There’s a lot of controversy surrounding feeding dogs real bones. Should they be given bones? Raw or cooked? Are bones dangerous? Where can you get dog-appropriate bones?
We’ll tackle these questions and more, below.
The Many Benefits of Real Meat Bones
Giving your dog a bone can be beneficial. Chewing helps stimulate saliva enzymes and when given AFTER meals for 10 or 15 minutes helps remove trapped food particles from the teeth. Chewing on bones also help prevent plaque buildup and gum disease especially in the back upper molars.
Bones provide minerals and other nutrients (depending upon what kind of bone) and help satiate your dog’s desire for food. Bones provide the nutrients needed to keep the skeletal system fed regenerating and adapting. Chewing on bones can also help pacify a dog’s habits such as excessive self-licking, scratching and other nervous behaviors.
1. Determine if Bones Are Appropriate For Your Dog
Feeding bones isn’t appropriate for all dogs – certain breeds of dogs just can’t process bones and gain the same benefits that other dogs get from chewing on bones.
This has a lot to do with jawbone structure.
Brachiocephalic breeds such as boxers, bull dogs, pugs, and shitzu are NOT mechanically designed to be able to chew bones effectively and safely. A Kong toy might be a better substitute if you have this kind of dog.
Is Your Dog a Brachiocephalic Breed?
Look at your dog’s teeth closely especially the upper and lower molars in back of the mouth, the length of the muzzle, and the condition of the teeth and gums and ascertain if the mouth looks “in shape” to handle a bone. Or ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s mouth.
Little dogs and toys with delicate jaw structures and softer teeth should not eat bones. If your dog is too little to eat bones safely, you can still help maintain their dental health using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and aloe vera juice.
Dogs with gut sensitivities might not process bones well either. If your dog is prone to loose stools or vomiting, be sure to resolve those GI issues first, and save the bones for after he/she has recovered. If your dog isn’t used to chewing on real meat bones, they can sometimes have a bout of diarrhea or soft stool after eating the bones. Over time, their system will adjust and they will be able to consume bones without issue (if fed bones on a regular basis).
2. Feed Bones At the Proper Time
The best time to give a dog a bone is after a full meal. Why? You don’t want your dog starving when he/she starts to chew on the bone. Ingesting too much of a bone could lead to constipation, and possible serious obstruction. Give your dog a bone for only 10 to 15 minutes, then take it away*, wash it, and store in a container in the fridge. Toss it out after 3-4 days.
*A good practice here is to replace the bone with something else (like a couple of pieces of mozzarella cheese) when you take it away. This will help reduce the likelihood of behavioral issues like resource guarding of the bones. If your dog growls when you approach his bone or try to remove it, definitely seek out a qualified dog behaviorist to help you retrain this behavior!
3. Find the Right Kind of Bones
Bones must be Size Appropriate!
Large breed dogs such as Labradors, Dobermans, German Shepherds, etc. need a large enough bone so they will not chew and swallow it quickly. Bones should be larger than the length of the muzzle so it is impossible to swallow whole. A beef shank bone is a good example of a size appropriate bone for larger breeds.
I hunt for beef shank, rib, and large soup bones mostly because of availability, but lamb and large pork bones are suitable for the right jaw and dog. In general, bigger is better.
What Kinds of Bones Should Be Avoided?
Avoid the “3 B’s”: Baked, Broiled, Barbecued
I don’t recommend feeding any baked, broiled, or barbecued bones to pets because the heat dries up the bone and makes it more brittle and subject to splintering. Chicken bones and beef “T” bones are mostly the culprits. Keep pets away from these bones!
However, boiling the bone can be useful. If your dog isn’t used to chewing on bones it is best to soften the bone through boiling. This is a good opportunity to make a meat broth for later use. Put the bone in a pot with some water, a little salt, celery, carrot, and parsley and simmer for about 1 hour.
What about Raw Bones?
After the initial few weeks chewing on softer boiled bones, raw bones can be introduced. Raw bones provide more nutrition. Dogs are more prone to wanting to bury fresh bones because they like them to be “aged” and fermented with soild bacteria. This practice is safe (but messy) if your soil is clean and healthy. Dogs need some of the bacteria, yeasts, and minerals in the soil to help digest the bones better. They instinctually know this.
Good Sources to Find Bones
- The supermarket (make friends with the butchers and you’ll find yourself getting better cuts since they’ll know it’s for your dogs)
- From your local CSA (community supported agriculture co-op)
- Meat markets / butcher shops
4. Use Supervision
As with most chewable pet-friendly items, supervision is very important! Don’t buy a real meat bone and then toss it to your dog when you leave for work in the morning.
Check on your dog periodically as he/she is chewing on the bone. Then, when you remove the bone, check your dog’s teeth and gums afterwards. You might see minor gum irritation if chewing on real bones is new to your dog. Eventually, the gum tissue will get stronger with stimulation and chewing.
The most common hazard with bone chewing is a slab fracture of one of the upper hind molars. If a dog has been already been chewing on rocks, furniture, and other hard materials, the teeth might have been already weakened resulting in a fracture when the bone chewing was initiated. If this sounds like your dog, be especially careful when feeding real meat bones.
Try This Recipe At Home!
Use this recipe to make use of those bones that are “done” being chewed on, or bones that just aren’t appropriate for your dog to chew on directly.
Gelatin contains collagen, which is one of the main building blocks of joint tissues, including cartilage and ligaments.
Besides being good for joint health, collagen is necessary for healthy skin and the prevention of wrinkles. Collagen formation decreases in the body as pets and people age.
Eating foods and supplements that improve joint function and “feed” the joints is very important for the” longevity of function.” Your body cannot function on inferior food. Besides following the famous quote, “use it or lose it” in relationship to exercise, as one ages the body needs more “help” in maintaining optimal health and function through proper supplementation.
Because I believe in the concept “make your food your medicine” I will use vegetables, meats, fish and herbs in my recipes that have medicinal effects for a particular malady, and other ingredients for their nutritional benefits.
This recipe is a “home-made” version of a “joint supplement” but in a very palatable form of gelatin instead of a pill.
A good use for any kinds of left over bones (chicken, turkey, pork, lamb or beef) from your dinner is to make broth (daishi) from them. This process of making soup will extract the active nutrients such as collagen and minerals that help support and maintain healthy bone, cartilage and ligaments.
Adding the herbs ginger and turmeric to the recipe will help decrease inflammation and improve blood circulation throughout the body. These herbs also have antioxidant, anti cancer effects; kill intestinal parasites, giardia and pathogenic strains of E. coli with continued use. No side effects!
Adapting This Recipe for Cats
Because cats will not tolerate spicy tastes, I have substituted brewer’s yeast and spirulina for the ginger and turmeric in the recipe below.
Spirulina is rich in amino acids (protein), antioxidants such as chlorophyll, carotenoids, and phycocyanins as well as essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid, Vitamins B12, C and E plus minerals such as selenium and chromium.
Brewer’s or Nutritional yeast supplies other B complex vitamins as well as minerals.
Turkey Bones Gelato (For Dogs or Cats)
- 4 cups (1 turkey) of turkey bone leftovers
- 1/2 cup minced celery
- 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh (or 1 teaspoon of dried) minced American parsley
- 2 packets of Knox Gelatin
- 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder (or, if you are making this for a cat, substitute with 1 tablespoon of Brewer’s Yeast)
- ½ teaspoon Turmeric powder (or, if you are making this for a cat, substitute with 1 teaspoon of Spirulina)
In a large pot or crock pot, add in all of your ingredients (except the Knox Gelatin and the Parmesan cheese) with enough water to cover everything (approximately 8 cups of water or less).Bring to a boil, and simmer for 1 – 1.5 hours. Let cool.
Remove bones and vegetables by straining, and save the liquid. Pour liquid into a glass brownie baking pan. Add 2 packets of Knox Gelatin and mix well. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.
Let sit until it reaches room temperature, and then place in the refrigerator overnight. Cut into 1 inch by 2 inch wide cubes or chunks. Keep some handy in the fridge, and return the rest to the freezer.
Give one square (1 by 2 inches) per 25 lbs of body weight, twice daily, as a snack or with meals.
Do You Have Other Tips To Share?
Did we miss anything? Let us know! Or, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below.