Dogs and bones go together like cats and fish, or peanut butter and jelly. So it seems only natural to “give the dog a bone”!
But although a bone might seem like a long-lasting and natural chew toy for your pooch to gnaw on, it can actually cause a pack of problems for your pup. So can dogs eat bones, and should they eat them?
Here’s the breakdown on eating bones and what’s good about them and bad about them.
Yes, dogs can eat some bones under certain circumstances, but not every bone is safe to eat. Even eating “safer” bones comes with a lot of caution which is why many organisations, including the FDA, give a blanket “no bones ever” stance. Most vets will say the same since it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Your dog’s digestive system is surprisingly good at breaking down bones, thanks to their super-strong stomach acid. However, it’s still difficult to digest and likely to cause GI upset.
Although dogs are capable of chewing and digesting bone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should eat them. After all, eating bones comes with a lot of risks and whether or not dogs can eat bones is still contested.
Certain bones are seen as less risky than others and dogs can potentially eat them. The kind of bones are:
Raw meaty bones (EG. turkey necks, chicken feet.)
Raw non-weight-bearing bones (EG. ribs.)
Raw bones that have not been machine cut or cut lengthways.
Not all bones are equal though, and certain kinds of bones are much more likely to cause your dog illness or injury.
Your dog can’t eat bones that are:
There are still potential risks when feeding your dog any type of bone, even the “safer” ones. Because of this, not feeding your dog bones is the safest option and your dog won’t be missing out on anything if they never get to gnaw on one.
Provided your dog is eating complete dog food they should have all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and won’t need the supplemental nutrition provided by bones.
Some dogs might need to munch a bone though. Raw-fed dogs often require bones in their diet to provide the calcium and phosphorus they need to stay healthy and to prevent nutritional deficiencies. However, it’s safer to grind the bones to a powder and add it to their food than it is to give them bones to eat.
The other benefit of bones is chewing. Chewing is a natural, soothing behaviour for dogs and it exercises their jaw muscles, but they can always exercise this on safe chew toys rather than a bone.
Not every dog can eat bones either. If your pooch suffers from underlying health conditions, chewing on a bone could do more harm than good.
For example, dogs with kidney disease shouldn’t eat bones because they contain a lot of calcium and phosphorus, but they require a low-phosphorus diet to manage their condition.
Meanwhile, pups with pancreatitis should avoid eating bones because bone marrow contains a lot of fat which could cause a flare-up of their condition.
You should also never give a dog a bone if they’ve had restorative dental work because they could easily damage their teeth chewing on the hard bone and need all that repair work repeated. (Which is stressful for your pooch and for your wallet!)
The size of your dog will also affect what kind of bones they can eat. A good rule of thumb is to never give your dog a bone that’s shorter than the length of their muzzle. This is because they aren’t as likely to swallow it whole, and it encourages them to chew it. If you give them a bone that’s smaller than their snout they might try to gulp it down in one go and choke!
So why is eating bones such a minefield? Let’s take a closer look at what bones dogs can eat and which ones you need to avoid and why.
No, you should never feed your dog any kind of cooked bone. It doesn’t matter what size the bone is, how it was cut, or what animal it comes from, all cooked bones are no-goes for Fido.
This is because cooking breaks down the structure of bone, making it brittle and likely to break and splinter. Split and splintered bones are super sharp and a sure-fire way for your dog to injure themselves if they chew on them or swallow them.
The sharp shards of bone can cut your dog's mouth and throat. These shards can also cause internal injuries if your pooch swallows them. Sharp pieces of bone can cut or perforate the lining of your dog’s stomach and intestines. That’s a really serious injury in its own right, but worse still it can cause peritonitis which is sadly fatal in 50-70% of dogs who develop it.
Fragments of bone can also block your dog’s oesophagus and cause choking, or they can create an intestinal blockage. In both cases, there is a chance this could be fatal for your furry friend.
Not every dog will choke or get hurt on a bone, but the risks are always present. Cooked bones are much more likely to cause injury to your pooch, which is why dogs should never eat any kind of cooked bone.
Raw bones are “safer” than cooked bones because they are less likely to splinter. Chewing on a raw meaty bone does still have some risks, but there are some benefits too.
Not only will your dog get enrichment and exercise for their jaw muscles by gnawing on a juicy bone, but the abrasive nature of the bone can help to clean their teeth. (It’s not as good as brushing their teeth though!)
They will also benefit from the protein, vitamins, and minerals that bone and meat provide. Some bones, such as turkey necks, also contain glucosamine and chondroitin which are important for maintaining mobility and supple joints. However, your pooch can get all these vitamins in food and supplements, without any of the risks.
Even with raw bones, there’s risk that your dog could choke on a chunk of bone, or they could still suffer internal injury and blockages. Even raw bones can break and puncture their intestines, or crack your dog’s teeth. Another downside of eating raw bones is that they could be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella or E. Coli, which can make you and your dog extremely sick.
Even if your dog doesn’t injure itself while eating a bone, it might still give them a poorly tummy.
Not all raw bones are suitable for dogs to eat either. For example, your dog should never eat dense weight-bearing bones like femurs even if they’re raw.
This is because these bones are extremely hard and dense, making them very tough to chew. Munching on these heavy bones can cause tooth fractures and breakages. Because they have to be chewed into chunks, there is also a risk that your dog might choke or suffer an intestinal obstruction after swallowing some bone.
Another kind of bone your dog can’t eat is pig bones, even if they’re raw. Pork bones are more likely to split and splinter regardless of whether they’re cooked or not. If you’ve got the leftover bones from some pork ribs or chops, play it safe and toss them in the trash.
Poultry bones are also a risky business even when they’re raw because they can snap easily, making them extremely sharp which could cause nasty internal injuries.
It’s best not to give your dog poultry bones except for certain kinds of raw, meaty bones such as duck necks. These bones are generally a bit softer and encased in meat, which encourages your dog to chew them and not just gulp down big chunks that could cause blockages. The connective tissue and meat around the bone can also offer a little bit of nutrition to your best bud.
But bear in mind, there is still a significant risk of your dog getting sick or hurt after eating raw poultry bones, as it could cause anything from GI upset to perforated intestines, or even infection from salmonella.
Raw bones are a better choice than cooked bones, but they aren’t completely safe themselves. Your dog can eat raw bones, but you still need to select the right kind of bone and supervise them carefully. If your dog shows any signs of illness after eating a raw bone, you must take them to the vet. It’s still safer not give your dog any bones at all.
Dogs can eat bone marrow cooked or raw, but cooked is safer for them to eat and easier to digest. Bone marrow makes a luxurious and tasty snack but it has very limited protein and nutrition for your pooch. One thing that bone marrow does contain is fat, and lots of it, so it must be fed in strict moderation to prevent illness.
Eating too much bone marrow can upset your dog’s stomach and cause vomiting or diarrhoea because of how rich it is. The high-fat content can also contribute towards weight gain and it could trigger an episode of pancreatitis, an illness where your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed which can be life-threatening.
If you’re concerned about your dog chewing on bones but want to offer them a little bone marrow as a treat, simply scoop it out and put it on their dinner or spread it on a licki mat. Just remember to limit how much your dog can eat to keep them healthy.
Bones that have been machine-cut or cut along the length of the bone are more likely to splinter compared to a whole bone, or a bone cut vertically.
Just like with cooked bones, it’s better to avoid these kinds of bones because there is a greater risk they could injure your dog. As with all bones, they also carry the risk of causing choking, internal injuries, and obstructions.
Generally, the most important thing to consider about bones is whether they’re raw or cooked. However, the animal the bone comes from also determines whether or not your pooch can eat it. Here’s our quickfire guide on what bones your dog can or can’t eat.
Yes, dogs can eat lamb bones as long as they are raw and they aren’t a weight-bearing bone. As mentioned before, cooked bones are more likely to splinter, and weight-bearing bones like femurs and tibias are extremely hard and your pup will probably break a tooth trying to chew them.
Chicken bones can be fine for Fido to eat, but only raw meaty bones like chicken necks, wings, and feet. These bones are softer and surrounded by meat which encourages your dog to chew them. Because of their small size, chicken bones are suitable for small and medium dogs.
However, there is a significant risk that these bones could splinter or snap and cause choking, blockages, or internal injury. Cooked chicken bones are also a no-go because of how brittle and breakable they are.
No, dogs should never eat pork bones. It doesn’t matter whether they are raw or cooked, any bones from a pig are more likely to break and splinter than other animal bones so they aren’t safe for Fido to eat.
Yes, dogs can eat some beef bones. If the bone is raw and isn’t considered weight-bearing, then it is possible for your dog to gnaw on it. Again, there is still some risk of choking, intestinal blockage, injury, or infection from bacteria like E. Coli or Salmonella.
Dogs can eat raw meaty duck bones, including duck necks and wings. They can eat the legs too, but you must remove the thigh bone as this is a weight-bearing bone. As always, your dog cannot eat cooked duck bones. All the other usual risks about bones remain. And due to their size, duck bones are suitable for medium and large dogs.
The rules for turkey bones are similar to other poultry bones like chicken and duck. Dogs can eat raw meaty turkey bones, but they can’t eat weight-bearing bones or cooked bones.
Turkey necks are a popular foodstuff for dogs, but your pooch could also eat the feet and wings if they are size-appropriate and any weight-bearing bones have been removed. Due to their range in size, turkey bones are generally suitable for medium or larger sized dogs to eat. Again, there is still a risk that your dog can become sick or injured eating any of these bones.
Eating bones can definitely cause your dog illness or injury, and in some cases it can be fatal.
This ever-present risk to your pet’s health is why it’s advised to never feed your dog a bone. Your dog will still live a long, happy, and healthy life without ever chewing on bones.
However, some owners like to provide bones as an enriching and natural chewing activity for their pooch or as a supplement to their diet, or give it to them as part of a raw diet.
However, all risks associated with dogs eating bones can be removed entirely by simply not feeding your dog bones. Even a small risk of injury or fatality from eating bones is far greater than no risk at all by simply not eating them.
Your dog can always exercise their jaws and display natural chewing behaviour by gnawing on other foods like carrots or on chew toys. And if they’re eating a complete diet, they won’t need bones in it at all. Just remember that if a chew toy is too hard for you to tap against your knee without it hurting, it’s too hard for your pup to chew safely. Like bones, hard toys can still cause tooth breakages and fractures!
If for whatever reason you do want to include bone in your dog’s diet, you can grind it down in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle it on their food, therefore removing the risk of choking, injury, or blockages.
You must consult your vet or a canine nutritionist before adding any supplements to your dog’s diet to make sure it won’t adversely affect their health. In the case of bones, it’s vital to correctly balance your dog’s diet because bones are rich in calcium and phosphorus and eating too much can cause hyperphosphatemia, which is considered a medical emergency and could be fatal. If your dog suffers from any kidney problems, they will need low levels of phosphorus in their diet, otherwise, it will make them sicker.
In short, dogs can eat bones, but it doesn’t always mean they should. As the saying goes “it’s better to be safe than sorry” and given how many risks there are associated with eating bones, the safest thing to do is not to let your dog eat bones and instead offer them chew toys and ensure they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.
However, there are ways of reducing the risks and your dog can eat bones of certain varieties. You should always supervise your dog while chewing bones and it’s a good idea to limit their chewing session to no more than 15 minutes. Your dog should never eat a bone smaller than its muzzle, and you should remove any worn-down or broken bones.
Bones do pose a risk to dogs if fed the wrong way, so why not feed them a complete and balanced meal such as Pure instead. Pure is full of meat, fruit and veggies to give your dog everything they need in every tasty morsel they eat.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.