Dogs absolutely love bones because they’re not only delicious but also comforting. Indeed, dogs have a natural instinct to chew. For puppies, chewing on things can be a way to relieve pain from teething but could also be part of how they explore and learn about their environment. On the other hand, chewing helps older dogs keep their teeth clean and their jaws strong. Additionally, it’s good for mental stimulation and could be a way for them to cope with anxiety, boredom, and frustration.
As dog owners, it’s tempting to give bones to our pets because we can see just how happy it makes them. Plus, they’re fairly inexpensive. It also keeps them busy and away from destructive behaviors. The problem is that giving a dog a bone to chew on could have severe consequences. As the FDA has warned time and again, there are several health problems associated with giving dog bones.
Why Bones Are Dangerous
While it’s tempting to feed your dog a bone as a treat or chew toy, you should understand that there are several risks in doing so.
Bones can cause oral injuries
When a dog chews on bones, not only could they break their teeth, but the pressure from their bites could cause fragments to break off. These fragments tend to be sharp and could cause lacerations in your dog’s mouth and throat. Pieces of bone could also become lodged in their mouths and injure their jaws.
Bones can block your dog’s airway.
When pieces of bone break off, your dog will probably try to swallow them, or they could accidentally slide down the throat. If those chunks are big enough, they could block your dog’s airway and cause choking.
Bones can cause digestive distress.
Some dogs have stomachs that aren’t strong enough to digest bones. Even when they have no history of digestive distress, large enough pieces could cause indigestion, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea in any dog.
Bones can damage your dog’s GI tract.
Apart from causing digestive issues, bone fragments could cause severe damage as they flow through the digestive tract. No matter the size, pieces of bone could lacerate the esophagus and the stomach. It could do the same to the intestines and colon, and could also cause the rectum to bleed.
Bones can contain harmful bacteria.
Raw bones, which are generally regarded as safer than their cooked counterparts, could be contaminated with pathogens that can compromise your dog’s health. Among the most common bacteria found in any raw food are Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
How to Give Your Dog a Bone Safely
If you’re keen on giving bones to your dog, here are a few guidelines to minimize the risk:
Stick to raw bones.
Cooked bones shatter more easily, so it’s better to give your dog raw and fresh ones that they can gnaw on. These are especially beneficial (and more exciting!) when some soft tissue and cartilage are still attached.
Choose the right type of bone.
Don’t give your dog rib bones or pork bones because these are more likely to shatter or splinter. Among your best options are femurs from bison or cows because they’re not likely to break into chunks. If you decide to give knuckle bones, make sure you take them away when the hard, brittle part beneath the cartilage becomes exposed.
Choose the correct bone size.
Never give dogs bones that they could swallow. The best size is something that’s longer than their muzzle. That way, you don’t risk chunks sliding down their throats. Also, if they break into smaller pieces, take them away to avoid choking and lacerations.
Never leave your dog alone with a bone. Give them these special dog treats for 10 to 15 minutes at a time and make sure you’re around to watch them enjoy it. That way, you can watch for signs of danger and keep your dog safe.
Inspect bones frequently.
Always check bones for sharp edges, cracks, and compromised integrity before giving it to your dog. And, don’t feel bad about throwing bones away. It’s always better to play it safe than risk your dog’s life.
Store bones properly.
Raw bones need to be stored in the refrigerator. Otherwise, you risk breeding bacteria and other pathogens that could harm your dog’s health. Also, don’t keep them for more than four days.
Safer Alternatives to Feeding Bones to Dogs
Some argue that bones can be good for canine health. However, many veterinary experts believe that the nutrition dogs can get from bones isn’t worth the risk. But even if dogs don’t have much to gain nutritionally, the benefits to their physical and mental health are tremendous. Nevertheless, there are safer ways to gain the same benefits:
High-quality chew toys are meant to provide the same physical and mental stimulation as animal bones. They are less likely to break off or splinter, and there are many kinds available to address the needs of just about any size and type of chewer.
Dental chews help clean your dog’s teeth as they freshen breath and remove tartar and plaque. Additionally, they satisfy your dog’s need to chew. Although they don’t typically last as long as chew toys, they’re edible, so you don’t need to worry about accidental swallowing.
Digestible Bone Treats
Some dog treats mimic animal bones and essentially offer the same benefits without the health risks. These bone treats won’t splinter and are highly digestible. Among the best ones are made of potato starch, which is easier on the stomach than rawhide and hooves.
Part of being a responsible dog parent is recognizing dangers and keeping them safe, even if it’s from something they absolutely love. That includes toys and food with serious health risks. Because of the concerns surrounding animal bones, it’s better to opt for safer alternatives. Even then, you should inspect chew toys regularly and replace them when they’re showing signs of wear. Lastly, always keep an eye on your dog so you can react quickly to any signs of danger.