Dogs and bones go together like peanut butter and jelly, but you may worry about the implications of giving your favorite four-legged friend a bone. In today’s article, I’ll tell you which bones dogs shouldn’t have as well as which bones are dangerous for dogs.
Which bones are dangerous for dogs? Technically, all bones can be dangerous for dogs, especially when a dog chews on a bone unsupervised. Of the various bone types, raw edible bones are the safest for your pup to enjoy, followed by raw recreational bones.
In today’s article, I’ll go over the different types of bones that dogs love to nosh on and discuss which are dangerous and why. By the time you’re done reading, you can decide whether you want to offer up bones to your dog as an occasional treat.
Table of Contents
- The Types of Bones and Whether They’re Dangerous for Your Dog
- Raw Bones
- Recreational Bones
- Edible Bones
- Cooked Bones
- Stock Bones
- Store-Bought Bone Treats
- The Health Risks of Chewing on Bones for Dogs
- Rectal Bleeding
- Stomach and Intestine Injuries
- Tongue and Mouth Injuries
- Broken Teeth
- Tips for Incorporating Occasional Bone Chewing into Your Dog’s Life
- Always Supervise Your Dog When Chewing
- Limit Chewing Time
- Only Offer Your Dog Quality Raw Bones
- Give a Bone After Your Dog Eats
- Refrigerate Bones When Not Being Used
- Toss Out Old Bones
The Types of Bones and Whether They’re Dangerous for Your Dog
Bones are not all the same, and no, I don’t just mean the difference between the femur and the humerus.
There are five types of bones that dog owners offer to their canine companions: raw, cooked, rawhide, store-bought treats, and stock bones.
Let’s examine each one and whether they’re safe for chewing and ingestion.
Raw bones are divided into two subcategories, recreational and edible bones.
A recreational bone is solely for the chewing entertainment of a canine.
These bones are usually stuffed with marrow and come from large creatures such as beef or bison.
Hip bones and femur bones are popular types of recreational bones because they have a good shape and are large and meaty enough to satisfy most dogs.
Your dog won’t be able to ingest a bone of this size, which is good, because that’s not what recreational bones are meant for, anyway. They’re just designed for chewing.
Raw recreational bones do offer some health benefits. Your dog will be mentally stimulated, possibly for hours as they chew and gnaw on the bone.
Another great benefit of giving your dog a recreational bone to chew on is that they’re strengthening their jaw muscles in the process and cleaning their teeth as well.
However, giving your dog a raw recreational bone also has its downsides.
If the recreational bone still comes with meat attached, that meat was not cooked. If your dog ingests the meat through chewing, they could end up with bacterial contamination that could make them very sick.
You too could possibly fall ill if you directly touch the bone, don’t wash your hands, and then carry on with your day.
The risk of bacterial contamination notwithstanding, if your dog bites all the way to the marrow of a recreational bone, the marrow is fatty enough that you’ll want to modify your dog’s diet for the rest of the day.
The second type of raw dog bone is the edible bone.
Edible bones are smaller bones than recreational bones, as they’re typically non-weight-bearing, hollow bones.
Examples include turkey or chicken necks as well as chicken wings. Beef bones are edible bones as well.
Unlike raw recreational bones, raw edible bones do not contain bone marrow.
Are raw bones good for dogs? How about beef bones? Are beef rib bones safe for dogs?
Edible raw bones are considered the safest bone option for canines even if no bones are truly safe (read on to the next section for why that is).
Chewing on a raw edible bone introduces trace minerals such as phosphorus and calcium into your dog’s diet.
Your pup should still eat a well-rounded diet rather than rely on getting nutrition from bones, but edible bones do offer some minerals.
The second category of dog bones is known as cooked bones.
These are the bones that you end up with when you’re making a meal from an animal carcass such as a Thanksgiving turkey. Cooked bones are most commonly associated with table scraps.
Your four-legged friend is making those sad puppy dog eyes at you and whining and whimpering for a piece of “people food”, but you don’t want to feed them too much table food. You might decide to give them a cooked bone instead.
This is the wrong move.
When you cook bones, you remove any nutrition they once contained. They also become weaker and thus more brittle.
This is a recipe for disaster should you give your dog a cooked bone. The bone could splinter, and not necessarily when your dog is chewing on it.
If they swallow some of the bone and it splinters then, then your dog could suffer a serious internal injury.
You see them at every dog store, which can automatically make you think they’re safe. I’m talking, of course, about rawhides.
Rawhide is made from animal skin or hides that’s leftover when animals are killed at a slaughterhouse.
It’s not just one animal that comprises rawhide but many, and it’s hard to say which ones.
Dogs love a good rawhide, and they’ll chew and chew until the rawhide is slippery and slobbery. Yet how safe is this for your favorite four-legged friend?
Not as safe as you may think.
To make rawhides more palatable, they’re often infused with preservatives, additives, artificial sweeteners, and/or gelatin, none of which is good for dogs.
Some of these ingredients could be carcinogens and others might be toxic.
Additive-free rawhides aren’t much better. When rawhides undergo commercial production, they sometimes collect E. coli and salmonella as well as toxic substances.
Even if the rawhide came off the assembly line conveyor belt crystal-clear and free of contaminants and toxins, giving a rawhide to your dog to chew on could still lead to blockages and digestion issues.
The next type of bone is known as the stock bone aka the soup bone or pork bone.
These bones are what remain after a pig or hog is butchered. If a butcher is going to sell boneless meat, the bones that are removed could be stock bones.
Are pork bones safe for dogs? Not at all.
The raw pork bone cracks very easily once your pup begins chowing down.
Store-Bought Bone Treats
Okay, but what about those bones you see at the pet store or grocery store? They’re not rawhides but they’re marketed as being safe and tasty for your dog.
Surely store-bought bone treats are okay, right? Well, I would rethink giving them to your dog if I were you.
Over the years, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration or FDA has collected a number of reports from dog owners whose pets ate store-bought bone treats from knuckle bones to rib bones, pork femur bones, and ham bones.
These dogs ended up with a myriad of unpleasant side effects, from diarrhea and vomiting to rectal bleeding and blockages. Eight out of the 35 dogs even died from ingestion of the bones.
The danger with these bones isn’t solely that they splinter or crack, although that’s an inherent risk as well.
It’s also that store-bought bone treats are laced with smoke flavoring or seasoning if the bones weren’t smoked before being packaged and sold.
None of that is healthy for your dog, nor are the preservatives commonly found in store-bought bone treats.
The Health Risks of Chewing on Bones for Dogs
If you’re still not totally convinced that a dog shouldn’t chew on most bones (except raw edible bones, and even then, only sometimes), this section might change your mind.
Here are the health risks your dog could face if they munch on bones.
From listeria to salmonella and E. coli, these pathogens can wreak havoc on your dog’s health.
Listeria can lead to vomiting and diarrhea as well as more severe issues such as breathing difficulties, muscle pain, and fever.
If your dog was pregnant, she probably won’t be after a listeria infection. Death is also a risk from the pathogen.
A salmonella infection might make your dog vomit, develop a fever, have a reduced appetite, and be more tired than usual.
E. coli causes canine diarrhea and other uncomfortable side effects.
In some instances, peritonitis can result from chewing on bones. This abdominal bacterial infection occurs when your dog’s intestines or stomach develops puncture holes from swallowing bone fragments.
According to veterinary resource Merck, the mortality rate for peritonitis is between 50 and 70 percent.
If your dog does manage to swallow parts of a bone they were chewing on, the bone could pass through their body if it doesn’t get stuck (more on this in a moment).
On the way out, the bone fragments can lead to severe rectal bleeding. You’d have to schedule an emergency trip to your vet’s office.
More than likely, a dog bone will get held up in various parts of a dog’s body.
One such common area for these blockages to occur is the colon.
The bone will have gotten to the gastrointestinal tract but now is lodged near the large bowel. The bone is scraping the rectum and colon each time your dog tries to have a bowel movement.
If that sounds painful, that’s because it is. Your vet might have to manually manipulate the bone or do an enema to get it out.
If not the colon, then the small intestine can get blocked up by a chunk of dog bone.
Now your dog is dealing with an intestinal blockage, usually a complete rather than a partial blockage. Water and food can no longer reach the gastrointestinal tract.
If not rectified in a couple of days to a week, it’s certainly possible for a dog to die from this type of internal blockage.
Stomach blockages are yet a third risk. The piece of bone does need to be sizable to get lodged here, but it’s not impossible by any means.
Once a piece of bone is stuck in your dog’s stomach, they’ll develop irritation that could lead to nausea and vomiting.
Typically, the only way to get the fragments of bone out is through endoscopy or abdominal surgery.
Colon blockages interrupt bowel movements, as I talked about above. This can prevent your canine companion from being able to poop.
Constipation happens occasionally, but if it doesn’t resolve within 48 hours, then your dog needs veterinary attention.
Stomach and Intestine Injuries
Bones in a dog’s stomach or intestines can scratch the walls here or even puncture the walls. This is how peritonitis occurs.
A big enough piece of dog bone might not even make it into your dog’s colon or stomach. It could get jammed into the trachea and prohibit your dog from breathing.
If not that, then the bone might get stuck in the esophagus. This is another emergency situation, so get your pup to the vet immediately.
Unfortunately, sharp shards of bone can slice the esophagus and/or throat, which can be incredibly painful and likely life-threatening as well.
Tongue and Mouth Injuries
As your dog munches on a bone and pieces splinter off, those pointy pieces can also cut or pierce through the roof of the mouth, the cheeks, or the tongue.
These injuries would be terribly painful for your dog and also prevent them from being able to eat. You’d have to see your vet for treatment.
A very horrifying phenomenon that can occur when your dog is chewing on a bone is that the bone can become looped around the lower jaw. The dog can’t dislodge the bone and they start to panic.
You’d need your vet to either anesthetize or sedate your dog to remove the looped bone.
Finally, it’s no secret that bones could be bad for a dog’s teeth. The hard bone chunks and shards can break your pup’s chompers.
If you’ve ever had a broken tooth, then you know how agonizing this can be. Your dog will either need a root canal or an extraction, and neither treatment is cheap!
Tips for Incorporating Occasional Bone Chewing into Your Dog’s Life
It’s good to know the risks of dog bones. That said, if you want to give your pup a raw edible bone from time to time, it doesn’t always have to spell disaster. The following tips will allow for safer chewing!
Always Supervise Your Dog When Chewing
Some dog owners toss their pup a bone to get an hour or two of much-needed peace and quiet.
This is a terrible thing to do, as if your dog begins gnawing the bone down to shards or starts choking, you could miss it. Every second counts in those life-threatening scenarios!
You should always keep your dog in your line of sight when they’re munching on a bone. If they seem to be especially fervent in their chewing, it’s not a bad idea to check out why they’re suddenly eating with such vigor.
Limit Chewing Time
You should also use your phone’s stopwatch function once you give your dog their bone and immediately set a timer.
The recommended amount of chew time is between 10 and 15 minutes at a clip.
When your phone chimes after that 15 minutes elapses, then it’s time to get the bone from your dog.
You’ll probably need a treat or something else to incentivize them to drop the bone. Do not try to pull the bone from your dog’s mouth, as that could hurt them.
Only Offer Your Dog Quality Raw Bones
Dog bones from the butcher are one reliable source of raw bones. Avoid store-bought rawhide or treat bones, as you already know the dangers they carry!
Give a Bone After Your Dog Eats
If your dog has a full belly by the time they begin munching on the bone, they won’t feel so inclined to chew like there’s no tomorrow. This can reduce their injury risk.
Nevertheless, you should still supervise your dog during their chew sessions.
Refrigerate Bones When Not Being Used
When you finally get your dog to relinquish their slobbery raw edible bone, stash it in the fridge. It will stay fresher there but only for three or four days tops. Then you need to throw the bone away and give your pup another one if you want to.
Toss Out Old Bones
If your dog is wearing down the bone to practically nothing, you should throw it away no matter the bone’s age. Your dog is likelier to begin splintering pieces of bone, which is highly injurious to them!