All dog owners understand how much our canine companions love to chew on tasty bones. But did you know that bones can sometimes be harmful to dogs, especially if they are cooked? So what types of bones are best for dogs and why should we never feed cooked bones to our pets?

In the wild, dogs would never eat anything other than raw food. Our domestic dogs’ ancestors evolved to survive and thrive on raw meat and bones. Our pet dogs retain a desire to enjoy chewing bones; but just like their ancestral relatives, they should always eat them raw. 

Feeding cooked bones to dogs can cause serious problems

During the cooking process the structure of the bone is changed and a pliable raw bone will become brittle and fragile. It does not matter what the cooking process involves; it could be roasting, boiling, frying or any other type of cooking process. The problem is the heating procedure itself which destroys the normal structure of the bone, causing it to become brittle and prone to splintering into sharp and jagged pieces.

If your dog eats a cooked bone, the bone may fracture and splinter as your pet chews

These shards or splinters of bone are often extremely sharp and can cause lacerations to the tongue, cheeks, palate or gums. If swallowed these needle sharp splinters can potentially cause lacerations further down the digestive tract.

Another problem with pieces of cooked bones is their tendency to become stuck rather than pass through the body 

A cooked bone that is structurally fragile can be quickly and easily chewed into fragments that are small enough to swallow or to become stuck in the oral cavity. Small, hard pieces of bone may become wedged in the mouth. A common position is across the hard palate; as the bone fragment wedges between the molar teeth much like a stick can do if chewed. Smaller shards of bone could become stuck between the teeth and this can cause a great deal of pain. There is also a risk of choking on small pieces of bone.

Pieces of bone can also become stuck further down the digestive tract and cause severe injuries

Even small fragments of bone, being dry, hard and indigestible can cause an impaction when multiple tiny pieces accumulate in the gut and cause obstruction to the normal movement of food within the digestive tract. In minor cases this can lead to constipation. But in more severe cases the intestine can be completely obstructed by bone. This type of complete obstruction (either caused by a single piece of bone or an accumulation of multiple fragments) can be life-threatening. And it may require major surgery to remove the blockage.

The health risks associated with giving dogs bones that have been cooked are a clear reason to avoid allowing your dog to have these types of bones to chew on. However, some of the nutritional value of the bone can also be lost due to the cooking process. So there is really no good reason to ever provide your pet with a cooked bone. 

So what about raw bones?

Although cooked bones should not be given to dogs, they will get a great deal of pleasure from a raw one. Most dog owners will know what joy a dog can obtain from a lovely big bone. They carry it around proudly in their mouth, paw at it and play with it before finding a comfortable spot to settle down and chew it thoroughly. They will often guard their bone like a treasured possession. And they will not want to relinquish their trophy to another dog without a protest. Once their hunger is fully satisfied they will often seek a secure spot in which to hide or bury their bone and save it for another day. It is not uncommon for plenty of holes to appear in a dog owner’s garden as they bury their treasured bones.

The behaviours exhibited when a dog has a raw bone will help to alleviate boredom for a considerable part of the day

The long hours spent chewing on a good bone satisfy a behavioural need and can help to keep dogs mentally healthy. Bones can also be a great distraction for your dog if you wish to prevent them chewing on your slippers!

Raw bones also have nutritional value for a dog 

Bones contain minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous and calcium. They also provide vitamins, essential fatty acids and essential amino acids. Much of the nutritional content is found in the marrow which your dog will usually eat with enthusiasm. 

Bones can provide exercise for the jaws and help to maintain healthy gums and teeth

The mechanical action of chewing on a large raw bone can help to prevent the build-up of dental plaque on the teeth and therefore help prevent dental disease. Chewing will stimulate the production of saliva. This can flush food debris away and carries enzymes to help prevent the build up of dental plaque.

Raw bones aren’t 100% safe though

However, remember that even raw bones can break or fracture teeth too so care is always required. And this is why some vets advise using artificial bones or chews rather than natural.

I think it is obvious that, on balance, dogs can derive great benefits when given a raw bone

They have nutritional value and provide plenty of mental stimulation for your pet; not to mention that dogs love them as a treat! So when you do give your dog a bone ensure that it is raw. The best type of raw bone to feed your dog will be a matter of individual preference, taking into account any health issues your pet may have. Any raw bone you provide for your dog should always be large enough that it cannot be swallowed.  A simple rule of thumb is to choose a bone which is longer than your dog’s muzzle. Ideally you should be able to supervise your pet when they are chewing and playing with their bones to ensure their safety.

All dogs are individuals with specific nutritional needs and they will all behave differently when given a bone. If you are in any doubt about the suitability of bones as part of your pet’s diet, discuss the issue with your local vet who will be able to give you further information based on their knowledge of your unique and special pet.

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