If you’ve ever thought about feeding your dog a bone and then caught yourself, you probably asked yourself, “Can dogs eat bones?”
Dogs can eat bones. But they should not be given just any bone.
The real answer to, “Can dogs eat bones?” lies in which bone we are talking about, and whether it is raw or cooked.
Precautions should always be taken, even if you have given your dog a bone that is supposed to be safe, because bones can be swallowed.
Let’s cover some specifics on safe bones for dogs.
Can Dogs Eat Bones?
One of the problems with safe dog bones and raw diets for dogs generally is the lack of evidence as to safety and benefits, compared with commercially prepared pelleted dog food (kibble).
As a result, it isn’t just pet owners that disagree over safe bones for dogs. You’ll find vets arguing over this too.
Dog food manufacturers, which use bones and bone meal, all tend to come down on one side of the argument, of course. A dog gnawing happily on a bone is a traditional and internationally recognized image.
After all, dogs are carnivores, and meat is important. So it would seem that the nutrients in bones would definitely be good for them. And in a lot of ways, this is true.
In fact, multiple pet food firms have marketed raw bones as being the ideal accompaniment to a raw dog food diet, citing their nutritional benefits.
However, there are caveats to this. And the main one is that raw bones can still be swallowed and cause a blockage.
There are a lot of aspects to this question. So let’s break it down piece by piece.
Bones And Dogs
Bones contain nutrients which are vital for dogs, especially for larger breed puppies. These nutrients include calcium, which is an important part of a nutritious dog food diet.
Calcium should comprise between 1 and 1.8 percent of the dry weight of a dog’s food.
Bones also contain phosphorus, which is also important. These two nutrients are so important to a dog that all commercial pet foods approved by the Association of Animal Feed Control Officials contain bone meal.
Generally speaking, vets recommend that dogs be given a nutritionally complete diet. If supplemented with bones, many recommend either edible or recreational raw bones.
When Are Bones Bad For Dogs?
Bones, in and of themselves, are not bad for dogs. That is to say, the nutrients in them are not toxic. However, caution is definitely required when it comes to feeding your dog cooked bones.
Most experts, even those who don’t like dogs to have bones of any kind, agree that raw bones are likely to be safer than cooked bones.
You probably know someone that feeds cooked bones to dogs, and whose dogs are fine. I do too.
But the overwhelming view, at the current time, is that cooked bones are more dangerous than raw bones because the cooking process makes bones more brittle.
This means that they are much more likely to splinter.
Bearing in mind the lack of evidence to the contrary, my own view therefore, is that it is best not to feed cooked bones to your dog.
That doesn’t mean that there are no safe bones for dogs.
Are Bones Good For Dogs?
For optimum health, a dog should eat a well-rounded and nutritional diet.
This includes nutrients that he can get from bones.
Bones are often fed as part of a raw diet. We have lots of information on feeding a raw diet to your dog, the pros and cons, the risks and benefits of raw bones for dogs, so we won’t go into that in too much detail here.
Apart from that, the nutrients in bones themselves are definitely good for dogs. But they can be attained from bone meal, a common ingredient in dog foods.
A second benefit of bones is that they will often keep a dog occupied and happy for quite some time!
Can Dogs Eat Raw Bones
What are the facts on raw bones for dogs?
If your dog eats raw bones, he will certainly break them up into small, sharp looking bits and swallow them. And it is impossible for anyone to promise you that a splinter from a bone won’t harm your dog.
All we can tell you is that many people nowadays feed their dogs on raw bones, such as rib bones, without their dogs coming to harm. So can dogs have raw bones without any worries at all?
There is a growing enthusiasm now for feeding dogs on a totally raw diet. I’ll come right out and disclose that my dogs are largely fed this way. I’ll also add that I don’t think this is in some way a morally superior thing to do, or even that it is the right thing to do for all dogs, or in all families.
Why is it that thousands of dogs are now raw fed and swallow splintered bone each day without coming to harm? One argument is that dogs are simply able to digest splintered bone without ill-effects.
What most experts do agree on, is that raw fed dogs may be protected by the meat they eat along with their bones. In other words, raw bones are likely to be a good deal safer when fed as part of a meal.
So, while raw bones are not risk free (nor is any food source) it is clear that they are not the dire threat to dogs that was once thought.
Can Dogs Eat Cooked Bones
Can dogs have cooked bones?
You should not give your dog cooked bones. This is because cooking bones makes them more likely to splinter and cause an obstruction.
However, you will sometimes come across bones that are specifically for dogs to chew on and which are cooked. What about marrow bones for dogs?
The next section will cover the most common options.
Can Dogs Eat Marrow Bones?
Recreational bones are the bones that dogs are given to gnaw on when he is relaxing at home. Both to keep the dog happy, and to keep him out of mischief for a while. They are usually large marrow bones.
You can buy big marrow bones from butchers and pet stores. But can dogs have marrow bones? What exactly is the skinny on marrow bones for dogs?
People often think that these are safe because they are too big to choke on, and don’t splinter easily. Even though the ones you get from a pet store are often cooked.
But there is a problem with big bones that all vet seem to agree on. They can break dogs’ teeth.
Vets regularly see slab fractures in dogs that have been given large, hard, bones to gnaw on. And even vets that support raw feeding, and giving bones to dogs, will warn people not to feed large, weight-bearing bones to their dogs.
While gnawing on large bones may be a way for modern dogs to pass the time, it may not be quite the natural behavior we think it is.
Wild dogs usually leave the more challenging bones on a carcass unless food resources are short, in which case they will consume a carcass more fully. Historical records show higher levels of broken teeth in carnivores when competition for food is intense.
Can Dogs Eat Recreational Bones?
Along with the question of marrow bones being too hard for a dog’s teeth, there are other types of “recreational” bones which raise questions. Can dogs have recreational bones of other sorts?
As a rule of thumb, if a bone is a weight-bearing bone (such as a leg bone) of an animal that is as big or bigger than your dog, it is probably safest to give that bone a miss.
These bones are likely to be hard and strong, and have the greatest risk of fracturing your dog’s teeth.
Weight bearing bones of smaller animals, rabbits, chickens, etc., are not as hard and are less likely to fracture your dog’s teeth.
A dog’s digestive tract is much shorter than a humans and is designed specifically to process meat and bone together.
Your dog will usually digest all the bone he eats almost completely without any problems provided it is fed in the right proportions to muscle meat and organs, as a part of his diet.
Dogs fed recreational bones without meat attached and/or not given sufficient access to water after eating bone, may end up constipated.
Can Dogs Eat Rib Bones
Can dogs have rib bones instead?
As a matter of fact, this is a much better choice for your dog to eat, when it comes to larger animals like cows and sheep.
Rib bones tend to be pliable and softer than leg bones, and dogs are able to consume them more easily.
Can Dogs Eat Chicken Bones
Here’s a big, contentious question: can dogs have chicken bones?
Simply put, there isn’t any truth to the myth that dogs can’t eat chicken bones.
Cooked chicken bones may well be dangerous, for the reasons given above. But raw chicken, or turkey, on the bone, is a staple part of the diet of most raw fed dogs.
Can Dogs Eat Pork Bones
What about pigs? Can dogs have pork bones?
Many people have heard that dogs can’t eat pork, but it is not entirely true. Though in some regions, parasites can be an issue (see below), and some dogs may be allergic to the protein found in pork.
Allergies to other meats can occur, too, but they are not the norm. Most dogs can eat pork without ill effects. Pig’s feet (trotters) are a popular source of nutritious food for raw fed dogs.
In some parts of the world, meat from some animals carries parasites that can be passed on to dogs. This is not just a problem with pork. It may apply to fish and other meats too.
In most cases these parasites can be killed by freezing the meat for a while before thawing it out for a dog to eat.
If you decide to feed your dog a raw diet, you need to arm yourself with information on the potential issues in your area before you start.
Otherwise, pork bones for dogs should be okay.
Can Dogs Eat Ham Bones?
Can dogs have ham bones?
When discussing ham bones for dogs, the same really goes for them as for ribs and pigs feet, as seen in previous sections.
The primary danger is if the bone is cooked, and splinters.
It’s safer to give your dog a raw bone to chew on. But precautions still need to be taken, and you should still be observant of your dog as he gnaws.
Can Dogs Eat Rawhide Dog Bones?
What about rawhide chews? Can dogs have rawhide dog bones?
Rawhide for dogs is a very popular choice. But there are dangers involved in this, as well.
Rawhide has actually usually been treated and preserved. So “rawhide” can be a misnomer.
Vets are also concerned about dogs who tend to chew through their rawhide so quickly that they swallow large pieces of it. Labrador Retrievers tend to be this type of chewer.
A dog’s stomach acid can break down small pieces of rawhide, but larger pieces can lead to an obstruction.
So care should be taken when giving your dog rawhide dog bones.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Bones?
As we’ve already discussed above, your dog simply eating a bone should not be a cause for worry.
However, if you are concerned that your dog has eaten a bone that may be causing a blockage or obstruction, the most important thing to do is get in contact with your vet.
Be observant for any signs that your dog is having difficulties in breathing or is in distress. Report the circumstances accurately and be ready to get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
For more specific details on what to do if your dog eats a bone that is concerning, take a look at our article here.
Can Bones Treat Dental Problems In Dogs?
Because of the gnawing that usually happens when you give a dog a bone, many people assume that bones are great for any dental problems that may be happening.
However, this isn’t entirely the case.
Bones can be good for helping to clean a dog’s teeth. This is true especially if there is some cartilage and meat on the bone. Gnawing on all of that is almost like brushing and flossing your dog’s teeth.
Although brushing should be a regular part of caring for your dog in any case.
But bones can also be bad for a dog’s teeth, under certain circumstances. As mentioned above in the subheading on marrow bones, large bones can be too hard for a dog and actually harm or even break their teeth.
On top of that, if your dog has major dental problems that cause sensitive teeth, they most likely won’t want to chew on a bone to begin with.
Should I Give My Dog Bones?
There’s a lot of room for variety and argument when it comes to this question. Ultimately, it is up to each dog owner to make the decision for themselves.
Eating bones is not without risk, but it is likely that these risks have been overstated in the past. And there are benefits to feeding a dog on a diet of raw meaty bones.
The best raw bones for dogs are meaty bones, with plenty of muscle meat still attached to them.
Whole chickens or chicken portions, whole rabbits, and meaty beef or lamb ribs are popular ways to feed bones to dogs.
To reduce the risk your dog breaking his teeth on bones, he should not be fed weight-bearing bones from larger animals.
How To Prepare Bones For Dogs
To safely give your dog a bone, choose a raw bone that still has meat attached. Avoid giving your dog a bone that is too big, or too small.
Bones are often fed as part of a raw diet, and they are available as such.
It’s always a good idea to check with your vet before you embark on such a diet. Ensure that your dog will get what he needs in terms of nutrients, and that you can safely feed your pup bones.
Alternatives To Bones For Dogs
If you’re not on board with running the risks involved with giving your dog a bone, there are plenty of other alternatives to choose from.
These ideas offer some of the same benefits as bones do.
Can Dogs Eat Bones Summary
Feeding bones is a very contentious topic.
Some people think that you should never give any bones to a dog. Others think that raw bones are okay, but that cooked bones are dangerous.
Some people think that some types of raw bone are safe and other types of raw bone are not.
To minimize risk of sharp splinters harming your dog’s digestive tract, or of tiny chips of bone clogging up his gut, dogs should not be given cooked bones. Safe dog bones, therefore, are raw and appropriately sized.
- Cooked bones
- Weight bearing bones
- Recreational bones
Bone safety does not depend on the species of animal that the bone comes from but on the bone being raw, pliable, and fed as part of a meal.
Many thousands of dogs are currently thriving on a natural raw diet, and have lived long and healthy lives on raw food, including bones.
References and Further Reading
- Bone Supplements for Pets, Mercola
- Van Valkenburgh, B, 2008, Costs of Carnivory, Biological Journal
- Dog Nutrition Tips, ASPCA
- Becker, M, Is It Safe To Give My Dog A Rawhide? Vet Street
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.