What Bones Can Dogs Eat? It’s a Little More Complicated Than You Thought

what bones can my dog eat

Dogs and bones go together like peanut butter and jelly, right? Eh, sort of. There are some bones dogs can eat (or technically, chew) and others that could cause serious damage if nibbled or ingested. Bones are meant for recreation, not food. Generally speaking, raw knucklebones from large livestock are safe for dogs to chew. Cooked bones and pieces small enough to be choking hazards are off limits. When and how you give your dog a bone also matters. Keep reading for everything you need to know about canines and bones.

What bones can dogs eat?

As mentioned above, raw knucklebones are ideal. We scoured The Forever Dog: Surprising New Science to Help Your Canine Companion Live Younger, Healthier, and Longer by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker, the most followed veterinarian on social media, and pet health leader Rodney Habib, for details. The authors encourage dog parents to ask for raw bison, beef or venison knucklebones at local butcher shops. Femurs, tails, feet and ribs are also good options if knucklebones aren’t available. If your local butcher doesn’t have these, check your supermarket meat counter or frozen food section. (Some grocery stores call them soup bones.)

Dr. Becker and Habib recommend larger bones because this eliminates the bone from becoming a choking hazard. “There’s really no such thing as a too-big bone,” the authors write. If a bone is too small, however, dogs can swallow it and get it lodged in their throats or stuck in their stomachs. A bone in the wrong place means a lot of pain, potential surgery and possible infection.

If the idea of giving your dog a raw bone is scary, don’t worry. Raw bones actually provide lots of healthy nutrients to canines. To avoid bacteria from growing, buy the bones frozen and keep them frozen until you’re ready to thaw one out for your pup. Thaw one bone at a time (giving a frozen bone to your pup could result in cracked teeth). It’s also not wise to let your dog bury bones in the yard. They could go back to their hiding spot hours or days later where bacteria has almost certainly started to grow.

What bones should dogs not eat?

Never feed your pup cooked bones. These are brittle and can splinter easily, causing damage to your dog’s teeth, mouth, tongue and stomach. “Cooked” includes any bone that has been boiled, baked or smoked.

If your dog is new to raw bones or has a sensitive stomach, remove any and all bone marrow before allowing them to go to town. Bone marrow is incredibly rich and fatty; while some dogs may handle it well, others could start vomiting or have diarrhea. In fact, Animal Emergency Service advises against feeding dogs with delicate systems bones at all. Stick to chewable treats or hard carrots, instead.

Dogs who have had past dental surgery or experienced a cracked tooth before should not eat bones. Gnawing on hard surfaces could re-crack teeth or cause inflammation and pain. Some breeds have naturally soft teeth and jawbones that don’t do well with hard bones; bulldogs, pugs and boxers fall into this category. For these types of pups, try dental sticks or treats that are soft-baked, like Duck, Duck, Beet Soft Baked Dog Treats by Shameless Pets.

Turkey, chicken and pork bones are almost always going to be too small for dogs. It’s not worth it to let your dog gnaw on a bone from the Thanksgiving turkey—it could end up stuck in their throat, sending you to the emergency vet on a holiday. Lamb and beef bones can be safe, as long as they are big enough.

What is the best bone for dogs to chew?

As Dr. Becker and her co-author describe in The Forever Dog, the best bone for dogs to chew is a large knucklebone from bison, venison or beef with some cartilage or tissue still attached. These are large and safe to consume. Let your dog chew for about ten to 15 minutes, then take a break and place the raw bone in the fridge. Too much raw gnawing can lead to constipation or tummy aches. Raw bone chew time twice a week is a safe amount.

Can dogs eat beef rib bones?

It’s probably a no when it comes to beef rib bones. Dr. Becker says dog parents should compare the size of the bone to the size of their dog’s head. If the bone can fit entirely into the dog’s mouth, you shouldn’t let them chew it. If a beef rib bone is enormous, doesn’t present a choking hazard to your dog and is not cooked, it should be OK. If you’d rather be safe than sorry, skip the beef rib bone.

What are the health benefits of bones?

Studies have shown chewing on raw bones can dramatically reduce the amount of plaque on a dog’s teeth in just a few days. While this shouldn’t replace brushing your dog’s teeth, it can definitely improve their dental health. Plus, it keeps a dog’s mind and mouth entertained for a period of time. Gnawing on raw bones is an instinct canines haven’t gotten rid of for thousands of years—indulge your pup in this pastime!

Raw bones are also rich in nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Though they definitely aren’t intended to replace meals or snacks, they can provide a small vitamin and mineral boost on special occasions.

On the other hand, if your dog falls into one of the categories mentioned above (soft teeth, stomach issues, tiny throat), the risks posed by eating a bone could far outweigh the dental and nutritional benefits.

Final thoughts

Dogs who have trouble sharing (aka, those with resource guarding tendencies) shouldn’t be allowed bones. If and when you try to remove it from them, things could turn ugly. Dog parents with more than one canine child should always give each pup their own raw bone. You don’t want anyone fighting over the goods!

Supervision during bone chewing time is a must. Never leave your dog alone with a bone. Even if you’ve done your due diligence, something could go wrong and you’ll want to spot it as soon as possible.

As always, please check with your vet if you are uncertain about tossing your dog a bone! They’ll know your pet well and can shed more light on the best chew scenario for your dog.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...