How to Properly Feed a Dog Bones
A few decades ago, most dogs would have had raw bones at least occasionally and for some dogs, they would have been a significant part of their diet. These days, things are very different. Most dogs are fed a commercial dry or wet dog food. Even those dogs who are fed a raw diet, may not be given bones.
This is a shame because dogs love them and they do them a lot of good! However, before you rush out to get a bone for your dog, you should read this.
The Benefits of Feeding Your Dog Raw Bones
When a dog bites on a raw bone, they use a shearing and crushing action to chew the bony material and the cartilage. This action massages the teeth and gums and scrapes off food debris as well as any build-up of tartar. Several studies have shown that when you add raw bones (such as oxtail) to a dog’s diet a significant improvement in gum and dental health is achieved. Other studies have found that chewing bones twice a week is very helpful in preventing dental disease from developing in the first place.
Raw bones can also deliver vital nutrition in the form of roughage and this has a cleansing effect on the digestive tract. It encourages soft and regular stools (poops) and can help to prevent problems of the anal glands. The cartilage in the bones delivers much-needed chondroitin and vitamin C which are vital for the health of your dog’s joints and the shreds of raw meat deliver valuable protein. Raw bones also provide minerals such as lysine and natural calcium as well as selenium, magnesium and copper. These are all needed for strong teeth, bones and joints.
Because dogs find bones so irresistible, they make a perfect tasty treat to reward good behaviour and they help to calm a restless dog and promote good behaviour.
Recreational and Nutritional Bones
It’s clear that there are two types of bone – nutritional and recreational. A nutritional bone is eaten by a dog as a good source of calcium and phosphorus. This type of bone must be ground and are not fed whole. These are often chicken spines, necks and wings as they are softer and hollow and therefore easier to grind up. Most dog owners would struggle to grind up a lamb or beef bone.
Alternatively, recreational, meaty bones are chewed on for oral benefit and entertainment. They need to be the right size for your dog to avoid choking and beef and lamb bones are popular choices. Bones act as a pacifier for dogs – they lie still, they have a lower heart rate and the chewing action stimulates the dopamine receptors in the brain which relaxes them.
Potential Problems Caused by Feeding Raw Bones
There are certainly some risks associated with feeding raw bones to your dog and you need to be aware of these so that you can control them.
- Nutritional imbalance
It is not appropriate to exclusively feed your dog on raw bones because they will not provide balanced nutrition and will certainly result in a lack of thiamine. There is potential for hygiene issues if raw bones are left at room temperature for more than four hours. This can result in your dog ingesting a high bacterial load which could make them ill. For this reason, try to source your bones locally so that you know that they come from a reputable butcher. Don’t forget that they can also present a risk to humans as well so always wash your hands after handling raw bones.
- Tooth fractures
Cooked bones are very hard and can cause tooth fractures because they are brittle. They can also cut and puncture the gums.
- Troubled digestion
Some dogs, especially senior animals, can find bones hard to digest and need a balanced home-cooked diet instead. A dog that has too many bones in their diet can get constipated and this can make the stools painful. It can also cause hypercalcemia which is an increase of calcium blood levels to the point that it can cause organ damage.
It is possible for dogs to choke on bone splinters and bits of bone that have broken apart.
Therefore, it is always best to get advice from your vet about the safest way to introduce bones into your dog’s diet.
How to Safely Feed Bones to Your Dog
If you do decide to introduce bones into your dog’s diet, here’s how you can do it properly.
- Do not feed cooked bones
The bones that you feed your dog should be fresh and not cooked or heat dried or desiccated. Cooked bones will not have the best levels of collagen, fat or minerals. They are also not springy and therefore less pleasant for your dog to chew on. Cooked bones are hard and brittle and when they break, the explode into a lot of sharp splinters. These bone shards take a long time to digest and the splinters will therefore pass into the intestines which can lead to impaction and even a puncture of the intestinal wall. They are also more likely to cause cracked teeth. Pet shop “roasted” pork knuckles are best avoided.
- Try to find meaty bones
The meatier the bones the better as this assists with lubrication. Studies have shown that meal that contains raw meaty bones is easily digested by dogs as this closely matches the diet that they have in the wild when they eat all of their prey including the bones.
- Feed them with a raw food diet
Dogs that are fed on a raw food diet have stomach acid that is more suited to digesting raw bones. Their stomach acid is at around pH 1.5 and this is more acidic than the pH 2.5 recorded in dogs fed a diet of cereal meals. These dogs are able to digest meaty bones easily.
- Feed bones infrequently
Most vets recommend that you feed your dog bones once or twice a week if you are using them recreationally. If you are feeding bones for nutrition, you should feed ground up bones or bone meal with every meal. However, you must consult your vet to make sure that you are getting the ratios of calcium to phosphorus correct.
- Avoid large leg bones
These are the ones that are hardest because they are reinforced with iron and zinc. Your dog will still try to chew them but they are most likely to cause damage to teeth. Oxtails have proved to be very successful as a raw bone because they are quite small but not too small and are tough and surrounded by meat.
- Avoid large quantities
Your dog may like the idea of a bucket of chicken wings but that large volume will use up all of the available stomach acid. This means that a lot of the bone will remain undigested and so they pass into the intestine where they can cause impaction.
- Be careful with the size
To avoid a choking hazard, choose a bone that is the right size for your dog. A large dog needs a big bone! Dogs have an extra wide oesophagus – this is the pipe that leads from the mouth to the stomach. Therefore, choking should not be too much of a risk. However, you still need to be careful. Young pups and dogs that have only ever eaten a processed diet will have a softer oesophagus that is less able to cope with bones. Also, dogs that have a flat face or missing teeth will have a problem breaking bones. Some greedy dogs gulp down their food which can look alarming. They would try to swallow a small or medium-sized bone and this could be a choking hazard. This type of dog must have a very large bone only.
- Teach your dog to give up their bones
Dogs really love bones which means that you may have a problem getting the bone off your dog! It is not the bone that is causing the issue – you need to train your dog to do what they are told first. You could practice this by offering them an alternative (such as another tasty treat) when they allow you to take the bone off them. Use the command “leave it”. Then, gradually aim for them to release the bone with just the command.
- Get the quantities right
Most vets feel that bone should only make up around 9 to 10% of your dog’s diet but this figure does vary. You can tell if your dog is getting too much bone – their poop will be hard and yellowy-white and your dog may strain to pass them.
Overall, raw bones can be a useful component of your dog’s diet. Provided you are aware of the potential complications, and take steps to control them, you should encounter few problems. Your dog will certainly love you for it!