Growing up, there’s a good chance you watched a cartoon involving a dog and the lengths it would go to get a bone. These series rarely show you what happens after the dogs get the bone. Like most things dogs chew on, the bones eventually wear down, and the dog might ingest it, so can dogs digest bones?
Yes, dogs are able to digest bones. However, ingesting bones raises the risks of choking on larger pieces or suffering injuries from bone splinters. These hazards are even more pronounced when dealing with cooked bones, which owners should not give to dogs.
There are still great benefits to letting your dog chew on a bone, which we will cover here with a specific focus on how to do so safely.
The Benefits of Letting Your Dog Chew on Bones
Given the hazards associated with letting your dog chew on bones, one may understandably decide against it. However, there are considerable benefits that may warrant continuing to do so.
Firstly, the chewing of bones is great for your dog’s oral health. In a sense, the chewing action on the hard bone surface replicates the brushing action seen when humans brush their teeth.
This chewing action is something we explore deeper in another article, “Do Dogs Chew Their Food?” Though a dog wouldn’t use its full range of teeth for chewing a bone, gnawing can still strengthen their teeth, help scrape away plaque buildup, and promote gum health (source).
Though bone splintering is a health concern, bones being chewed do still release some useful particles. They have been known to provide additional phosphorus, calcium, and other beneficial minerals that may be lacking from your dog’s diet.
Together, these have a positive effect on your dog’s digestive system, as well as providing an opportunity to relax. The psychological benefit, particularly for anxious dogs, of chewing on a bone is noticeable and often used by dog owners to distract their dogs during stressful times, such as during fireworks or storms.
The Problem with Cooked Bones
In most cases, the experts say cooked bones should never be given to dogs. When bones are cooked, normally together with the meat they’re attached to, the bones dry out, causing them to become brittle (source).
This brittleness causes bones to fracture under pressure, which becomes an issue when being chewed by a dog. These fractures release bone splinters into the mouth of the dog and can cause considerable damage.
These shards can cut up a dog’s mouth, esophagus, and internal organs, and they can also present a blockage concern.
Should you have reason to believe your dog may have swallowed bone splinters, there are a number of telltale signs to look out for, like vomiting, lethargy, abdominal bloating, and not eating.
Another concern attached to dogs chewing cooked bones is the residue that may be left behind on the bone. When cooking, you may use spices, condiments, and an assortment of other flavorings that could be harmful to your dog.
These can be trapped in the marrow of the bone, even without discoloring the bone, and released into the digestive system of your dog. This can also cause a range of health issues for your dog.
Safely Letting Your Dog Chew a Bone
This isn’t to say that your dog shouldn’t be allowed any bones whatsoever — as we’ve already explored, there are a number of benefits that could be worth the extra effort. Next, we’ll discuss some things to consider to let your dog chew a bone safely.
Bone Size and Type
The size of the bone you’d like to give your dog is important — you’re wanting to give it something big enough to discourage it from trying to swallow it. This is relative to your dog’s size, but you can use your dog’s chew toys as a gauge to find a good-sized bone (source).
Secondly, you’d need to pick the kind of bone you give your dog carefully. Some types of meat have bones that are prone to fracturing or have smaller bones that aren’t always obvious and could be swallowed whole.
Pork and poultry should usually be avoided for these reasons. Chicken bones are a choking hazard, and turkey bones shatter into nasty shards. A large ham bone will likely break into dangerous bone shards as well. Beef bones are harder, and a larger beef bone will give lots of chew time.
Be Picky When Selecting a Bone
Some dog owners don’t like touching bones, but it’s important to gauge the bone’s hardness to know if it’s likely to splinter or not. Big, hard bones may also damage your dog’s teeth, which is another aspect to keep in mind.
Even its shape should be considered since you do not want to encourage your dog to swallow the bone. The classic long and straight shape is likely the best as its shape encourages gnawing as opposed to swallowing.
Supervise Your Dog When It Chews Bones
Dogs tend to chew through most things and, given enough time, no doubt they’d break down the bones you give them as well. For this reason, it’s important to monitor how long your dog has had the bone you gave it and, after a set amount of time, take it away.
This can be difficult, particularly if your dog is reluctant to give up the bone; however, it is important to their health.
Supervising the whole time that your dog is chewing a bone is the safest approach. This way, you can monitor and react immediately should anything untoward happen. The most common issue is that it is difficult to gauge how strong our dog’s jaws are, so it is better to err on the side of caution!
By paying close attention during this time, you’re able to act quickly and take away the bone should your dog bite it hard enough to splinter.
Your dog swallowing a bone doesn’t need to cause panic — their digestive system is capable of breaking down and digesting bones. However, as a responsible owner, it is important to monitor them while they chew a bone to make sure they’re safe.