Chris Shaughness

author, speaker, animal lover

Nutrition and Wellness,  All Articles

The Bone Controversy

Chewing is a very natural activity for dogs. As hunters and scavengers before they came to live with humans, dogs ate small animals – bones and all. (Yes, our dog friends who share our beds used to hunt and munch on other furry or feathered friends!). From a behavior perspective, letting your dog chew on a bone can be a great way to alleviate boredom, or…it can be disastrous if your dog is a resource guarder and gets aggressive if anyone tries to take the bone. What bones are safe? The answer is – – it depends. But please understand when you read this, there are so many factors to consider. Certain types of bones may be perfectly safe for one dog or disastrous for another. It is very important to know your dog and how he chews. Do not take the information below as an endorsement for any of these types of bones. I would love to hear the opinions of any veterinarians reading this. Please write to me so that I can do an update!

Many people are now feeding their dogs a diet of raw food, also known as the BARF diet which stands for bones and raw food. If prepared properly, this diet is supposedly the most natural and healthy. Although feeding dogs this diet can be expensive (if you buy commercially made food) and time consuming (if you make your own), there is no doubt that it supplies dogs with a daily dose of chewing activity. But the selection of the right bone is essential, or else you could be doing your dog more harm than good. People who feed their dogs BARF generally use uncooked chicken necks or backs. Because the bones are uncooked, they are soft and not harmful for the dogs. When bones are cooked, it makes them brittle and dangerous when ingested by dogs. Okay, you think the idea of letting your dog hang out on your living room rug chewing on a chicken back isn’t so appealing? Now what?

When you go to a pet or grocery store, you find an abundant selection of bones: rawhide, rubber, Nylabones, Greenies, cornstarch-based, Dentabones, pigs’ ears, hooves, pizzles and of course, real animal bones. Did I miss something??!!! So, what do you choose? The issue is complicated and often controversial, but let’s try to condense it a little.

First and foremost, it is important to understand your dog’s chewing style. Is your dog a casual chewer who takes his time and savors his bones? Or is she the type who inhales the bone as quickly as possible, biting off large pieces at a time? Knowing which style your dog uses will be helpful for your bone selection. “Delicate” chewers have many more options because they are less likely to ingest large pieces which can hurt them. Owners of dogs who are voracious chewers need to be much more careful.

Secondly, dogs should not be left to chew unattended for long periods of time. Choking is a very real possibility.

Animal Bones: There are several concerns with real bones. First, ensure that if you give your dog animal bones, larger is better so that they don’t splinter or can be swallowed. The best kinds are cow femur or knuckle bones. Never give your dog ribs, t-bones or any other small bones, especially if they are cooked. These are the most likely to cause choking or intestinal blockages. However, many veterinarians are concerned when dogs chew on large animal bones because the hardness of the bone can crack dogs’ teeth. For instance, my Gizzy’s molars are worn down to little nubs from chewing on bones. (I suspect his previous owners let him do this to keep him out of trouble!) If your dog is a voracious chewer, it is best to limit the time your dog chews, not letting her chew indefinitely.

Rawhide: Nothing is more controversial than rawhide. If your dog chews fast, rawhide is probably not a good choice because she is likely to bite off large pieces which, here too, can either choke her or lodge in her intestines. And some dogs simply cannot tolerate rawhide; they have severe digestive problems (vomiting, diarrhea) when they ingest it. Also be aware that some rawhide is processed with arsenic, obviously a toxic substance. Steer clear of bright white rawhide.

Other Animal Parts (pigs’ ears, hooves, pizzles): These prize treats are so tasty to dogs, yet are so stinky! Ever smelled a soggy hoof? Yikes! I guess that’s why dogs love them so much. As with rawhide, some dogs can eat them, yet other dogs can get sick from them. Moderation is best; limit your dog to a small amount of time and ensure your dog does not “wolf” them down too quickly.

Nylabones: These bones are made of, supposedly, non-toxic nylon and are not likely to cause sickness. However, many dogs are not interested in these bones either because they aren’t real or don’t have the sensory appeal of real bones. If your dog likes them, great! Here again, if your dog is a voracious chewer, watch out for large pieces.

Greenies: These tasty bones were once considered very dangerous for voracious chewers. Some dogs died from ingesting large pieces which became lodged in their intestines. I understand that the makers of Greenies have reformulated the product so it’s softer and less likely to do harm. It’s still probably not a good choice for strong chewers.

Cornstarch Bones: These are very safe, tasty and great for delicate chewers. If you have a fast eater, forget it. The bone will be gone in seconds!

Dentabone: The primary ingredients in Dentabones are rice, rice starch, tapioca starch and wheat bran. These are all safe ingredients yet not very tough. Delicate chewers may be able to make these bones last a long time, but voracious chewers will have them gone in no time, just like cornstarch bones.

Rubber Bones: These are probably the least enticing for dogs. They usually have no taste or smell to attract the dog. However, some dogs like them and will chew them to pieces. Be careful that the dog does not swallow the pieces.

Sorry for the lengthy article, but I could have written more. As you can see, there are no easy answers!

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