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Unleashed: Don’t give the dog a bone

Giving a dog a bone seems to be the quintessential thing to do. But like most things, it isn’t quite that simple. I get asked a lot whether it’s safe to give dogs bones, and the answer is always the same: Yes, and No! Which, to be fair, isn’t exactly helpful. So let’s dig a little deeper…

By Russell D Russell

Sunday 8 August 2021, 11:00AM

Figuring out whether you should give your dog a bone is not as simple as it sounds. Photo: Aditya Joshi / Unsplash

Figuring out whether you should give your dog a bone is not as simple as it sounds. Photo: Aditya Joshi / Unsplash

In short, any bones that have been ‘cooked’ are generally not considered safe for dogs to eat. So those discarded chicken bones, or pork ribs, are not best placed in your dog’s food bowl. Now, I can hear some of your snorting, “My dogs have eaten cooked chicken bones their entire lives, and are perfectly fine…” – and I’d agree. In the same way I know people who smoke like chimneys and are perfectly fine – for now.

The problem is those cooked bones can splinter, and peel which can lead to a host of problems including broken teeth, blockages or, at worst, ripping internal passageways. And whilst the latter of these may be rare, it does happen. So we’re playing Russian roulette every time we give them those cooked chicken wing bones. And on top of all that, cooking the bones removes so much of the nutritional value, it’s largely pointless for the dog to eat it anyway. You’re far better placed to keep all those cooked bones, boil them up, strain them and use the broth from them.

On the flip side though, feeding your dog raw bones not only can be perfectly fine, but healthy too. Raw bones also have a lot of goodness in them. A raw meaty bone contains fresh cartilage (a good source of glucosamine, chondroitin and vitamin C) as well as lots of protein and minerals vital for bone growth, as well as micro minerals, such as selenium, copper and magnesium. These are all essential to young pups, as they help build strong teeth, joints and bones. On top of this, raw bones provide some much needed roughage in their diet which encourages healthy faecal motions.

Of course making sure you’re feeding the right ones to your dogs is important too. A seriously food driven labrador might just swallow a chicken wing whole, whereas a Jack Russell can damage his teeth on a cow leg! That said, dogs have the teeth and jaw structure to strip meat, cartilage and bone with relative ease. For smaller dogs, things like chicken wings, necks would be fine. Medium-sized dogs would handle chicken thighs and carcasses just as easily. Bigger dogs you would probably go for something like lamb ribs, necks or ribs.

Dogs generally should be looking at around 10% of their raw diet coming from bone (that’s just bone, not meat). But if you’re just feeding your dog a bone as a treat, or an occasional teeth cleaner, then every now and again is fine. On that note, if you’re buying the pre-cooked ‘fresh’ bones in pet shops – stop immediately, they can cause serious problems.

If you generally feed your dog kibble, but occasionally add in the odd bone, it’s best to keep them separate. If your dog is conditioned to a standardised kibble diet, their stomach acid pH levels will be slightly higher (less acidic), whereas bone requires a lower (more acidic) pH level. Feeding them separately can help their systems prepare adequately.

With raw bones, it is worth using caution when feeding hollow marrow bones, or large weight bearing bones like a femur. These are incredibly strong bones, reinforced with minerals such as zinc and iron. These bones are incredibly difficult to chomp through, but that won’t stop Fido trying – and ultimately cracking a tooth. Sliced marrow bones can be okay as a supervised treat as the dogs will largely scrape out the marrow, rather than chew the bone.

And whilst dogs eating raw bones is normal, you still want to exercise some caution. People can easily choke on things like bread, a piece of carrot or a chunk of meat, but we still eat them. Dogs do have a wider oesophagus to enable consumption of large chunks of meat and bone, but you still want to be vigilant.

Younger dogs, or ones that have spent most of their life on a kibble diet, or consuming processed foods, will have a less worked oesophagus ready to deal with bones. Brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs, franchise etc) can have missing teeth and will struggle to contend with breaking the bones down. Also greedy dogs (labs, beagles, anyone?!) can gulp food down. If you’re concerned, you can always smash the bones with a mallet for a while, to get your dog used to the diet.

If you would like some more information on canine training, or behavioural issues, then please contact us on 091 654 1960, email, or check our website CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator and a Professional Member of the IACP.

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