If your dog has gum disease, or even if he doesn’t, you need to cut out the dry food, feed a fresh diet and feed your dog bones…

a pile of meaty dog bonesNowadays 9/10 dogs are dry fed, 9/10 dog owners do not feed their dog bones and 9/10 dogs have gum disease by the age of three years. Who really believes this is all a coincidence?! Gum disease in dogs is a serious issue and you definitely want to avoid it. Tartar and gingivitis, in humans, is primarily diet related and it is the same in dogs.

Talking to a vet, they may say that they encounter cracked teeth and intestinal blockages (impaction) from dogs eating bones. This may be true. On the other hand, we have been advising dog owners to feed raw meaty bones to their dogs for close to a decade, and not once have we encountered a medical problem.

So, why the disparity in stories….blind luck? Maybe we’re lying, as we actually hate dogs! No, there is a reason why vets experience problems and educated raw-fed dog owners don’t. Here’s why…

Why Vets are Scared of Feeding a Dog Bones

Cooked Bones are Dangerous

It is vital that the bones are fresh, not cooked (the Sunday roast) or heat dried / desiccated (the ones you buy in pet shops). Cooked bones are leached of collagen fat and minerals. What was once a springy bendy bone in fresh form, becomes a very hard, brittle mass that splinters on breaking. In tests, these shards take longer to digest, so dogs eating them are more likely to pass splinters into their intestines, potentially leading to impaction. This is, invariably, the type of bone that vets see doing damage to dogs – the left-over lamb bone on Sunday, cracking teeth and undigested splinters puncturing guts.

Only feed fresh bones, the meatier the better (assists in lubrication). X-rays show a small meal containing raw meaty bones, when in the acidic carnivorous stomach, is reduced to chyme within 40mins (Londsdale 2001). This is as you would expect for a carnivore that consumes the whole prey, bones and all.

two cooked dog bones
Do not feed pet shop “roasted” pork knuckle bones.

Dry Fed Dogs Have Weaker Stomach Acids Than Raw Fed Dogs

Dry fed dogs have stomach acids around pH2.5, which suits the cereal-based meal they are fed each day. Raw fed dogs have stomach acids of a more natural pH1.5, which suits the digestion of raw meat. This is a ten-fold difference in acidity. Basically, raw fed dogs have guts filled with battery acid. X-ray tests show that raw fed dogs digest raw meaty bones far quicker than dry fed dogs.

The two points above, cooked bones in dry fed dogs, are the reasons vets might see more teeth breaking, gut puncturing and intestine impacting bone issues in their patients. Pet owners are giving the leftover, cooked lamb bone to their dry fed dog, who devours it, or they are buying cheap, desiccated pig leg bones in pet shops (leg bones are very hard). A vet sees these dogs and misguidedly brands all bones with the same iron (coupled with the dry food companies telling them raw meat and bones are dangerous, wonder why!).

The Benefits of Feeding a dog Fresh, Meaty Bones

cartoon dog with clean teethClean Teeth

The biting, shearing, crushing action of chewing bone and cartilage will clean and massage a dog’s teeth and gums, clearing away any food residues that feed the tartar development. This has been known for years. Gray (1923) highlighted how dental problems, greater in smaller dogs, were a result of “dogs fed soft diets with insufficient dental activity…in cutting and tearing raw flesh, breaking or crunching bones, and using their teeth in ratting and rabbiting etc”.

Brown and Park (1968), periodically replaced the moist kibble ration fed to 30 dogs that were displaying dental calculus and tooth loss, with oxtail. Two-thirds of the dog’s calculus was removed within 24hrs after the first oxtail feeding, this increased to 95% by the end of week 2.

More recently, Marx et al. (2016) evaluated beef bones as chew items to reduce dental calculus in adult dogs. They found they were an effective method of removing dental calculus in dogs.

This subject has also been extensively covered by Londsdale (1992, 2001) who cited Dr. Coles, the President of the Australian Veterinary Dentist Society, in 1997 saying “…chewing bones twice a week helps to prevent dental disease…”. Few of us today need convincing of their importance in having healthy teeth, gums and digestive tracts in a carnivore.

Fresh Bones are Vital Nutrition to Dogs

Feeding bones to dogs also provides some, much needed, roughage in their diet has a cleansing/scouring effect on the dogs digestive tract, and, encourages healthy faecal motions that stimulate the anal glands. Nutritionally, bones feed bones, cartilage feeds cartilage (chondroitin and vitamin C), muscle feeds muscle (vital proteins) etc. Fresh meaty bones contain vital proteins and minerals for bone growth, including lysine and easily assimilated natural calcium, as well as micro minerals, such as selenium, copper and magnesium. These are all essential to young pups and brood bitches, as they help build strong teeth, joints and bones.

There are other benefits too. They’re free, that’s always nice. They calm dogs and are positively vital for teething pups. And they’re free, have I mentioned that?!

the benefits of raw bones for dogs

How To Avoid Potential Issues When Feeding a dog Bones

How to Avoid Cracked Teeth in Dogs

Do not feed cooked bones, but even with fresh bones cracked teeth can occur. The most important thing to avoid are large leg bones, as these are, necessarily, reinforced with iron and zinc. The big dogs will try to chew them and they are best avoided if one is concerned about teeth.

Dogs have unusually large pre-molars (an adaptation for crushing bones, also seen in hyenas and badgers), making them extremely adept at crunching and swallowing many types of bone. Brown and Park (1968) observed no harmful effects after feeding oxtails to 200 dogs for over 6 years, the secret was that the bones were raw, quite small, not too tough and surrounded by meat.

a cartoon dog with a large bone in it's mouth

How to Avoid Impaction in Dogs

Like us, dogs only have a small reservoir of stomach acid waiting for their next, average-sized meal. So, if a lab is given a bucket of chicken wings, they will devour them (labs can distend their stomachs and eat 10% of their body weight), this may dilute the stomach acids to the point that not all the material will be digested properly, increasing the likelihood of undigested bone material passing through to the intestines and causing impaction. This is made worse when the bone meal is cooked. A lab will devour a chicken leg like butter but leave it at that if concerned.

How to Avoid a dog Choking on Bones

Choking is a possibility, we must accept it. We have never seen it, nor has it ever happened to a dog that we know of but it could happen. No doubt when it does it will be held up as a reason not to feed bones to dogs. But let’s put this in perspective. Thousands of Westerners choke every year, more than road traffic accidents in fact, with the two main culprits being hot dogs, closely followed by chewing gum and raw veg. But should anyone use an example of someone choking on a raw sprout as a reason to ban all veg from the human diet? Of course not. The bottom line is that the nutritional benefits of eating bones far outweigh the risks. Care simply needs to be taken.

Dogs in general have extra wide, hardened oesophagi to enable the eating of bones but vigilance still needs to be exercised – with some types. Young pups and dogs that have been consuming a processed diet for most of their life will have a less worked, less keratinised (softer) oesophagus. Flat-faced breeds with missing teeth are expected to have a harder time breaking bones down too. Greedy dogs will gulp their bones down like a seagull with a fish, this can be slightly unnerving. These dogs need that really big beef bone, where only chewing is possible. A good rule to follow is, the bigger the dog, the bigger the bone. If one is worried about their dog choking, then begin with soft chicken frames. Smash them with a mallet, for the first week or two, while the dog gets used to them.

Top 10 tips for itchy dogs

Does Feeding Raw Bones Cause Aggression?

Some people still ask does feeding bones (or raw meat in general) make dogs aggressive? The simple answer is “no”. Firstly, dogs are extremely passive creatures, more so than humans, it is possible that a dog will protect a bone, but it is also possible they will protect their food bowl or a favourite toy, this is nothing to do with “raw meat”! If a dog is not giving up their bone, then they need to be trained to do so. Start with an old dry bone of little value and offer them a sausage to drop the bone with the words “leave it”. Then, over time, reduce the quality of the treat and increase the quality of the bone, until they get the game. Taking your time is important.

Chewing bones actually act like a pacifier to dogs, they will lie down to enjoy it – settling the heart rate, and when they are chewing, the dopamine receptors in their brain will be stimulated, relaxing them further.

How Much Bone Should I Feed My Dog?

Opinions vary about the actual amount of bone necessary in a dog’s diet. The current consensus is approximately 9 to 10% of their diet although this figure varies considerably. To identify when there is too much bone in their diet, pay attention to their stools. Too much bone will result in small, hard stools which are difficult to pass and can cause stress. In this instance, the stool will be yellowy-white from the calcium.

It’s recommended, that even when a dog is eating a raw minced diet with 10% bone, to feed them a raw meaty bone at least once a week to keep their teeth sparkling.