Can I Give My Dog a Bone?

Updated on October 12, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.

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Increasingly, veterinary professionals are condemning bones for dogs. We’re not talking about bone-shaped biscuits, now. We’re talking about natural bones, the skeletal remains of other animals.

Are they really absolutely bad for dogs? Opinions on feeding bones to dogs differ between and among owners, breeders, and veterinarians. There is not one bone out there that is completely safe in all circumstances.

What it boils down to is this: the key to choosing whether or not to give your dog bones is to know your dog’s chewing behavior and strength, and then applying common sense and good judgment.

Supervise chew time, throw away bones that have become small enough to be swallowed, and do not trust the packaging of a bone even if it claims to be completely digestible. They aren’t.

Chewing Is Natural For Dogs

Dogs love to chew and will chew on anything…from bones and toys to rocks and sticks. Chewing is the closest thing to brushing the teeth that Mother Nature has to offer. It scrapes plaque off of the teeth and stimulates blood flow to the gums.

It also occupies the animal’s mind and prevents boredom. That’s especially important for dogs because now that they’re domesticated, they’re practically sitting in the lap of luxury.

They don’t have to hunt for food, defend a territory, evade predators or face rivals, find a mate, or protect a pack leader. What’s a dog to do then? Overgroom? Chase his tail? Walk around in circles or pace back and forth? How about destroying furniture and door casings?

Chewing can help prevent your dog from engaging in self-destructive or environmentally-destructive behavior.

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Dogs Are Equipped To Chew Bones

Just as coyotes, wolves and other wild canids do, in the wild dogs would eat the bones of their prey to satisfy their nutritional requirements for calcium.

Their bodies can’t manufacture said mineral, therefore they must acquire it from their diet.

Because of that fact, they’re equipped with the dentition to crunch bones into pieces small enough to swallow.

Their bodies then extract the required calcium and excrete the rest of the bone.

Do coyotes, wolves and other wild canids occasionally choke on a bone? I would guess that they do, and suffer a slow and torturous death in the process.

Just as they succumb to injuries inflicted by prey that fights back. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.

We’d like to think we can protect our dogs from choking deaths, and the basic step would be: don’t put them in harm’s way in the first place. But that’s unreasonable.

They need to chew and can choke on anything that we provide for them. That doesn’t mean they will choke, but it’s wise to treat the situation as if it did.

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The Strong Argument Against Bones

I tried to find a position statement on bone chewing by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), but my search of their web sites came up empty.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a steadfast cheerleader for the “Against” argument. Man, you don’t want to be selling chew bones within earshot of the FDA!

One FDA Consumer Updates page lists the following 10 reasons why you shouldn’t give your dog a bone:

  • Broken teeth
  • Mouth and tongue injuries
  • Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw
  • Bone gets stuck in esophagus
  • Bone gets stuck in windpipe
  • Bone gets stuck in stomach
  • Bone gets stuck in intestines
  • Constipation due to bone fragments
  • Severe bleeding from the rectum
  • Peritonitis

Most of the web sites that address the issue support the argument against giving dogs bones, although perhaps not as rabidly as FDA. Most of those that disagree do so in a lukewarm fashion, and you’ll find some that dismiss the negative argument altogether.

An article by T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM, on the website PetMD recommends against natural bones, even raw ones, and suggests pet owners opt for alternative chew toys that might be safer.

And I remember reading a quote once from a veterinarian who said, paraphrasing here, "Don't give your dog anything to chew on that you wouldn't want to get whacked on the knee with."

Here Comes The Anecdotal Reality Check

The fact is, tens of millions of dogs are fed bones by millions of owners who bought them from thousands of pet supply stores, mass merchandisers and online sellers.

Are there casualties along the way? Undoubtedly there are. Just talk to your veterinarian, who could probably remember many cases of bone induced emergencies treated at the clinic.

But as a percentage of the total dog-chews-bone episodes, the number of emergencies is likely to be low. Sort of like thawing meat on the counter.

Everyone does it, but relatively few actually experience salmonella symptoms. Yet, all of the public health professionals will caution you about thawing meat on the counter.

The MAAN Factor

I wrote a hub on hand washing that reported the potential consequences of not washing up after doing just about anything, compared it to the reality check that not everyone washes their hands as often as they should and are alive to tell the story, and suggested that it was all pretty much a case of much ado about nothing.

That caught the attention of DrMark1961, a popular author on Hub Pages, who then created the acronym MAAN for “much ado about nothing.” Does MAAN apply to the issue of giving your dog a bone?

Frankly, I don’t have the courage to say yes. While I wouldn’t frown upon the practice, there are too many credible entities arguing against it. If it were a bunch of whacko alarmists crying wolf, sure, I’d MAAN them to death. But I read cautions by too many respectable sources to play the MAAN card this time.

It All Boils Down To The Owners' Judgment

Is it common practice to give a dog a bone? Sure. Are there sometimes serious consequences? Sure.

If your dog is a gentle chewer that works and works at a chew item, there’s less likelihood of a serious consequence as long as you take it away once it gets small enough to swallow.

However, if your dog is an aggressive chewer that bites off large chunks of a chew item, there’s a greater likelihood of a serious consequence.

And, there are many chew toys on the market that may be safer alternatives to bones.

So, you make the call. In all cases, a supervised chew session is the safest way to go.



Do You Give Your Dog Bones To Chew?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Bob Bamberg

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      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hello, handymanbill, nice to meet you. Providing a bigger bone is the smart thing to do...then when it gets small enough to become a choke hazard or intestinal obstruction, you can take it away from him. You're right that, in the wild, canids eat the bones of their prey. Since they cannot synthesize calcium, they must get it from their diet. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      • handymanbill profile image

        Bill 

        3 years ago from western pennsylvania

        I will let my German Shepard chew certain bones. I always try to be careful that it is a bigger type bone. My smaller dog I never give her bones. I believe that in the wild, dogs eat bones all the time. I know that the German Shepard loves to chew something. If I don't then he is chewing something that I don't want him to chew the carpet, the kids toys ect.

      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Hi Carmel,

        I had my reply all written and I think I hit the Delete key instead of the Enter key, because it just vanished. Anyway, sorry to be late in responding, but I just got back from a week's vacation in Florida.

        Certainly dogs express a preference after being exposed to various things, but I'm not at the point where I think they are consciously aware of their quality of life. For example, I don't think a dog recognizes that he has it better than the dog next door.

        All animals get bored, especially in captivity. The wild ones usually have enough to do just to survive.

        While at Disney's Epcot Center, we visited the UK exhibit hoping to see some step dancing, but instead they had a very talented rock band doing Canadian and Celtic rock. They were very good, but Danny Boy was never written to be a heavy metal song! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It's always interesting to get your take on things.

      • Highland Terrier profile image

        Highland Terrier 

        5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

        Very interesting hub, I have never given my dogs bones to chew, it just never came up. I did not know about the calcium though and may have to find a source for this.

        A vet once told me that raw bones were acceptable but to never give cooked bones as these were would break too easily and cause problems.

        Quality of life, every animal likes quality of live. Why would you even think that they would not.

        Look at your pets, watch them, observe what they are doing.

        Where is their favourite place to sleep is it their basket or the armchair?

        Do they have favourite foods? Do they want to to favourite walks?

        Are there not somethings that you have observed that they hate to do or go and I am not talking about the Vets.

        I refuse to believe that my dogs are the only dogs with likes and dislikes.

        The very fact that they get bored, surely says it all.

        Thank you for a brilliant hub,full of useful info.

        Regards

        Carmel

      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        LOL! I'm glad to hear that from a credible source. I like to say: studies show that almost every cancer patient started out on mothers' milk.

        I'll be incommunicado for a week...leaving for FL tomorrow for a little R&R. Right now, we have 2 inches of fresh snow on the ground and it's sleeting. After I hit "Post Comment" I'm printing our boarding passes!

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 

        5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        In some cases, Bob, studies are like badges.

        "Badges? We don't need no stinkin´badges."

      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Anecdotally, the fact that dogs can totally relax, hardly flinching even after a sudden loud noise, could indicate their "awareness" of quality of life, no? A wild canid would always be on alert. I think it indicates that dogs are aware that they're in a better place. Of course, I have no studies to back that up.

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 

        5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        Do dogs appreciate quality of life? That would be a hard one to test for. Anecdotally, I would say yes. It all depends on if your trust anecdotes.

      • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

        Bob Bamberg 

        5 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

        Thanks for stopping by, Doc, and thanks for the best answer the other day.

        I'm with you, although I wonder if dogs appreciate quality of life or are just satisfied with making it through another day. But certainly we are cognizant of the quality of life benefit and want to extend that to our pets.

        I wouldn't discourage the practice of giving dogs bones to chew, but I do think owners need to be aware that it comes with some potential danger and that chewing should be supervised.

        You certainly don't want to go to work and leave your dog alone and in his crate with the weight bearing bone of an herbivore. :)

        Thanks for the stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

      • DrMark1961 profile image

        Dr Mark 

        5 years ago from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil

        I hate to whine on about the issue but there is one area that needs to be discussed. What about quality of life? A human could take all of his calories and vitamins in every day just drinking a can of Ensure. Instead we choose to buy steaks, chickens, salamis, etc, drink coffee and tea, etc, etc, etc. Why? Do we deserve a quality of life but the animals we choose to spend our time with deserve to be fed canned dog food and pablum? Not in my opinion, but then again I bet the FDA also recommends you keep your dog crated all day when you are at work-if the dog is incarcerated all day long there is no chance of it getting injured, and isn't preventing injuries (even at the cost of quality of life) what is really most important?

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