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Give A Dog A Bone…But What Type of Bone?

Give A Dog A Bone…But What Type of Bone?

What Chew Treat is Best for Me?

You’ve probably seen the recent postings about “bone treats” having been deemed unsafe by the FDA.  Good for them for making a statement.  This topic has been on my to-do list for quite a while.  This past summer, one of our own daycare dogs had a very scary (and I’m sure expensive) experience with a “bone treat”.  I had asked the dog’s Mom at that time if I could use her experience to keep others from the same fate.  She was happy to have us do so.

Sweet Maggie
Maggie’s Nemesis…a smoked knuckle bone

Maggie is a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog and she visits us every Thursday.  Maggie has been getting the same bone treat at home for most of her life.  It is a smoked/cooked knuckle bone.  And all this time, Maggie has never had a problem with it.  And then one beautiful day, Maggie was outside chewing on her favorite treat, and broke off a chunk just the right size to get stuck in her throat.  Fortunately, Maggie’s Mom was home and went out to check on her.  She found her laboring to breath and rushed her to the vet.  Surgery was successful, and the bone chunk was removed.  But Maggie was not out of the woods yet, as she had continued bleeding after surgery.  She was in the hospital for about a week.  This story has a happy ending and Maggie is just fine and back with us on Thursdays.  But the ending could have been so different.

You’ve probably noticed that we don’t have currently, and have never carried any type of bone joint or cooked/smoked bones in our retail market.  Choke risk is the number one reason we do not carry them.  We also don’t carry them because even if a dog breaks off pieces and swallows them safely, the dog then has to digest that bone in the stomach to get it in small enough pieces to pass through the rest of the digestive system.  So big bone fragments can sit in the stomach for quite some time, constantly irritating the stomach.  The outcome can be nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. The same holds true for treats such as dental chews and even bully sticks.  We do carry bully sticks, but advocate monitored chew time and not allowing the dog to ingest the entire thing in one chew session.

So what does constitute a safe chew?  Number one rule with chewing is monitoring and supervision. Until you know what type of chewer your dog is and how a specific chew holds up to his chewing style, you should be monitoring.  If the bone is edible (bully stick, trachea, etc), I supervise 100% of the time.  If the chew is durable (antler or raw femur bone type chew), I will allow my dog to chew unsupervised, but only after I know their chewing style and the durability of the chew.  Some dogs can never chew unsupervised.  I know there are dogs who can break off chunks of antler or raw marrow bone.  I highly recommend that you talk with your vet if your dog is this type of chewer.  The risk to your dog’s teeth will most likely outweigh the benefit of chewing.

Raw Marrow Bone…a healthy chew

If your dog is able to ingest the chew (bully stick type chews), you really do need to limit the amount and frequency of this treat.  They can be very irritating to the stomach since they are more slowly digested.  And every dog is different.  I have one dog that will vomit if she eats a bully stick.  She loves them, but that’s a no-go for me.  Her stomach cannot handle them.

Dental Chews are a pet peeve of mine.  Through very good marketing, you have been led to believe that this is a good way for you to clean your dog’s teeth.  Truth is they don’t work very well, are expensive, and most dogs have a hard time digesting them.  Your dollars are better spent on a good raw marrow bone.  Your dog will enjoy it more, you will get some tooth cleaning benefit, and your dog’s tummy will be happier.  If this fails to do the trick, you can always brush your dog’s teeth.

Size Matters!  Even if you have a very hard chew such as an antler or raw marrow bone, your dog still has a choke risk if the bone is too small.  You also run the risk of getting marrow bones caught on a bottom jaw if the chew is too small.  My rule of thumb is that I want the bone to stick out at least an inch on either side of the mouth when the dog is holding it.  More is even better.   If you have a small dog, don’t underestimate him.  Little dogs can carry and chew 4-6” marrow bones just fine.  They just last a little longer.

Proper Sized Chew For This Dog
This bone was too small for this dog. This is what can happen!

You may have seen a rawhide type treat in our retail market.  This is not rawhide.  They are called “No-Hide” treats.    They are compressed muscle meat, rolled into a chew.  Because it is not a hide, it is digestible, and dogs tolerate them well. Rawhides are the hide of an animal, are often treated with chemicals to get them white, and digest very poorly.  But I will say once again, even with a digestible treat, supervision is important.  You want to give your dog the right size No-Hide chew, supervise while chewing, and do not let the dog ingest the treat all in one chew session.


Rawhides Bad
No-hide chew Good…supervised and in moderation

Take Aways:

  1. No cooked bones (this includes smoking)
  2. No knuckle bones
  3. Size Matters (one inch, at least, on either side of the mouth)
  4. Take the time to figure out your dog’s chewing style
  5. Always supervise a new chew toy closely
  6. April hates Dental Chews.
  7. Limit the amount of ingestible chews your dog gets. Too much irritates the tummy

And here’s a little training tidbit.  Your bones and chew toys lose their value if your dog always has access.  Make chew time a special event when you have time to supervise.  Your dog will enjoy it more and you can be assured that they are safe.


Disclaimer:  I am not a Veterinarian.  Everything stated in this piece is my opinion, based off of my own personal experiences and personal research.  I encourage you to do your own research and form your own opinions.  And do discuss any health related concerns with your Veterinarian.

Here is a link to the FDA Consumer Report.


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