Our Dogs Love Them, but Are Raw Bones Safe for Dogs?

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.

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.

12 Comments

  1. Going into any subject with information from both sides is always the best approach. Loved this post! Dogs share some of the same individualism that people have with regards to their tolerances for various things including but not limited to food, treats, and bones of course. I have been feeding bones for going on 18 years now and as long as I have practiced common sense and been responsible with my observation of my dogs with such treats, things have ran smoothly. However, for some, it just doesn’t work, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Our dogs are great at letting us know what the next move is, and as long as we are paying attention, those messages will be loud and clear and everybody can enjoy life!

    BTW…KONGS ROCK!!!!

    KD
    KD Mathews recently published..A bit about bones……5 NEED TO KNOW TIPSMy Profile
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    • Our dogs love raw bones and I’m going to look for a local butcher this weekend. I met a woman who has fed her dog raw bones for years with no issues. You’re right – it’s important to be smart and monitor our dogs instead of leaving them alone.

      My boyfriend brought them home a huge bone from a butcher and they about lost their heads. We didn’t have one issue and we tossed them after an hour or so. My only concern is that we have to remember to wrap them up so the coyotes don’t come sniffing around.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.
      Kimberly recently published..Non Profits | Images of Abused and Neglected Animals Doesn’t WorkMy Profile
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  2. Dagny eats a raw diet and loves raw bones, but we only get them fresh from our local butcher and feed them same day. I am not sure I’d trust a local supermarket. Our butcher here in France actually has dogs and recommended the veal bones, as they’re less likely to break teeth. The last bone Dagny had kept her busy for 4 hours! But every dog and his/her needs are different, so whatever works for you.

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    • It’s funny that you share this, because someone just told me (and my boyfriend in a separate conversation) that it’s important that they come from the butcher and they be the same day they come home. I wonder if that’s the reason why our dogs were getting sick. I put them in the fridge to thaw and served them a couple days later.

      Thanks for the tips!
      Kimberly recently published..Non Profits | Images of Abused and Neglected Animals Doesn’t WorkMy Profile
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      • I will say this….our dogs are much more resilient than we often give them credit for. Having spent many of my dog years working side by side with working dog breeders and trainers I have seen dogs THRIVE doing and eating things that pet owners would swear on their first born child’s life, would be the worst thing their dog could ever come in contact with.

        With regards to bones, I have fed them from all sources, both store and animal. While the butcher is ideal, my freezer has always been stocked with the simple soup bones sold at the local grocery store meat counter. Sometimes they are small and round almost disk-like, other times they are a bit longer with more marrow in them. I buy them, bring them home, and toss in the freezer. When its time for use, I take it out, and toss it to the dog. The marrow is cleaned out rather quickly, and then I take back the bone when I see the dog spending less time with it, throw it in the freezer, and bring it back out a couple days later. After two uses, its lost its “pizazz” and I toss it.

        Your dogs getting sick could have come from a variety of variables. I have experienced that dogs on certain kibble diets, when exposed to the richness of raw foods, get sick. The last 10 years I have been feeding raw meat/bone and kibble mix diets, and I have no complaints on the results end of things. I would not worry at all about how much time has elapsed from the time the cow was “butchered” to when the bone is provided to your dog.

        Enjoy your dog’s enjoyment! :)

        KD
        KD Mathews recently published..FOR THE LAST TIME….NO….THAT’S NOT YOUR DOG’S "GUILTY" FACE!My Profile
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      • I always serve raw bones frozen. Thawing them allows the dogs to get the marrow out way too fast. If one of my dogs eats the marrow quickly, he throws up. We don’t take them away, either. They finish them off frozen then the bone hangs around for weeks. They are squeaky clean when they are done with them so no reason to fear bacteria. If the bones are frozen by the butcher or manufacturer when they are fresh and as long as they stay frozen, they are fine. Who wants to go to the butcher every week?

        If a person has an older dog who has never had raw bones, I generally steer them toward turkey necks instead (which I give frozen as well). Old dogs have a greater tendency to break teeth. My 11 year-old dog has raw bones frequently but she has been eating them for ten years. We do cut beef femurs and beef rib bones mostly. The ribs are softer so my dogs eat the entire bone where the femur bones last for weeks.

        Also, there are bones at pet shops that are smoked that are completely safe and don’t splinter any differently that raw bones. We carry Happy Tails brand from Western Meats in Tumwater, WA. It’s a butcher shop that does everything in-house with minimal processing.

        Come down to my store so we can talk shop!!

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  3. What do you mean in the fridge to thaw? Were they frozen? That may be why your dogs were getting sick. You need to get a bone and feed it within a day or two of the cow dying. But back in NJ, I wouldn’t even know where to find a butcher. Everything is more quaint and personalized here (our butcher visits the cows on the farm, family owned business and knows which cow the meat came from, etc.) so I have no qualms about feeding her bones. But in the US? Not sure I’d do it.

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  4. You know, I never really thought much about the difference in raw and cooked bones before reading this. I’m not a fan of bones however. I’ve had to assist in removing a piece of bone endoscopically that was lodged in a dog’s esophagus for days. It was stuck so badly that an esphagostamy had to be created and a feeding tube put in place. I’ve also seen a large bone pulled out from a 100 lb dog’s rear end upon rectal exam. I think once you see things like this in person, it kind of changes your opinion! Great information.
    Ann Paws recently published..Wordless Wednesday: A Furry OrnamentMy Profile

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  5. We feed raw and our dogs get raw bones several times a week. While we have the occasional yakking incident (usually when Felix gets into the garbage), we’ve never had a problem with illness. One of the guidelines I usually share with my nutritional clients is that when and how you feed them will absolutely affect how safe they are. For example, I would rarely recommend a raw bone for a kibble fed dog, particularly if the kibble has grains (even the so-called “better grains”. Part of the reason our digs don’t get sick from raw is that it doesn’t stay in their stomachs long enough for the bad bacteria to overwhelm the good. Kibble takes much longer to digest, so feeding them together can cause issues. Another common pitfall? I see people who give their dog a raw bone and let them chew it for hours! Um…ew. All the time that bone is unrefrigerated, it’s growing bacteria. If the meat has been out of the fridge so long you wouldn’t eat it, I wouldn’t give it to the dog either!
    Kolchak, Jodi & Felix recently published..I Think I Might be a Bad Dog Mom (and other vomit related confessions)My Profile
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  6. Even though I totally know tons of dog owners can safely feed raw beef and pork bones, I am scared Ace will break his teeth on them. I’m just too much of a worrier. On the other hand, I am no longer scared to give him raw chicken and turkey bones. He crunches these right up or swalows large chunks and digests these just fine.

    I gave him a raw beef knuckle bone once. He loved it! But he did get the major runs (blowout!) just like your dogs. He’d probably do better with this now that he’s on a raw diet. At the time, he was on a dry dog food diet so I’m sure the sudden raw bone was a major change for his system. I haven’t fed a beef bone since :)
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    • I asked around to find out which bones would be okay for our dogs. The rib bones and elbow bones work for our dogs and are the only ones I’ll buy for for our dogs. I haven’t given them chicken or turkey bones – I’d like to try the turkey necks next.
      Kimberly recently published..Heat Exhaustion in Dogs | What Every Dog Parent Needs to KnowMy Profile
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