Most dog lovers used to accept at face value whatever recommendations were made by their veterinarians. But today, many do their own research on a wide variety of topics. Among these topics is feeding raw bones.
If you’re considering feeding raw bones to your dog, you need to be well informed on the topic, since the safety and efficacy of raw bone consumption is dependent on proper bone selection. A variety of bone types are generally fed as part of a raw diet. In addition to eating flesh and organs, these raw-fed dogs need to ingest a variety of raw bones that also contain meat, marrow and cartilage, to satisfy nutrient needs. When bones are simply fed for recreational purposes, the composition becomes less important, but has an impact on safety and enjoyment.
The right size
Basically, you must choose the right-sized bone for the right-sized dog. It is not as simple as small dog/small bone or large dog/large bone. Observe how your dog chews and ingests a bone. An 80-pound golden retriever might daintily savor and nibble a chicken neck, while a Pomeranian might ravenously suck it down whole. In this instance, a long, slim duck neck might be the best choice for both.
The vertebral size of the neck must be small enough not to lodge in the esophagus or small intestine. Even most hardcore bone feeders agree that turkey necks should not be fed to dogs. Turkey necks are too large. A longer bone, such as a duck neck, necessitates some chomping for it to go down.
The major purpose of feeding raw bones is to clean the teeth. This can only be accomplished if the dog chews the bone. Gulping is not beneficial. Most large dogs will gulp short bones. Again, a duck neck is ideal as it is necessary for the dog to chew it.
Which type is best?
The consumption of different types of bone is necessary to clean multiple surfaces of the teeth.
A duck neck may effectively clean the incisors or the molars.
The size of the bone determines the amount of marrow contained within. Unlike the duck neck, the bone itself is minimally ingested. It is gnawed, but only the marrow is eaten.
Knuckle bones are generally scraped clean, through use of the molars and canines, and eventually eaten.
Bone firms stool; marrow does not. If raw bones give your dog diarrhea, you’re probably giving him marrow bones. Thaw the bone and spoon out most of the marrow, leaving a tiny bit in the center so your dog has something to work for. This will alleviate the diarrhea problem. Too much marrow, like any fat, could also stimulate pancreatitis. However, raw fat is safer than cooked fat.
On the other hand, hard dry stools can mean too much bone consumption. This may occur if a dog is left to eat a large knuckle bone. Supervise the ingestion of this bone. To avoid constipation, think about the size of the dog and the proper size of his prey. Even a great Dane shouldn’t eat a beef or bison knuckle bone in one sitting. The bone should be taken away, put in a Ziploc and re-frozen. This mimics the behavior of wild dogs that partially consume a prey or bone, then bury the rest for later. Keep in mind that stool passed after bone consumption will be drier and gray/white in color. This is normal.
Dogs can sometimes chip or break teeth on raw bones, although this can also occur when they chew on rocks or pull on cages. Most people who feed raw bones feel the benefits outweigh the risks. An otherwise healthy mouth with a decreased need for anesthetic episodes for dental prophylaxis is highly desirable. Raw bones are safer than other bone alternatives, such as smoked or boiled bones, which become brittle and should be taken away. Cooked bones should never be used. Also, avoid marrow bone rings, which can catch around teeth or lodge in the roof of the mouth.
Bacterial contamination is a possibility. Salmonella is ubiquitous. Healthy dogs are naturally resistant, but be cautious with those that are immune compromised. Most commercial raw bone manufacturers rinse their products in lactic acid for additional safety. Local butchers may not. All raw products should be frozen for a minimum of two weeks; this kills parasites.
Know the warning signs of gastrointestinal obstruction and when you should seek veterinary help. Vomiting, inability to pass stool, and discomfort are some of the signs. Synthetic or edible fake bones are seen as common foreign body obstructions in many veterinary hospitals.
Fed properly, raw bones can provide nutritional, dental and recreational benefits to dogs. As long as you take the proper precautions, go for it!
Veterinarian Dr. Jodie Gruenstern graduated from UW-Madison in 1987. She is a veterinary acupuncturist and food therapist certified by the Chi Institute; vice president of the Veterinary Medical Aromatherapy Association; and a member of the AHVMA. Dr. Jodie owns the Animal Doctor Holistic Veterinary Complex, is a nationally renowned speaker, author, TV and radio personality, and authored the book Live with Your Pet in Mind (DrJodiesNaturalPets.com, AnimalDoctorHolistic.com, iPAWaid.com).