Should I Give My Dog a Bone to Chew?

Written by Dr Rose Anderson

Should I give my dog a bone to chew?

This sounds like a yes/no question, but it is not.

If you asked most dogs, they would say ‘Hell yes!’, but dogs also eat poo and run into oncoming traffic so… If you asked vets, the majority would probably answer ‘Yes…. but - .......’. 

The ‘yes’ is because we want dogs to be happy and occupied.

And chewing on bones keeps the teeth clean which means they do not get smelly, rotten, and sore. 

The ‘but’ is because they can lead to catastrophic problems.

If a dog chews up a bone, particularly something like a large beef shin bone that has been split lengthways, they can easily fracture their teeth.

Bone fragments can get stuck in the mouth and block up the intestine. Bone shards can pierce the intestine. Bits of bone can accumulate in the large bowel and cause severe constipation. 

Bones can also cause vomiting and diarrhea and give dogs something to viciously defend. 

In our practice, I would estimate we see a dog with a serious bone related issue almost every day.

If you feed smaller bones (lamb, goat, chicken wings) or softer ones (oxtails, roo tails), they’re less likely to fracture teeth. 

But if you feed larger, fuller bones (like full beef shin bones), they are less likely to lodge in the intestine or cause constipation (because dogs do not swallow them).

Taking bones away the same day you give them and not allowing access to marrow can prevent gastroenteritis. 

Supervision can prevent fights. 

And limiting bone giving to once or twice a week is wise.

So if you’re not sure whether to feed your dog bones, consider the risks; how you can manage those risks and weight them up against the benefits?

This analysis will differ for every dog and every owner.

For instance, a little dog with a sensitive stomach might be better off with a dental chew or a good quality dental kibble. 

But for another dog, a bone might be the only shining light in an otherwise tedious weekday in the backyard. 

It is not always an easy question to answer, so please ask us about it next time you come in.