Bone are essential to the raw diet but can be extremely dangerous if not fed properly. Here’s what you should know.
Never feed cooked bones
Cooking bones make them extremely brittle, increasing the likelihood they might splinter and cause internal injury to your dog. Risks of cooked bones:
- Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
- Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog and potentially costly to you, as it usually means a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets stuck in esophagus, the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. Your dog may gag, trying to bring the bone back up, and will need to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets stuck in windpipe. This may happen if your dog accidentally inhales a small enough piece of bone. This is an emergency because your dog will have trouble breathing. Get your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
- Bone gets stuck in stomach. It went down just fine, but the bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. Depending on the bone’s size, your dog may need surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, a procedure in which your veterinarian uses a long tube with a built-in camera and grabbing tools to try to remove the stuck bone from the stomach.
- Bone gets stuck in intestines and causes a blockage. It may be time for surgery.
- Constipation due to bone fragments. Your dog may have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian. Bones also contain a lot of calcium, which is very firming to the stool.
- Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Peritonitis. This nasty, difficult-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian because peritonitis can kill your dog.
Are Any Bones Safe for My Dog?
Chewing on the right kind of raw bones is the equivalent of a good dental cleaning, it removes plaque buildup and prevents gum disease! Raw bones provide a highly digestible source of calcium, phosphorus and other minerals. It provides great mental stimulation and exercise for jaw muscles. Canines in their natural habitat eat prey, including the meat, bones and stomach contents. In fact, your pup has a biological requirement for the nutrients found in bone marrow and the bones themselves.
Two Types of Raw Bones
There are two main types of raw bones:
- Edible bones
- Recreational bones
Edible bones are the hollow, non-weight-bearing bones of birds (typically chicken wings and chicken and turkey necks). They are soft, pliable, do not contain marrow, and can be easily crushed in a meat grinder. These bones are an essential ingredient for dogs on a raw diet. Recreational bones – big chunks of beef or bison femur or hip bones filled with marrow — don’t supply significant dietary nutrition for your dog (they are not designed to be chewed up and swallowed, only gnawed on), but they do provide mental stimulation and are great for your pup’s oral health. When your dog chews on a raw recreational bone, especially a meaty one with cartilage and soft tissue still attached, his teeth get the equivalent of a good brushing and flossing. Dogs in the wild have beautiful teeth and healthy gums. This is because the prey they eat requires a lot of chewing, and the sinewy composition helps to clean each entire tooth.
Guidelines for Feeding Recreational Bones Safely
- Do Supervise your dog closely while he’s working on a bone. That way you can react immediately if your pup happens to choke, or if you notice any blood on the bone or around your dog’s mouth from over-aggressive gnawing. You’ll also know when your dog has chewed down to the hard brittle part of a knuckle bone, making splinters more likely. When the bone has been gnawed down in size throw it out. Do not allow your dog to chew it down to a small chunk he can swallow.
- Do Feed fresh raw bones in your dog’s crate, or on a towel or other surface you can clean, or outside as long as you can supervise him. Fresh raw bones become a gooey, greasy mess until your dog has gnawed them clean, so make sure to protect your flooring and furniture.
- Don’t give them to a dog that has had restorative dental work/crowns.
- Don’t give them to your dog if she has a predisposition to pancreatitis. Raw bone marrow is very rich and can cause diarrhea and a flare-up of pancreatitis. Instead, you can feed a “low fat” version by thawing the bone and scooping out the marrow to reduce the fat content.
- Don’t give a recreational bone to a dog that’s likely to try to swallow it whole or bite it in two and eat it in huge chunks.
The following are do’s and don’ts for feeding recreational raw bones (and yes, they have to be raw, not steamed, boiled or baked): You should be able to find raw knuckle bones at your local butcher shop or the meat counter of your supermarket (labeled as ‘soup bones’). When you get the bones home, store them in the freezer and thaw one at a time before feeding to your pup. I also recommend giving your dog a bone to chew after she’s full from a meal. Hungry dogs are more tempted to swallow a bone whole or break it apart and swallow large chunks. This increases the risk of an obstruction in the digestive tract.
- Don’t feed small bones that can be swallowed whole or pose a choking risk, or bones that have been cut, such as a leg bone. Cut bones are more likely to splinter.
- Don’t feed pork bones or rib bones. They’re more likely to splinter than other types of bones.
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