Pet health care questions and answers about medical issues impacting  the skin and coat

Questions and answers about dog health care and skin and coat


The topic of feeding animal origin bones to dogs always stirs up controversy.  There are knowledgeable dog owners who insist that bones must be fed to dogs to ensure an optimal state of physical and mental health.  Others, including specialists in veterinary surgery, are firmly against feeding animal bones of any kind whether or not they are cooked first.  Who's right?  Read on...
T. J. Dunn, DVM

Questions and answers about cat health care






Dogs eat grass on occasion, which does not mean doing so is "good for them".

Below you will find a question and answer format regarding commonly asked questions regarding the pros and cons of feeding raw or cooked bones to dogs.  Limiting feeding bones to "only cooked bones" or "only raw bones" or "only beef thigh bones" or "never poultry bones" are not a logical validations for feeding whatever kinds of bones you do feed.  Think about it without afresh after reading the presentation below.

Just because someone you respect for their knowledge of dogs has told you dogs should be fed bones, use your own objective analysis of the pros and cons regarding the safety of and reasons for doing so. 

QUESTION:  Chew treat obstructing the esophagus of a dog
What bones are safe or unsafe to feed to dogs?

The short answer is “That depends”.  A one-hundred pound Rottweiler may have no trouble at all consuming chicken bones and a five pound Chihuahua could develop an obstruction from even a small bone fragment. I’ve seen it happen.  Also, many people believe that cooked bones are far more dangerous to feed than raw bones.  Plus, the word “safe” has relative meanings, too.  The topic of the safety of feeding bones to dogs has taken on emotional overtones and many individuals have taken a strong and inflexible position regarding the inclusion or exclusion of feeding bones to their dogs.

QUESTION:  What harm can bones cause if included in the dog’s diet?

I have personally worked on some very sick, very pain-wracked dogs who were severely constipated from bone impactions, who were obstructed along the intestinal tract and required major surgery, and who were near death from complications of bone perforation or obstruction.  I have removed bone fragments from the oral cavity, from the esophagus, stomach (there are some examples of x-rays of these kinds cases at, intestines, and rectum.  These are just the mechanical adverse effects that could occur.  Consider the potential effects if the owner supplements way too much bone and upsets the optimal balance of the diet.  I wonder how we know how much bone to add to a diet?  I certainly don’t know.


Can you describe a case history of bones causing harm?  Include the outcome.


I had a 150-pound Chesapeake Retriever presented because of persistent vomiting attempts and no appetite for three days.  X-rays revealed an intestinal blockage due to a bone fragment.   The owner was stunned because he indicated he had been “feeding bones for years to this dog, it can’t be from a bone”.  He believed me when he saw the x-ray and was more convinced when I showed him the bone fragment that was retrieved at surgery.  This dog recovered well but really was near death due to a perforated intestine; luckily the owner brought him in just in time.  I have seen dogs die from bone impactions in spite of attempts at surgery; every case is different.

QUESTION:  Which dogs should/should not have bones?

ANSWER:Watch closely in case tiny chips separate from the bone!
I believe, based upon over 30 years of almost daily work with healthy and sick dogs, that small breeds have a greater risk of adverse events as a result of having access to bones.  As a dog’s caretaker, we humans need to assess very carefully any RISK vs BENEFITS to the process of allowing bone consumption.

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A small dog chewing on a bone

A dog chewing grass

Fractured upper fourth premolar in a dog

A well balanced ingredient list of real food
The soft tissues attached to the bone hold the real digestible nutrients Eating grass does not necessarily indicate a dog is lacking any specific nutrient Fractured teeth are often a result of a dog chewing on bones If your dog is eating a balanced diet why would you assume real bones must also be fed?

Intestinal obstruction due to bone ingestion

Chew bone treat obstructed the dog's esophagus

X-ray (radiograph) image of dog with bone fragments in the digestive tract

Dog xray of bone fragments in the stomach and intestinal tract
Intestinal obstructions and perforations can occur after consuming bones This chew bone lodged in the dog's esophagus and required anesthesia and forceps to retrieve This x-ray shows bone fragments and a flaccid, gas filled bowel called ileus. This radiograph shows that many tiny bone chips can accumulate and create a large impaction

QUESTION:  Does the consumption of bones promote a better state of nutrition or health in the dog?

Here’s what happens and what makes people think that “bones” are so nutritious… when a pet caretaker feeds bones (most select raw bones, not cooked) there is also included attached to those bones all sorts of muscle, fat, connective tissue and cartilage.  If the dog has been fed a grain-based or otherwise deficient diet, the addition of the “bones” will make a remarkably beneficial difference in not only how the dog looks but also how it feels and acts.  Caretakers will naturally tout the great benefits to be gained from feeding “bones”.  (Interestingly, the same testimonials are made by pet owners who switch from poor diets to those with meat as a primary ingredient and who Raw or cooked there is a hazard to dogs if they swallow bony fragmentswouldn’t even think of feeding a bone.)  The impression that anyone will gain is that somehow the “bones” have made the difference.  Somehow everyone overlooks the contribution to the diet from the tissues attached to the bone!

Having studied biochemistry, anatomy, histology, physiology and nutrition in veterinary school I wondered how bone, all by itself, could have such remarkable effects.  I knew that bone was a highly indigestible substance for mammals and was very narrow in its spectrum of nutritional components.  So, I did a little studying and posted the summary of that analysis here.  It turns out that mammal bones… all by themselves and stripped of any soft tissues… provide very little nutritional benefits to dogs other than being a good source of calcium and phosphorus.

We pet caretakers need to establish definitions for words we frequently use relative to “feeding bones” in order to be more precise about what we are trying to describe.  For example some animal caretakers, when using the word “bone”, mean the “skeletal structure” only, with no attendant soft tissues or cartilage.  Others use the word “bone” to refer to a chunk of tissue that has the bony skeletal parts and all attached muscle, fat, cartilage and connective tissues.  Some people, when referring to feeding “bones” to their dogs mean only “raw bones” and would never feed cooked bones.  Some would never feed a pork bone but believe that beef bones are harmless; some believe beef bones are dangerous to feed but poultry bones are innocuous.  Some believe that “bones must be fed otherwise you are depriving the dog of emotional and nutritional well-being”.   Someday we all will be more specific about what we really mean when we say we “feed bones” to our dogs.  Right now the term “feeding bones” is ambiguous and nonspecific.  Everybody needs to be on the same page and a good page to start with is the one that I mentioned at that shows how little nourishment is actually present in “a mammalian skeletal bone, devoid of all soft tissues and cartilage”.Actual bone fragments removed at surgery from stomach of a dog.

I wondered what was creating all this perceived benefit that so many dog owners were really seeing when “bones” were added to deficient diets.  Well, it turns out that since we know that the bare bone itself has few nutrients (the marrow is mostly fat and is of rather low volume in any bone) the benefits must have been coming from the tissues still attached to the bone such as muscle, fat, cartilage and connective tissue!  Those soft tissues were truly beneficial, of high digestibility and contained a wide spectrum of nutrients.  It is my personal conviction based on established and verifiable scientific data, as well as 37 years of observing pets on a daily basis, that it is the various tissues attached to bone, not the bare bone itself, that provides all those great benefits so often seen when “bones” are fed. “Chewing on bones cleans the dog’s teeth.”  Yes that can happen but so will chewing on a hard rawhide, Nylabone or Kong toy and with these provisions there is minimal risk of any medical/surgical problems.


QUESTION:  Are there any statistics/studies regarding the hazards of feeding bones?

I am unaware of any actual scientific epidemiological (statistical) studies but any animal hospital or referral clinic or University veterinary school clinic will have records of canine patients who needed medical or surgical intervention as a result of having consumed bones.

QUESTION:  If bones are going to be fed, how should they be incorporated into the diet?

Actually it is good to have bone incorporated in a dog’s diet; the method of delivery of that bone is what I worry about.  Finely ground bone present in raw pet foods present absolutely NO hazard relative to potential obstruction or perforation.  Plus the finely ground particles of skeletal tissue (bone) provide a greater surface area for digestive acids to leach out the minerals from the bone particles. Small dog chewing on a large bone

If dog owners feel the need to add raw bones to their dog’s diet, I’d suggest that they first try to find a diet that does not require the feeding of  “bones” (whatever that means!) to improve the diet in the first place.  I am very critical of some of today’s pet “foods”… some of which should not even be called “food”.  However, I know from daily examinations of healthy and some very old dogs that high quality dry and canned pet foods do exist; there are many dogs 16 years old and older that have never eaten a raw or cooked bone but have been sustained very nicely by high quality, meat-based commercial foods.

Keep in mind that each dog is different and you must look at the individual when assessing the value of any particular diet. 

QUESTION:  Is it true that a dog has to be able to chew on real bones otherwise his emotional or psychological well being may suffer?

“Chewing on and eating bones provides the dog with emotional satisfaction that cannot be gotten via any other means”.  This is a persistent viewpoint held by many knowledgeable dog owners.  It may be true but to what degree of improved emotional health can this theory be tested?  I suppose someone could make a similar case for feeding bacon since some dogs are absolutely crazy about getting a piece of bacon.  If a dog never gets a bone, will the dog’s emotional health truly be damaged and how could such an assessment be made?

It would be equally valid... or invalid... to state that dogs need bacon treat to achieve emotional health, and no one could disprove the bacon theory.  In truth, give a dog some bacon (meat and fat) and the chance of dangerous pancreatitis occurring is greatly increased.  If a dog never gets bacon or liver sausage or a bone to chew, will that dog's psyche suffer from not experiencing the joy and satisfaction that may result from the experience?

Make the safest decisions based on reason, not emotion, regarding what your dog gets to eat.

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