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In spring 2012 I started giving our dogs raw bones as a treat.  I wrote about alternatives to rawhide chews and included raw bones on the list.  Our dogs loved them at first and then one day our litter mates turned drunken college kids – Sydney blew chunks in a corner, while Rodrigo was kind enough to run to the door to be let out to blow.  My boyfriend looked at my, disgust on his face and suggested that we no longer give them raw bones.  I agreed as I was wiping up Sydney’s pile under her watchful eye.  “Hey! I was going to roll in that.”

Are Raw Bones Safe for Dogs?

If you ask around, you’ll get different opinions about feeding raw bones to dogs.  Some feel that dogs are carnivores and raw bones are a natural part of their diet.  Others feel that they’re dangerous and should be avoided.  Everyone agrees that the cooked bones we see in pet stores should be avoided at all costs.  Hopefully, I can shed some light with the help of veterinarian professionals.

The Benefits of Raw Bones for Dogs

I didn’t hear from a veterinarian professional about the benefits of raw bones although I do know that there are some dog owners who feed their dogs raw bones without any issues.

Dr. Bruce Silverman, Village West Veterinary of Chicago, IL, shared that he addresses this question with dog owners regularly many dog owners his area feed their dogs raw bones.  Although the practice makes him nervous, he admits that their dogs have “fared better than dogs that get cooked, hardened bones.”

Cooked / Hardened Bones for Dogs

The cooked and hardened bones referred to are the ones in the pet store and can splinter, causing digestive issues.  The cooked ones usually have a brown coating on them and come in varying sizes, including Gigantic and remind me of something Dino from the Flintstones would carry to his dog house.  Speaking of Dino, didn’t you think it was funny that when they adopted him, he could talk, but never again?

The Downsides to Raw Bones for Dogs

For us, the downside is that they make our dogs sick.  That’s the only negative we’ve experienced, but, as any dog owner knows, it’s enough to make us take raw bones off our pet shopping list.  Here are the thoughts of several reputable veterinarians around the country.

I’ve met dog owners who feed their dogs raw bones as a method to keep their teeth clean.  Jennifer Mathis, Family Pet Veterinary Center, shared that the danger of raw bones for dogs is that they break teeth.  A dog with a broken tooth will be in pain, but may not show that they’re in pain, allowing the broken tooth to expand in a bacterial infection.  Check out this PDF created by the FDA that Jennifer shared for this article: No Bones About It.

Bob Molloy, co-founder and co-owner of Bark Place in Boston, adds that if a dog has a compromised immune system, meat products that are raw may pose a problem.  Bob shares that “bones are the safest when raw on the first day and with fresh marrow. Bone marrow is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and should be removed after an hour or two.”  Although  Bob says that fresh raw bones are normally safe, how many people can guarantee that what they’re giving their dogs is safe?  How long before we should throw them out?  I asked at various pet stores and received different answers.

Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan Pet Insurance, was kind enough to share a list of ailments that he’s seen come through his veterinarian practice due to the consumption of raw bones.

Broken teeth: This is very common. Dogs love chewing on bones, but the bones are so hard that they often cause fractures of the molars and, more commonly, premolars. Broken teeth, as you can imagine, are very painful and will require dental surgery or extraction to resolve.

Oral injuries: Broken bone bits are sharp and often cause lacerations or punctures to the mouth or tongue. Depending on the severity, surgery may be required to repair the damage, but whatever the case, count on these injuries to be quite messy. The mouth is home to many blood vessels, so injuries here tend to bleed profusely.

Cut sections of long bones meant for chewing can become “lodged” around your dog’s lower jaw, settling in behind the lower canine teeth.  All of the cases that I have seen have required anesthesia to free the pet of the lodged bone.

Esophageal obstruction: Bones that are hastily scarfed down can get lodged in the esophagus and are unable to move down into the stomach.  Esophageal obstructions will not allow other food or liquid to pass into the stomach. This problem will likely need endoscopic removal and often require referral to a larger veterinary center, which can be very expensive.

Gastrointestinal obstructions: Just as larger bones can get stuck in the esophagus, they can also get stuck in the stomach or intestines. When a foreign body is stuck in the stomach, you may not know for quite some time, but if it is lodged in the intestines, the consequences can be life-threatening.  Endoscopic retrieval of the bone from the stomach or invasive abdominal surgery will be needed if either of these things occur.

Intestinal perforations: Remember those sharp bone edges that I said could cause mouth injuries? They can also perforate through the intestines, causing potentially fatal infection in the abdomen.

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Safe Alternatives to Raw Bones

With all these warnings, there are still people who will continue to believe that raw bones for dogs are perfectly fine.  As Dr. Silverman stated, the dogs who eat raw bones fare better than dogs who eat cooked bones.  I know a local breeder who has fed her dogs raw bones for 20 years as part of a raw food diet and they have had no health issues.  It’s impressive.

I have friends who have switched over to a raw food diet under the guidance of dog nutritionist and their dogs are thriving well and enjoy the treat of raw bones.

For our family, we no longer purchase raw bones because they make our dogs sick.  I don’t know if it’s because the bones are too rich or if the marrow was turning; either way, they’re not for our dogs.  I wanted to share the warnings with other dog owners, because the care and maintenance of dogs (and many of us have several) can be expensive and if something should go wrong when a dog eats a bone, it could be spendy to correct.

If you want to satisfy your dog’s desire to chew, Jennifer Mathis recommends getting products that have some flexibility; she believes that many products that market themselves as good for cleaning a dog’s teeth aren’t effective; the best method is going in for a professional teeth cleaning.

Personally, we like to give our dogs KONG products and carrots.  And in the end, I have no idea what is right and what is wrong so it’s really up to dog owners to do their homework, ask the questions, check with your fellow dog owners and your veterinarian.


Do you feed your dogs raw bones?  Please share your experience.

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