FEEDING BONES TO DOGS...
GOOD IDEA OR BAD?
The topic of
feeding animal origin bones to dogs always stirs up controversy.
There are knowledgeable dog owners who insist that bones must
be fed to dogs to ensure an optimal state of physical and mental
health. Others, including specialists in veterinary surgery,
are firmly against feeding animal bones of any kind whether or not
they are cooked first. Who's right? Read on...
T. J. Dunn, DVM
Dogs eat grass on occasion, which does
not mean doing so is "good for them".
Below you will find a question and answer
format regarding commonly asked questions regarding the pros and cons of
feeding raw or cooked bones to dogs. Limiting feeding bones to
"only cooked bones" or "only raw bones" or "only beef thigh bones" or
"never poultry bones" are not a logical validations for feeding
whatever kinds of bones you do feed. Think about it without afresh
after reading the presentation below.
Just because someone you respect for
their knowledge of dogs has told you dogs should be fed bones, use your
own objective analysis of the pros and cons regarding the safety of and
reasons for doing so.
What bones are safe or unsafe to feed to dogs?
The short answer is “That depends”. A one-hundred pound Rottweiler may have
no trouble at all consuming chicken bones and a five pound Chihuahua could
develop an obstruction from even a small bone fragment. I’ve seen it
happen. Also, many people believe that cooked bones are far more dangerous
to feed than raw bones. Plus, the word “safe” has relative meanings, too.
The topic of the safety of feeding bones to dogs has taken on emotional
overtones and many individuals have taken a strong and inflexible position
regarding the inclusion or exclusion of feeding bones to their dogs.
QUESTION: What harm can
bones cause if included in the dog’s diet?
I have personally worked on some very sick, very pain-wracked dogs who
were severely constipated from bone impactions, who were obstructed along
the intestinal tract and required major surgery, and who were near death
from complications of bone perforation or obstruction. I have removed
bone fragments from the oral cavity, from
the esophagus, stomach (there are some examples of x-rays of these kinds
cases at ThePetCenter.com), intestines, and rectum. These are just the
mechanical adverse effects that could occur. Consider the potential effects
if the owner supplements way too much bone and upsets the optimal balance of
the diet. I wonder how we know how much bone to add to a diet? I certainly
Can you describe a case history
of bones causing harm? Include the outcome.
I had a 150-pound Chesapeake Retriever presented because of persistent
vomiting attempts and no appetite for three days. X-rays revealed an
intestinal blockage due to a bone fragment. The owner was stunned because
he indicated he had been “feeding bones for years to this dog, it can’t be
from a bone”. He believed me when he saw the x-ray and was more convinced
when I showed him the bone fragment that was retrieved at surgery. This dog
recovered well but really was near death due to a perforated intestine;
luckily the owner brought him in just in time. I have seen dogs die from
bone impactions in spite of attempts at surgery; every case is different.
QUESTION: Which dogs
should/should not have bones?
I believe, based upon over 30 years of almost daily work with healthy
and sick dogs, that small breeds have a greater risk of adverse events as a
result of having access to bones. As a dog’s caretaker, we humans need to
assess very carefully any RISK vs BENEFITS to the process of allowing bone
QUESTION: Does the
consumption of bones promote a better state of nutrition or health in the
Here’s what happens and what makes people think that “bones” are so
nutritious… when a pet caretaker feeds bones (most select raw bones, not
cooked) there is also included attached to those bones all sorts of muscle,
fat, connective tissue and cartilage. If the dog has been fed a grain-based
or otherwise deficient diet, the addition of the “bones” will make a
remarkably beneficial difference in not only how the dog looks but also how
it feels and acts. Caretakers will naturally tout the great benefits to be
gained from feeding “bones”. (Interestingly, the same testimonials are made
by pet owners who switch from poor diets to those with meat as a primary
ingredient and who
wouldn’t even think of feeding a bone.) The impression
that anyone will gain is that somehow the “bones” have made the difference.
Somehow everyone overlooks the contribution to the diet from the tissues
attached to the bone!
biochemistry, anatomy, histology, physiology and nutrition in veterinary
school I wondered how bone, all by itself, could have such remarkable
effects. I knew that bone was a highly indigestible substance for mammals
and was very narrow in its spectrum of nutritional components. So, I did a
little studying and posted the summary of that analysis TheAnswerVet.com
here. It turns out that mammal bones… all by themselves and stripped
of any soft tissues… provide very little nutritional benefits to dogs other
than being a good source of calcium and phosphorus.
We pet caretakers need to
establish definitions for words we frequently use relative to “feeding
bones” in order to be more precise about what we are trying to describe.
For example some animal caretakers, when using the word “bone”, mean the
“skeletal structure” only, with no attendant soft tissues or cartilage.
Others use the word “bone” to refer to a chunk of tissue that has the bony
skeletal parts and all attached muscle, fat, cartilage and connective
tissues. Some people, when referring to feeding “bones” to their dogs mean
only “raw bones” and would never feed cooked bones. Some would never feed a
pork bone but believe that beef bones are harmless; some believe beef bones
are dangerous to feed but poultry bones are innocuous. Some believe that
“bones must be fed otherwise you are depriving the dog of emotional and
nutritional well-being”. Someday we all will be more specific about what
we really mean when we say we “feed bones” to our dogs. Right now the term
“feeding bones” is ambiguous and nonspecific. Everybody needs to be on the
same page and a good page to start with is the one that I mentioned at
TheAnswerVet.com that shows how little nourishment is actually present in “a
mammalian skeletal bone, devoid of all soft tissues and cartilage”.
I wondered what was
creating all this perceived benefit that so many dog owners were really
seeing when “bones” were added to deficient diets. Well, it turns out that
since we know that the bare bone itself has few nutrients (the marrow is
mostly fat and is of rather low volume in any bone) the benefits must have
been coming from the tissues still attached to the bone such as muscle, fat,
cartilage and connective tissue! Those soft tissues were truly beneficial,
of high digestibility and contained a wide spectrum of nutrients. It is my
personal conviction based on established and verifiable scientific data, as
well as 37 years of observing pets on a daily basis, that it is the various
tissues attached to bone, not the bare bone itself, that provides all those
great benefits so often seen when “bones” are fed. “Chewing on bones cleans
the dog’s teeth.” Yes that can happen but so will chewing on a hard
rawhide, Nylabone or Kong toy and with these provisions there is minimal
risk of any medical/surgical problems.
QUESTION: Are there any
statistics/studies regarding the hazards of feeding bones?
I am unaware of any actual scientific
epidemiological (statistical) studies but any animal hospital or referral
clinic or University veterinary school clinic will have records of canine
patients who needed medical or surgical intervention as a result of having
QUESTION: If bones are
going to be fed, how should they be incorporated into the diet?
Actually it is good to have bone incorporated in a dog’s diet; the
method of delivery of that bone is what I worry about. Finely ground
bone present in raw pet foods present absolutely NO hazard relative to
potential obstruction or perforation. Plus the finely ground particles of
skeletal tissue (bone) provide a greater surface area for digestive acids to
leach out the minerals from the bone particles.
If dog owners feel the need
to add raw bones to their dog’s diet, I’d suggest that they first try to
find a diet that does not require the feeding of “bones” (whatever
that means!) to improve the diet in the first place. I am very critical of
some of today’s pet “foods”… some of which should not even be called
“food”. However, I know from daily examinations of healthy and some very
old dogs that high quality dry and canned pet foods do exist; there are many
dogs 16 years old and older that have never eaten a raw or cooked bone but
have been sustained very nicely by high quality, meat-based
Keep in mind that each dog
is different and you must look at the individual when assessing the value of
any particular diet.
QUESTION: Is it
true that a dog has to be able to chew on real bones otherwise his emotional
or psychological well being may suffer?
“Chewing on and eating
bones provides the dog with emotional satisfaction that cannot be gotten via
any other means”. This is a persistent viewpoint held by many
knowledgeable dog owners. It may be true but to what degree of improved
emotional health can this theory be tested? I suppose someone could make a
similar case for feeding bacon since some dogs are absolutely crazy about
getting a piece of bacon. If a dog never gets a bone, will the dog’s
emotional health truly be damaged and how could such an assessment be made?
It would be equally valid... or invalid... to
state that dogs need bacon treat to achieve emotional health, and no one
could disprove the bacon theory. In truth, give a dog some bacon (meat
and fat) and the chance of dangerous pancreatitis occurring is greatly
increased. If a dog never gets bacon or liver sausage or a bone to
chew, will that dog's psyche suffer from not experiencing the joy and
satisfaction that may result from the experience?
Make the safest decisions based on reason,
not emotion, regarding what your dog gets to eat.
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