Give Your Dog a Bone
Have you heard the good news? About Raw Bones? This is how I feel about the topic. Compelled to tell everyone. To spread the gospel of clean teeth, recreational chewing and easy supplementation far and wide. Shout it from the rooftops. Its not just for raw feeders. Ditch the cooked bones. Please. I’ve made reference to my love of the knuckle bone a time or two (here and here), but I’ve failed to give them the credit they are due. To provide a primer of sorts to get you started in the buying and your dog started in the chewing. Let’s remedy that. Right. Now.
Bones. It’s very simple. And it’s not. It’s easy to over think. To get caught up in the dangers and concerns, some of which are real. In my house of many dogs the benefits vastly outweigh any such worries. If we discontinued raw bones, there’d be a canine uprising to over throw their unreasonable human masters. Restore bones now. Or else.
As this is one of my favorite topics (I can’t believe I’ve waited this long) I’ll try not to run on. Try. Not promise. Bear with me.
Types of Bones. I am going to be very clear here: I am not talking about cooked or smoked bones. There is no love lost between me and the crumbly, staining, stinky, wastes of money available just about everywhere. They are devoid of nutritional value, usually full of grossness, and from questionable sources. Like these. Yuck. Skip them. Here, we will address raw bones. Bones from a freezer. Bones from your butcher or from your favorite independent pet supply. These come in two types:
Recreational Bones. Marrow bones. Femurs and knuckles of cow, bison, lamb, or venison. “Soup Bones” in the grocery store. As seen here and in my picture above. As the name indicates, these are not part of your dogs diet. Rather they are entertainment. Jaw-exercising, teeth cleaning, enzyme delivering entertainment. Entertainment plus.
Raw Meaty Bones. A class in and of themselves. Part of a daily diet. Fed whole or ground. These are your poultry necks, backs, and wings. Look here. They provide important connective tissues for joint health, also assist with dental hygiene and are consumed in minutes, if not seconds. Very little recreation involved. We feed those too, usually ground, but my love today is reserved for the bones from ruminants. Sorry poultry.
The Benefits. Why all the gushing? What is the big deal about a raw bone? The biggest deal is I have umpteen dogs. I’ve had umpteen dogs for over a decade, and I’ve never paid for a dental cleaning. Not a once. My 12 year old dogs have teeth to envy many 3 year olds. I attribute this directly to their bone chewing ways. That oral health translates into cheaper cost of ownership for me (God knows, I need that). It also systemically helps my dogs. Bad teeth lead to heart and digestive issues as any infection or bacteria drains into unwanted areas. (ew, sorry). Healthy dogs make me happy. Happy dogs are infectious, in a good way. My happy dogs really like to chew on their bones. Really like. They are howl worthy. And chew they do. For hours. Quietly. While we enjoy movies on the couch or a visit with friends. It gets dogs out of your hair, and they are happy to be there.
That’s for my dogs. My old(er) generally content, raw fed dogs. The benefits to a kibble fed, rambunctious juvenile delinquent compound further. This is the easiest way to start your dog on just a little raw. Just the bits of meat attached to the bone. Not much, but some live enzyme goodness. I also can not say enough for it taking the edge off a high energy dog. Chewing on these bones is work. Tearing and holding and getting into nooks and crannies work. Dogs will often finish a bone panting. Or they give up, exhausted. If you’ve got a crazy one year old (dog) and its been a long week, a rec bone can help with everyone’s sanity.
Getting Started. Chewing, like any other behavior, is a habit that must be developed. Some dogs take to it quickly. Some dogs will have a whiskey tango foxtrot moment when given their first raw bone. If possible, its a habit I start young. If you’ve got an older dog who appears uninterested, all is not lost. Add a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese to the outside of the bone to get them interested. Better yet, find someone with a known chewer, keep the dogs separate but visible to each other, and let the unschooled watch what all the fuss is about. That’s how new dogs in my house pick it up.
Assuming you’ve got an interested dog, there are some other logistics to consider.
Containment. I do not allow dogs to roam around my house with raw meat. Guh-ross. Bones are consumed in kennels, beds, the yard or otherwise designated areas I am relatively sure they will stick to. With supervision. Especially at first. Keep an eye on how your dog chews. Are they trying to swallow it whole? What kind of progress are they making? Does the nub need to be taken away? These are all important factors to watch for, because
Size Matters. I always go with bigger bones. Again, these bones are for chewing. A portion of them will be consumed, but not the whole thing. For dogs new to chewing, give them a bone big enough that they couldn’t swallow it if they wanted to. Something they would have to work on for a while.
Poo will happen. Especially for dogs new to raw, bones are going to introduce a blast of vitamins, minerals, calcium and enzymes to their system which they may not be able to handle. Diarrhea happens. Follow protocol and keep going.
Throw it out. In general, bones are not multi-use. If your dog hasn’t shown any interest and just nudged it around a bit, pop it back in the freezer to try again. But once chewed, take it away from the dog when appropriate, and toss. Some people will let their dog keep the femur bones out in the yard. I don’t.
The Concerns. Now I’ve sung the praises. You understand my love for all things bison knuckle. Well, good. On to the bad news. You are dealing with raw meat. Common sense handling applies. Wash hands. Wash surfaces (including bedding). Avoid contact with children. All those normal things, we should be concerned about in regards to food handling. Do I think raw fed or raw bone consuming dogs are any more likely to shed salmonella or food borne pathogens than kibble fed dogs? No, *I* do not. Many, many professional type people would disagree with me. Whole Dog Journal did a lovely article on it not too long ago. I implore you to come to your own conclusions.
There’s also choking. Refer to logistics above regarding supervision and removal of the bone at a certain point. Again, no problems here (knocking on all wooden-ish surfaces), but the best defense is diligence.
Less controversial, that dental health. Teeth are cleaned with all the natural scraping that chewing entails. They can also be ground down and even broken. It should be a known risk. My old dogs with their shiny teeth, their much stubbier than they used to be shiny teeth are evidence of that. Some of it is natural with age anyway, but a lifetime of chewing doesn’t hurt. As you monitor your dogs while they chew for choking or swallowing, keep an eye on their teeth from time to time.
So, go ahead. Give your dog a bone. Really. It’s good for them.
What’s been your experience with giving your dog raw bones? Or why don’t you?