed to satisfy the chewing urge without the risks associated with real bones. 

Dental Health: 

Dental health is a significant concern for many dog owners, and bones can play a vital role in maintaining a healthy mouth for your pet. Chewing on bones helps in scraping away plaque and tartar, acting as a natural toothbrush. It can assist in preventing bad breath, gum disease, and other dental problems that could lead to more severe health issues if left untreated.

However, it’s not a straightforward solution. The type of bone, its size, and the dog’s chewing habits can greatly influence the effect on dental health. While raw bones might be more effective in cleaning teeth, they can also carry risks such as splintering, which might injure the gums or even break teeth, especially if the bone is too hard or improperly sized for the dog. 

Furthermore, bones that are too small can become choking hazards, while those that are too large can cause wear and tear on the teeth. Artificial bones or dental chews designed specifically for dental care might be a safer alternative, providing the benefits without the same risks.

Nutritional Benefits: 

Bones are rich in minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which are crucial for maintaining strong teeth and bones. They also contain beneficial marrow, connective tissue, and amino acids, all of which contribute to a dog’s overall health. 

However, the nutritional benefit largely depends on the type of bone and how it’s prepared. Raw bones are generally more nutrient-dense than cooked ones, as cooking can leach out some valuable minerals and alter the bone’s structure. On the other hand, raw bones carry the risk of harboring bacteria and other pathogens, making proper handling and sourcing vital. 

It’s also worth noting that not all bones are appropriate for all dogs. Some may be too hard for certain breeds or individual dogs, leading to dental damage rather than nutritional gain. Others might be too fatty and contribute to obesity or other health issues if fed in excess. 

Professional Opinions:

Professional opinions on feeding bones to dogs vary widely and often depend on individual circumstances, preferences, and the specific bone in question. Understanding these differing views can help dog owners make informed decisions.

Veterinarians: Many veterinarians have expressed concerns about feeding bones, particularly cooked or brittle ones, to dogs. These bones can splinter and cause internal damage or become lodged in the digestive system. Some vets, however, may recommend specific types of raw bones under controlled conditions.

Canine Nutritionists: Some canine nutritionists advocate for including raw bones in a dog’s diet, citing the potential nutritional benefits and natural chewing instinct of dogs. Others may stress the importance of proper preparation and selection of suitable bones based on the dog’s size and breed.

Alternatives to Bones:

While bones can provide many benefits, some pet owners might have concerns about safety, cleanliness, or the suitability of bones for their dogs. Fortunately, various alternatives to bones can satisfy a dog’s chewing needs and offer some of the same advantages.  

Chew Toys: Dental chew toys made of rubber or other dog-safe materials can be an excellent substitute for bones. They are often designed to promote dental health by removing plaque and are typically more durable and safer. 

Edible Dog Chews: Edible chews made from vegetables, grains, or meat products provide a satisfying chew experience without the risks associated with bones. Many of these products are formulated to be digestible and nutritious. 

Dental Sticks and Treats: Specialized dental sticks and treats are created to mimic the action of chewing a bone, helping with oral health. They are often enriched with vitamins and minerals. 

Wrapping Up: The Dog Bone Debate 

Feeding bones to dogs is a complex issue with both proponents and detractors. It’s essential to consider the individual needs, health, and preferences of your pet, and consult with a veterinarian or pet nutrition expert to make the best decision. If chosen carefully, bones can provide nutritional benefits and oral health support. However, the risks involved require serious consideration and responsible handling. 

Ultimately, the question of whether to feed bones to your dog comes down to informed personal choice, guided by professional advice and the needs and characteristics of your furry friend. The safety and well-being of your pet should always be the priority in making this decision.