Bones can offer dogs many benefits, but they also come with risks. Dogs love chewing on bones, and they can help to provide essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorus, keep their minds active, and remove tartar from their teeth. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential dangers that bones can pose. 

The risks of feeding bones to dogs

Physical injuries

Both raw and cooked bones present choking hazards and can easily splinter into sharp fragments, with cooked bones being more brittle and prone to fracturing than raw ones. Regardless of your dog’s size, both cooked and raw bones pose significant risks for choking. Cross-sections of long bones can also get stuck around canines and jaw bones. Fractured bone segments and small chicken bones can lead to blockages in the stomach or intestines and sharp fragments may tear or perforate the digestive tract anywhere from the mouth to the rectum, causing internal injuries or infections. These issues often necessitate emergency veterinary surgery to remove pieces of bone, physical obstructions or repair damaged tissue. 

Dental damage

Due to the hard density of bones, chewing and gnawing can lead to dental damage and result in worn or fractured teeth and exposed nerve roots. This in turn can cause significant pain and lead to weight loss, nutritional imbalance or bacterial infections. Rectifying the damage may require costly dental procedures such as root canals or tooth extractions, which all require a general anesthetic too. 

Nutritional imbalance

While bones might seem like a natural source of nutrients, they can be very high in fat and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. If the rest of the dog’s food intake is not carefully managed this can lead to nutritional imbalance and growth abnormalities, particularly in puppies. In addition, excess fat can result in inflammation of the pancreas, contribute to weight gain and lead to temporary diarrhea. 

The risks if feeding raw bones to dogs

Bacterial and parasitic contamination: Raw bones are likely to be contaminated with bacteria, no matter how well they are packaged or stored. Some bacteria, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli, which may already be present in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs without causing signs of illness, can also lead to health issues such as vomiting, diarrhea and even blood poisoning. Unaffected dogs may also carry the bacteria and shed it into the environment, causing illness in others. In addition, dogs that scavenge dead animals or wild bones are at an increased risk of parasitic infection, particularly tapeworm and protozoa. 

This year’s annual White Paper report, the PetSure Pet Health Monitor 2024 showed that the highest cost of treatment in 2023 for gastrointestinal issues in dogs (ages one to eight) was $20,622*.

Zoonotic risk: Any bacteria or parasite found in raw meat and bones that can cause illness in your dog can also be harmful and potentially cause disease in humans**. This in turn can pose a public health risk, especially in households with young children, elderly members, or immunocompromised individuals. 

Hygiene and safe handling: Food preparation always requires meticulous care and with the increasing popularity of feeding raw meat and bones, the focus should be on hygiene and safe handling. Safe food handling processes include thawing raw meat in the fridge and using separate food preparation areas and utensils. It is also critical to use disinfectant to clean preparation surfaces, utensils, food bowls and hands after both food preparation and feeding time.  

Bone Alternatives

There are many alternatives now available to dogs that can provide similar levels of mental stimulation and even help to reduce the build-up of tartar on the surface of teeth, without many of the risks of natural bones. 

Dental chews: Specifically formulated dental chews are a good alternative to natural bones and are designed to assist with keeping tooth surfaces clean, whilst also providing enjoyment for your dog. Look for a product that meets the global safety standards of the Veterinary Oral Health Council and always ensure they are the correct size for your dog. 

Kongs: These durable rubber toys can be filled with kibble, treats or peanut butter, providing a safe and engaging chewing experience. They are widely considered an excellent choice by vets for power chewers and come in various sizes, shapes, and textures. However, be careful not to over-feed your dog with tasty stuffings! 

Homemade, frozen treats: Consider offering frozen carrot sticks, apple slices (without seeds), or homemade peanut butter and pumpkin dog treats as a safer and healthier alternative.  

Synthetic bones: These come in various shapes, sizes, and materials, so it’s important to choose options that are safe and recommended for the size of your dog. Be aware that some have been exposed to artificial flavours and chemical compounds. 

Bully sticks: Often recommended by vets because of their digestibility and texture, they are unlikely to damage teeth or cause obstructions, but can cause tummy upset if your dog is particularly sensitive. 

Rawhide bones: While rawhides labeled as 100% beef or horse hide are considered safe by some vets, similar to synthetic bones some rawhide versions have also been exposed to artificial flavours and chemical compounds during the manufacture process 

With all bones and bone alternatives, please avoid them if your dog tends to bite off large chunks or swallow them whole. They can still pose a choking hazard. 

Tips for safe chewing

Supervision: Always supervise your dog and never leave them alone when they are chewing on any treat or toy. 

Size appropriateness: Ensure that any chewable item is appropriate for your dog’s size and breed. A chew that’s too small can be swallowed whole and pose a choking hazarad or lead to gastrointestinal obstruction. 

Vet dental checks: Regular dental check-ups with your vet can help ensure that your dog’s teeth are in good condition and can handle chewing treats safely. 

Feeding a bone to your dog may seem natural and enjoyable, but it’s essential to make an informed decision. Consider alternatives like store-bought or homemade chews, extra playtime and stimulating walks, which can provide just as much fun and special bonding time. 

Read more on zoonotic disease, foreign bodies and toxins here

*PetSure Claims Data 2023 

**PetSure Pet Health Monitor 2024. 


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