Sometimes, when a pair of pleading eyes are gazing up as you tuck in to your dinner, it can be tempting to give your pooch something to nibble on too. You want to show your pet you love him, and you know that a small amount of people food is okay for dogs. But what about bones? Let's answer an important question – cooked bones for dogs: safe or not?
The short answer is that throwing your dog a bone is a bad idea; cooked bones are not safe to feed your dog. The cooking process dries the bone out and causes it to become brittle, increasing the risk of breakages and splintering that can harm your dog or even be fatal.
Raw bones are less dangerous but still come with some risks like choking, tooth damage and bacterial transmission. There are lots of other options you can choose if you’d like to give your buddy something to gnaw on that doesn’t carry the same risks as bones.
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Cooked Bones for Dogs: Safe or Not?
The FDA advises against ever feeding your dog cooked bones, including large thigh bones and smaller leftovers like chicken wings and fish bones. The cooking process dries out the bone and leaches the collagen that gives raw bones their springy, flexible texture.
When cooked they become brittle, increasing the chances they will splinter which could choke your dog or puncture his tongue, mouth or esophagus. Worse, splinters can make their way further along in the digestion process, perforate the stomach or intestines and cause internal bleeding.
There have been several fatalities recorded when cooked bones for dogs were given to pets. You should also avoid any bone products that are baked or dried and steer clear of ones that have been smoked.
The smoking process dries out the bone over several hours making it more likely to shatter as well. Bones can also crack your dog’s teeth and grind them down after long term gnawing.
It’s not just when you’re at home that caution is needed. In a 2010 Consumer Update, the FDA reported that a range of commercial bone dog treats, like ham hocks, femur bones, knuckles and rib bones were reported to them for causing illnesses in dogs. Owners and vets reported the following problems to the FDA after their dogs ate these store-bought bone products:
- Cuts in the mouth or throat
- Stomach and intestinal blockages
- Approximately eight dogs were reported to have died after eating a bone treat product.
Keeping your dog away from cooked bones
There are lots of little things you can do to help keep your pet safe when it comes to getting their paws on cooked bones. Be careful when walking your dog in urban areas and parks.
Watch that they don’t rustle something up that was discarded by other people, things like the bones from chicken snack boxes and Buffalo wings can be left around and smell very tempting to wet noses.
Heading to the woods instead? Keep an eye on your buddy as he explores – animal or bird carcasses, while not cooked, may have had lots of time to dry out, again making the risk of the bones splintering more likely.
Also be careful with your garbage; you don’t want your buddy taking a dumpster dive and coming out with the remains of last night’s roast chicken. If possible, keep your garbage in a separate area that your dog can’t access or use clips to secure the lid.
Make sure to tell your kids, friends and family when they’re over for dinner not to feed your dog any scraps from the dinner table. Instead they can indulge your pup with attention and some safe treats after you’ve finished up.
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There has been a huge revival in recent years of feeding dogs raw diets, said to more closely resemble what they would eat if in the wild. The diet often includes consumption of raw bones. This diet is still relatively new in terms of research and mostly only has anecdotal evidence for and against it.
At the moment, the raw food diet has a few obvious pros and cons which must be considered before deciding if you want to give raw bones to your dog.
Advantages of feeding your dog raw bones
Raw bones contain some nutrients and minerals that are good for your dog, like calcium and phosphorus. Much of the other nutritional value comes from the marrow, the soft inner cavity of the bone, cartilage and remaining meat and connective tissue that is left on the bone. T
he bone marrow is very high in fat and not much else, so it’s a little like a rich dessert for your doggy. Bones can help keep teeth clean, but caution is still advised because your dog could still hurt his teeth or swallow pieces of bone.
To avoid tooth or jaw issues, do not feed your dog large chunky leg bones as they are too tough. Bones that are surrounded by meat which helps keep them moist and flexible are good. Do not give your dog raw pork or raw pork bones either, because pork has a much higher likelihood of trichinosis than other meats.
Bones should be larger than the dog’s muzzle so he can’t swallow it whole. For large breeds like German Shepherds and Labradors, a beef shank bone is a good size. Flatter-faced breeds like bulldogs and pugs should never be fed bones at all because their jaw mobility is reduced and their throats are not as well able to swallow large bits of food.
It’s also a good idea to avoid any giving any bones or hard foods to your dog if he is prone to hoovering up his dinner within seconds.
Disadvantages of feeding your dog raw bones
Bacteria from bones can also be tracked through the house on paws and end up contaminating a lot of areas in the home.
Nearly all the advantages that come with feeding your dog bones can be replaced in one way or another. If you are feeding a raw diet or wish to supplement with bones, you can use bone meal. Finely ground bone provides some supplementary nutrients without the risks of tooth or jaw damage or intestinal issues.
However, be careful with bone meal if your dog is fed any kind of pre-prepared foods, dry or wet, as they often contain high levels of calcium already. Obviously, bones contain lots of calcium, and too much calcium can be detrimental to your doggy’s health.
Rubber bones and other chewable toys can provide the same play, hunting practice and stimulation and give your pet something flexible to nibble on if he is soothed by chewing. These toys allow your dog to chew without the risk of splintering or bacteria from raw bones.
You can give your buddy other chewable treats and cooked chewy parts of meat that have lots of connective tissue and cartilage for him to gnaw on but that are still easily digested. There are many other products on the market that are designed to keep your dog’s teeth in top shape as well, like ‘flossing’ and crunchy treats, and these don’t carry the risks that bones do.
Cooked bones should never be fed to your dog, as they are very dangerous and even sometimes fatal. Raw bones are less dangerous but still carry some risks. The best thing you can do to reduce all risks is to replace all the advantages that bones offer with alternatives like tough chewable toys, safe chewy treats and dental hygiene foods instead.
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