Not only can dogs eat bones, they absolutely need to and should.
Raw meaty bones are the foundation of a dog’s optimal diet. The raw feeding advocate Dr Ian Billinghurst says dogs will be healthy if fed raw meaty bones and little else. Bones are cheap and easily obtainable from the butcher or supermarket.
So there is no reason why every dog owner can’t do this.
This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.
Why You Should Give Your Dog A Bone
So many reasons! Bones are the best possible food for dogs, containing calcium and phosphorus in perfect balance, according to Dr Billinghurst who spent eight years investigating the power of bones.
And that is just the beginning of the benefits.
No More Bad Teeth In Dogs
Ever noticed how much of an industry dog dentistry has become?
It’s estimated that more than two thirds of dogs older than three suffer some degree of active periodontal disease. This makes it the most common health problem affecting our pets.
Dental cleanings under anesthesia, and tooth extractions, have become normalized to the point where it’s now routine in the lives of many pet dogs.
Why are the teeth of pet dogs in such bad shape?
In his book Dr Billinghurst makes no bones about the reason.
He points out that the specialty of veterinary dentistry didn’t exist prior to the widespread adoption of kibble feeding.
How To Brush A Dog’s Teeth?
Poor dog dental health has also given rise to a whole other industry, the one that’s sprung up to convince owners to buy all kinds of gadgets and chews to clean their dogs’ teeth.
Dog teeth cleaning toys. Dental bones for dogs. Dog toothbrushes. Dog toothpaste.
Dog dental chews are probably the best of the bunch. But they are usually filled with junk ingredients and in truth they are 100 per cent unnecessary.
There is one effective, natural way to clean dog teeth without brushing.
Feed your dog raw meaty bones. They are nature’s toothbrush and the very best thing you can do for your dog’s teeth.
Check out this Brazilian study which found 3-year-old Beagles that ate beef bones experienced a 70% reduction in calculus after just 12 days and an 87% reduction after 20 days.
Incidentally, one of the reasons why pre-made raw grinds don’t cut it as raw food for dogs is the bone they contain is pulverized.
Your dog doesn’t get the chance to grind it up himself. Which means he misses out on all the benefits of bones in preventing dog dental disease and dog gum disease.
Bones As a remedy for Dog Bad Breath
Why do dogs have bad breath? Bad breath in dogs often has a simple cause: putrefying food caught between teeth.
Show me a dog with bad breath and chances are it’s a kibble-fed dog.
If your dog has bad breath, fix it with a bone.
Bones As Dietary Fibre
Bone and the associated collagen and cartilage serve the same role in the dog diet as fibre and plant roughage in the human diet.
These animal products are fermented in the large intestine, creating short chain fatty acids that are beneficial for the cells lining the gut.
Bones As Part Of A Raw Diet For Dogs
Raw feeders categorize bones into two types:
- edible bone given as part of the daily food intake
- recreational bones given less frequently, to chew on
Dr Billinghurst advises that the edible bone portion of a raw fed dog’s diet should makes up 60% of the meal.
This doesn’t mean 60% of the food is pure bone. It means 60% is meat on the bone (like chicken frames) that are entirely consumed — bone, cartilage and all.
The other 40% of the diet is lean muscle meat with about 10% offal (usually liver).
A typical raw feeding guide is to feed 3 to 5% of a dog’s ideal body weight in food.
This is only a starting point.
Tweak the proportion of edible bone until your dog has firm poops. If a raw fed dog’s poop is runny, it’s usually because he’s not getting enough bone. Equally, if it’s too hard, feed less bone.
It is normal for wolves to poop liquid immediately after a kill when they gorge on muscle meat.
Some raw feeders say as much as 80% of the diet can be muscle meat.
Experiment and find what works for your dog.
Note: raw fed dogs naturally poop more slowly than kibble fed dogs. They are not constipated.
How Often Should I Feed Bones To My Dog?
According to Dr Billinghurst, raw meaty bones should be fed daily. It can be as simple as a chicken frame in each meal for a large dog.
At the very least, Dr Billinghurst says, feed edible bones three times a week.
What Bones Are Safe For Dogs To Eat?
Chicken frames make great edible bones for dogs. A chook’s entire skeleton should be digestible by a dog.
Read more about feeding dogs raw chicken.
For recreational bones, non weight-bearing ones are the best option because they are less dense, reducing the risk of ending up with a dog with a broken tooth.
Lamb necks are great because they’re non weight-bearing and come from young animals. But lamb is also very fatty so be sure to remove all visible fat.
Beef neck bones are leaner have great nooks and crannies for tooth cleaning. See what works for your dog.
Get the butcher to cut the bone so it’s nice and large. Some say bigger than the dog’s head is how large a bone should be to avoid becoming a choking hazard.
But your dog will also break off bits of bone as he chews.
TIPS FOR SAFE FEEDING OF BONES
Always supervise bones and remove the last bit before it’s swallowed whole.
Teach your dog a strong “Give” or “Drop it” command and practice with him before it gets to the crucial moment.
This way, he learns that you will more often than not give the bone back. This way he isn’t as tempted to wolf it down to avoid having it confiscated.
Are Marrow Bones good for Dogs?
Marrow bones tend to be leg bones, which means they’re weight-bearing and very dense. So, best to avoid them.
Keep in mind that marrow is very fatty, so feeding them frequently will dramatically increase the fat content of a dog’s diet.
Can Dogs Eat Pork Bones?
Not if they’re the cooked remains of human meals.
If they’re raw, they’re fine as long as they’re non weight-bearing and large enough to avoid being swallowed whole.
Can Dogs Eat Bones From steak?
Not if you’re talking about tossing your dog the leftovers from your dinner, because the bone will be cooked and prone to splintering, which can pierce your dog’s gut lining.
Will Bones Cause Dog Bowel Obstruction?
Research indicates the most common foreign bodies removed from dogs are:
- dental chews
- rubber balls
- bottle caps
However, there is no reference in the study to whether the bones that caused problems were raw or cooked.
Certainly cooked bones should never be fed.
While conventional vets cite constipation, diarrhea, dental fractures and gastrointestinal obstructions as reasons not to give raw bones to dogs, the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society says “based on clinical experience, appropriately sized raw meaty bones rarely cause a problem”.
Dogs will sometimes throw up a piece of bone days after eating it. So, the body does have ways of getting rid of bone when necessary.
Note the list of objects most often causing obstructions in dogs includes two products frequently suggested as safer alternatives to bones: dental chews and rawhides (which should be totally avoided).
A study of 31 dogs presenting with obstructions caused by dental chews found:
“Dental chews were difficult to remove orally via endoscopy, resulted in severe oesophageal damage, were associated with stricture formation and were associated with a high mortality rate.”
Added Benefits of Bones for Dogs
Chewing bones is good for the mental health of carnivores.
A study of cheetahs found “long periods spent feeding and exercising the jaw, neck and shoulder muscles lead to psychological contentment”. Anyone who’s watched their dog enjoying a bone can attest to this.
Dr Billinghurst has also noted puppies given raw meaty bones develop better neck musculature from the exercise involved in pulling the flesh from the bone.
Why Does a Dog Bury A Bone?
If your dog is burying food to dig up later, it’s usually a sign he’s being overfed. If he was hungry, he’d be eating it now.
Unearthing the bone later and having another chomp at it is less of a problem with raw bones, in the sense that raw food decays under the action of its own enzymes whereas cooked food, in which the enzymes have been destroyed) decays under the action of bacteria.
Still, it’s a good practice to get rid of whatever bone your dog doesn’t finish in one sitting.
In Conclusion: Get Thee To A Butcher!
Are bones bad for dogs? Quite the opposite.
There are countless benefits of bones for dogs — nutritionally, dentally, psychologically.
Raw meaty bones should arguably form the basis of your dog’s diet.
Even if your dog is not raw fed, you can boost his health by making sure he gets at least some raw meaty bones.