When it comes to keeping dogs happy, a few healthy habits go a long way.  Most dogs enjoy chewing on bones, but some bones are better than others.  Cooking removes much of the nutrition in dog bones including protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  Cooking also makes bones harder and more brittle, and shards can splinter off and get caught in Fido's mouth or cause damage to his organs.  There is a more nutritional option that also benefits a doggie's dental health:  raw bones.

The Benefits of Raw Bones

Raw bones offer a variety of health benefits for dogs:

  • They are easier to digest than cooked bones due to an abundance of enzymes
  • They are rich in calcium and contain trace minerals like chromium, copper, fluorine, iodine, iron, manganese, selenium and zinc
  • Sinew on raw bones helps remove plaque and tarter on the teeth
  • Chewing on raw bones helps relieve anxiety in some dogs

Bone Types and Size

Because they contain crevices that a dog's teeth dig into and rub against, knuckle bones can help remove plaque and tartar for better dental health and they keep dogs busy for hours.  Pet owners looking for meaty bones can try elk or lamb necks or beef femurs.  To prevent tooth damage, aggressive chewers benefit from soft bones like knuckles or turkey necks.

When treating a dog with a bone, it is important to choose the proper size.  Owners of large dogs like Dobermans, German Shepherds and Labradors should choose bones that are larger than their dog's muzzle like a beef shank bone.  This encourages chewing on a bone rather than swallowing it whole.

Feeding bones isn’t appropriate for all dogs – certain breeds of dogs just can’t process bones and gain the same benefits that other dogs get from chewing on bones.  This has a lot to do with jawbone structure.

Brachiocephalic breeds such as boxers, bull dogs, pugs, and shitzu are NOT mechanically designed to be able to chew bones effectively and safely.  A Kong toy might be a better substitute if you have this kind of dog.  Look at your dog’s teeth closely especially the upper and lower molars in back of the mouth, the length of the muzzle, and the condition of the teeth and gums and ascertain if the mouth looks “in shape” to handle a bone. Or ask your veterinarian to evaluate your dog’s mouth.

Little dogs and toys with delicate jaw structures and softer teeth should not eat bones. If your dog is too little to eat bones safely, you can still help maintain their dental health using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and aloe vera juice

Dogs with gut sensitivities might not process bones well either. If your dog is prone to loose stools or vomiting, be sure to resolve those GI issues first, and save the bones for after he/she has recovered. If your dog isn’t used to chewing on real meat bones, they can sometimes have a bout of diarrhea or soft stool after eating the bones. Over time, their system will adjust and they will be able to consume bones without issue (if fed bones on a regular basis).

Related:  The Power of Probiotics

Holistic veterinarian Dr. Ihor Basko tells us the best time to give a dog a bone is after a full meal. Why? You don’t want your dog starving when he/she starts to chew on the bone. Ingesting too much of a bone could lead to constipation, and possible serious obstruction. Give your dog a bone for only 10 to 15 minutes, then take it away*, wash it, and store in a container in the fridge. Toss it out after 3-4 days.

*A good practice here is to replace the bone with something else (like a couple of pieces of mozzarella cheese) when you take it away. This will help reduce the likelihood of behavioral issues like resource guarding of the bones. If your dog growls when you approach his bone or try to remove it, definitely seek out a qualified dog behaviorist to help you retrain this behavior!

More Healthy Living Tips for Dogs

When it comes to canine health, giving raw bones is a good place to start, but like people, dogs benefit from a few healthy habits.  To keep a beloved pet in tip-top shape, owners should:

  • Visit the veterinarian for annual checkups and vaccines
  • Brush your dog’s teeth.  If they could brush their own teeth, they would; but they can’t so it’s up to you.  Puppies and young dogs get used to it, and some really like it; adult dogs will adapt—but brush your dog’s teeth at least several times a week.  Never use human toothpaste—it is poisonous to dogs. Purchase chicken or peanut butter flavor toothpaste for dogs.  Use a child-sized tooth brush for small dogs, and a larger toothbrush for larger dogs.  Brush the interior and exterior of front and canine teeth.  Brush only the exterior of the molars in the back by running the toothbrush along the gum and teeth, just lift the skin flap; no need to brush the inside of the back teeth (at the hinge area.)
  • Exercise dogs daily
  • Choose a high-quality, grain-free dog food
  • Take steps for the prevention of fleas, ticks and heartworm