For years, the Great Bone Debate has raged between two vocal factions – those that advocate feeding bones to dogs and those that do not. It is a heated debate with the side advocating for bones arguing that dogs have been surviving on them for hundreds of years and the opposing side of the debate stating that the health risks of giving bones to dogs is too great.
Can both sides be right? Is there a compromise? And what about the third side that advocates giving only ground bones to their dogs? Can they be right too?
No matter which side of the three way fence they sit, all sides agree some bones are dangerous. Poultry, pork and small beef bones can splinter or break causing a puncture in the digestive tract or an intestinal blockage from a foreign object if the broken off piece is swallowed. Cooked bones are also a concern as the boiling process softens the hard bone and can cause them to break more easily. Bones that are largely cartilage or soft bony material such as a knuckle bone can cause a compacted bowel and, without swift intervention, can cause a tear in the colon.
Can Dogs Eat Cow Bones?
Safe bones are considered the large straight bones from a cow – the femur, tibia, and humerus bones being the shape most often represented in cartoons or canine caricatures. These bones are not perfect however as dogs can also break or crack teeth chewing them, slice their tongue and gums if there is a sharp edge and a strong dog can still break off a piece, swallowing the fragment.
Wild canines or canids have been eating the bones of their prey for thousands of years with little to no negative side effects, that man is aware of, at least. Bones are part of their daily diet but they are not actually the most prized part of the carcass, more like how some men enjoy a toothpick after dinner then an actual course within the meal. The marrow from inside the bones does add necessary fat and calories to the diet of wild canids, important when you consider how lean most game meats are and how much energy a wolf or coyote requires to survive in the wild.
In wild animal rehabilitation centers throughout the world, raw bones are still given to wolves, coyotes and foxes but most often still in the form of the carcass of the would-be prey, not as a solitary bone.
What many people forget, however, is that bones from felled prey are still covered in hair when the wolves chow down so any splintered bone fragments that are ingested are covered by a protective layer of skin and furry padding. There is also little to no data on whether wild canines die of foreign body blockages or from a punctured intestinal tract so the argument that raw bones are a natural and healthy part of the diet of the domestic canine is flawed.
One thing few of the bone advocates fail to recognize is the level of toxins within the marrow of the average North American raised bovine. The fat is the storing center for toxins that find their way into any mammal and by ingesting the fat or adipose tissue, the toxins are ingested as well. Since the marrow contains mostly protective fat cells, the level of toxins within the bone is greater per pound then that of the meat or organs. Organic cow bones negate this argument of course as do the bones of wild game however it should make an owner think twice before picking up a soup bone at the local grocery store and tossing it to her dog or making it into soup for the family for that matter.
The main reason many people feed their dogs raw bones is that it helps keep tartar from building up on teeth – they work as a natural toothbrush. To work around the potential life threatening problems associated with bones, many small manufacturers have sprung up all over North America to produce prepared, safe bones that are cooked or smoked to kill bacteria and hardened so that bits cannot be chunked off. These bones are a good option for dog owners worried about these problems but the smoking and hardening is not a complete fix. It is still best to only feed your dog a bone from a reputable producer and only when you are available to monitor the destruction.
Ground raw cow bones are not a viable solution no matter what the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) enthusiasts may say. There is no beneficial tartar removal with ground bones, the toxins are still present in the marrow, the high caloric content of the marrow pushes the average domestic pet over the top in the daily calories quota and the bones in a ground form are even more likely to cause a compacted bowel – why would anyone feed their dog this disaster waiting to happen?
Canine nutritionists throughout the world agree that bones do not add sufficiently to the nutritional intake of either the domestic or wild canine to justify the potential harm that same bone could cause. Unlike the wolf or coyote, our soft, couch potato dogs do not need the extra calories or fat garnered from the bone and as for keeping their teeth clean, what is wrong with brushing them once a day? There are so many products on the market that replace the bone as a healthy and healthful snack and entertainment device, why risk your pet’s life on the bone? If you feel that a dog’s life is not complete without the odd bone to chew on, only buy organic femoral bones from a reputable human-grade butcher and freeze them as soon as you get home. The freezing process slows down how fast your dog can eat the bone, prolonging their enjoyment and lowering the ‘feeding frenzy’ effect bones can have on a dog. Because of the high caloric density of the bone, feed them only a portion of their dinner that day and expect to take them on a longer then average walk. Also expect some digestive upset from the fat although if, after finishing the bone, your dog does not defecate for 12 to 24 hours and/or is straining to defecate with nothing happening, get them to the emergency as soon as possible as there is a possible compacted bowel. Always monitor the condition of the bone as your dog enjoys the treat and take it away from him if chunks start to break off or if the bone develops a crack.
Common sense and bones go hand in hand. Remember, a dog does not need to have a bone to live a complete and fulfilling doggy life. What they never experience, they cannot miss so do not feel like you are depriving them of their dog-given right to chew a bone – you may just be saving their life!