To Chew or Not to Chew: The Ultimate Safe Bones for Dogs Guide
Dogs and bones are inseparable in several media, movie clips, cartoons, comic strips, and even real-life. Photos often portray this almost-natural duo of dogs and their juicy bones.
But have you ever heard of bones being unsafe for your dogs? It all boils down to whether or not you’re giving safe bones for dogs. Chewing is the primary reason why dogs love bones, but there are some precautions to safeguard your fur babies’ health.
This article will serve as your guide to determining safe bones for dogs to chew on. We’ll also explore why dogs love bones, what chewing does to your dog, and bones that are deemed unsafe for your dogs.
- Chewing: A Natural Dog Behavior
- Why Do Dogs Chew on Bones?
- Safe Bones for Dogs
- Bones That Are Harmful To Your Dog
- Commercial Non-Digestible Chews – Are They Safe?
- What About Commercially Available Bone Treats?
Chewing: A Natural Dog Behavior
The relationship between dogs and bones all started with chewing – a basic dog behavior.
Chewing is normal behavior for puppies and adult dogs. It’s their way of exploring the world in front of them. Dogs chew on various objects just like infants and toddlers reach, toy around, and eventually put everything in their mouths.
In short, dogs have an instinct to chew as they become curious and explorative around their environments.
However, curiosity and exploration are not the only reasons why dogs love to chew on bones (or on any other thing in their sight). Here are some other reasons why dogs chew as a natural behavior:
1. As a reaction to teething.
Pups typically chew to relieve the discomfort they experience during teething.
Your puppy’s baby teeth will begin to show up at 2-3 weeks from birth. At this time, your puppy is still nursing with his mother. Expect a complete set of around 28 baby teeth by weeks 5-6.
Permanent adult teeth start to erupt by around weeks 12-16. Your puppy’s baby teeth start to shed at this time. Adult teeth continue to emerge until your dog reaches approximately 6 months or older.
The appearance of adult teeth accompanied by puppy teeth shedding causes great discomfort and even pain to dogs. Hence, they start to chomp on things around the house – edible or not, whatever it is. Chewing gives them comfort and pain relief during the teething months.
Puppies need gentle discipline coupled with fun teething toys during this time to avoid too much damage to your things. It’s also a good way to teach your pup how to tame his natural behavior to prevent it from becoming destructive, but always take note that chewing behavior is appropriate, completely normal, and even encouraged during the teething stages.
2. To strengthen their jaws and teeth.
Adult dogs are fond of chomping and chewing on bones and toys. They may not realize it, but they’re doing it out of instinct. Chewing is nature’s way of strengthening dogs’ jaws and teeth.
Dogs share several dental issues with humans, such as plaques, gum swelling, stinky breath, and painful receding gums. Appropriate veterinarian evaluation and dental care should be given to dogs to avoid all these nasty and painful dental issues.
But dogs cope through naturally by frequent chewing on toys and bones. The chewing action strengthens their jaws, polishes their teeth, and removes some cavities from the teeth’s surface.
3. A coping mechanism for anxiety
Several dogs experience anxiety, regardless of their age, gender, or breed. Most often, dogs separated from their owners or family experience separation anxiety. Others are overly sensitive to sound and may become easily anxious at the sounds of fireworks, a thunderstorm, or a door slamming loudly.
Young puppies are more likely to experience separation anxiety. Meanwhile, older dogs become more sensitive to noise, provoking their anxiety.
Now, anxious dogs tend to chew on safe bones for dogs or on their chew toys. The act of chewing offers a calming effect on dogs. This eventually helps them cope with their anxieties until the root cause is resolved.
4. Boredom buster
Several dogs equate chomping on bones, toys, and things to playing. A lot of dogs chew bones just for fun. For them, it’s a great activity to bust out boredom when they’re alone and in situations where they cannot socialize with other dogs.
Why Do Dogs Chew on Bones?
Present your dog with a chew toy and a bone at the same time and see which one he picks. Most likely, he’ll gladly take the bone first. A lot of dogs prefer chomping on real bones, but why?
Chewing bones is all in their instincts. Dogs are mammals belonging to the canine family. Hence, they share the same bloodline as that of wolves, foxes, and jackals.
Canines are omnivores, yet they tend to prey to different varieties of small and large animals. They’re used to eating the meat, stomach contents, on and bones of their prey. Since dogs are domesticated canines, their natural predisposition is to chomp on bones as this behavior is already programmed into their hunting instincts.
Nature aside, chewing on safe bones for dogs allows them to savor its yummy taste and stimulate their minds at the same time. Also, chewing is a great exercise for strengthening their jaws.
Safe Bones for Dogs
Now, let’s move on to safe bone choices for your furry buddies:
1. Raw bones
Most veterinarians agree that raw bones are safe bones for dogs. Large, dense, and raw bones filled with marrow are chewy enough for your furry buddies. There’s a low risk of splintering with such bones. Also, raw bones contain more nutrients than cooked ones, so your dog can enjoy a bonus nutritional boost as he chomps on a raw bone.
2. Raw cow and bison bones
Large raw bones from cows and bison make great dog chews. That’s because these bones may contain a bit of meat, cartilage, and soft tissues. The bones are tough enough to splinter easily yet chewy enough for your furry buddy to enjoy.
Select huge chunks of bison or beef bones for your dog. Also, you may opt for large hip bones filled with marrow. Chomping on these bones helps improve your dog’s oral health and gives him some mental stimulation, too. However, note that these bones are meant to be chewed recreationally, and not suitable as a source of dietary nutrition.
Bones That Are Harmful to Your Dog
Not all bones are suitable for dogs. The wrong kind of bone can potentially harm or even kill your dog. Hence, avoid giving your fur babies these kinds of bones:
1. Any kind of cooked bones
Resist the urge to give your dog leftover bones from your dinner plate. That’s because cooked bones pose the greatest danger to dogs.
Your dog’s jaws are powerful. Hence, he can quickly split a cooked bone of any kind into shards. These bone shards can pose a high risk of injury to your dog’s mouth, tongue, throat, and intestines. They can puncture your dog’s digestive organs, too.
Swallowed bone shards can also get stuck and choke your dogs. Often, surgery may be required to remove these huge bone pieces blocking a dog’s airway, throat, or digestive tract.
Cooked bones are also more brittle than raw ones. Cooking softens the bones, making them easier to break. There’s a good chance of bone splintering once your dog chomps down on them.
The nutrient content of cooked bones is also low, since cooking saps out the bone’s nutrients. Your dog won’t get any nutritional value out of cooked bones.
2. Small and narrow bones.
Small bones such as leg bones and rib bones should not be given to dogs. Large breeds such as Great Danes can quickly swallow up the whole bone. This may cause choking and blockage.
Most dog breeds can also quickly chew down such bones into shards. Hence, there’s a high risk of experiencing punctures, blockages, and stomach issues.
3. Chicken bones
Raw and cooked chicken bones are harmful to dogs. Since these bones are small, your dog can easily swallow them whole. Also, both raw and cooked chicken bones can easily splinter.
4. Turkey bones
Similar to chicken bones, turkey bones are a no-no for dogs since they’re small, hollow, and pliable. They can easily break into pieces or be swallowed as a whole.
5. Lamb’s bones
Lamb’s bones are denser and thicker than chicken, turkey, and pork bones. However, they’re not entirely safe bones for dogs.
Some people say it’s fine to give lamb bones so long as they’re raw, large, and thick. But even so, dogs may quickly splinter lamb bones as they chew, so it’s best to err on the safe side and avoid giving them to your furry buddies.
6. Pork bones
Just like all other bones earlier described, pork bones can quickly splinter and cause problems in the dog’s airway or digestive tract. Additionally, pork bones are filled with fat. Too much fat in your dog’s diet can lead to canine pancreatitis.
Commercial Non-Digestible Chews – Are They Safe?
Commercial non-digestible chew toys are good alternatives as safe bones for dogs. Such chew toys include Kong toys, dental chews, and rawhides.
Kong toys are great because they can be filled with food or your dog’s favorite treats (1). They’re made from a special rubber formulation that can withstand gnawing. Also, it has several variants and sizes for pups, aggressive chewers, and even senior dogs.
Reputable dental chews are approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC). These chews have the added benefit of breaking up plaque and reducing tartar on dogs’ teeth.
Rawhides are an inexpensive and popular dog chew. Several owners choose rawhides as an alternative to safe bones for dogs. However, there’s a risk of your dog biting it into pieces, causing rawhide bits to lodge into the windpipe or stomach. If this is the case, rawhides may not be 100% safe for your dog.
What About Commercially Available Bone Treats?
Bone treats are commercially-prepared and processed bones. They’re different from raw bones you purchase from a butcher. Bone treats are often laden with flavors, seasonings, smoke flavorings, and preservatives.
Examples of bone treats include:
Pork Femur Bones
Smokey Knuckle Bones
Now, the FDA warns dog owners against giving bone treats to their dogs. It’s because several health issues were reported by dog parents to the FDA after their dogs used bone treats. These illnesses include:
Obstruction in the digestive tract
Wounds and cuts in the tonsils and mouth
Around 15 dogs reportedly died after consuming a bone treat.
Bone treats easily splinter because they’re heavily processed through cooking and baking. Hence, many dogs are at risk for cuts, wounds, punctures, and choking. And since bone treats have artificial flavors or preservatives, it’s not a sound addition to your dog’s nutritional needs.
Consult your dog’s veterinarian first if you still want to give a store-bought bone treat to your furry buddy.
Tips to Follow in Giving Safe Bones for Dogs
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when giving safe bones for dogs:
Note that all bones, regardless of size, rawness, or type, carry a choking risk. This choking may happen if your dog fails to chew the bone well before swallowing. Hence, always supervise your dogs while they chomp on bones.
Recreational bones such as large beef and bison bones are filled with marrow. Marrow is high in fat. Hence, consider avoiding marrow-filled recreational bones if your dog is on a low-fat diet. Dogs who are on a normal diet must have their food intake adjusted as well if they’re chewing on marrow-rich bones.
Avoid marrow-filled bones in dogs with pancreatitis. Giving such bones may cause symptom flare-ups and diarrhea.
Throw away bones that have been gnawed on already. Such bones have been chewed to their most brittle part and are unsafe for your dog to chew on again after a few hours. Also, gnawed raw bones pose a bacterial contamination risk.
Feed your dog a meal first before giving him a bone. That way, he’ll be full enough to only chew the bone. There are fewer chances that your dog will eat the entire bone after a meal.
Select a bone that’s more than the length of your dog’s muzzle. Such bones will be impossible for your dog to swallow. Some dog parents even choose raw bones almost the size of their dog’s head!
Don’t forget to brush your dog’s teeth daily (2) and after every chewing session. Chewing is great for your dog’s oral health, but you must follow it up with a brushing session too.
Allow 10-15 minutes of chewing time for your dog. This is enough for them to get the benefits of chewing safe bones for dogs. Also, 10-15 minutes of chewing time can reduce the chance for injuries to occur.
Avoid giving bones to dogs with restorative dental work. Bones can damage and break their teeth. Other dental issues may also occur when they chew on bones.
Bones not yet in use must be stored in a refrigerator. Throw unused bones after 3-4 days. Bacteria can grow on the bones and contaminate them if these bones are given to your dogs after 4 days.
Large raw bones from cows and bison are considered safe bones for dogs. Smaller bones such as those from chicken, turkey, pork, and lamb are not suitable for dog chewing.
Commercially-prepared bone treats are not advisable to be used for dogs, according to the FDA. A lot of issues such as punctures, choking, and even death have reportedly occurred in dogs who used store-bought bone treats.
Non-digestible chews are the most popular alternatives to safe bones for dogs. These include Kong toys, rawhides, and dental chews.
There are several things to keep in mind when allowing your dog to chew on safe bones. Supervising your dogs, selecting the right bone size, and ensuring your dog is full before chomping on a bone are just some examples of these.
To chew or not to chew? Of course, let your furry buddies chew on safe bones for dogs! Chewing on bones is a natural dog instinct. Allow your dog to do so, but always mind safety guidelines to keep your dog healthy and happy.
(1) Donaldson, J. (2010). Train your dog like a pro. Wiley Publishing.
(2) Dunbar, C. (2018). Dogs: 101 amazing dog fun facts and trivia for kids.