Everyone has probably heard that bones are not safe for dogs. Despite this warning, many people feed their dogs all kinds of bones with no apparent ill effects. Whether the bones are chicken, turkey, beef or fish; dogs will eat them all if given the opportunity. Most dogs have no ill effects but some few do and if not treated immediately, will suffer peritonitis and die from the infection. To protect these few unlucky ones, veterinarians suggest that dog owners do not to feed their dog’s bones.
The primary reason bones, of any kind, are unsafe for dogs is that when bones are cooked, they become dry and brittle, and when swallowed easily puncture the intestinal wall. Raw bones, however, are not brittle and contain many important nutrients.
Bones contain calcium, a necessary nutrient for all dogs, puppies and adults alike. Commercial dog food companies will add ground bone to the mix to ensure that the kibble will contain calcium.
Feral or wild dogs eat the bones of the animals they kill, with no apparent ill effects. For this reason, many people who feed their dogs a raw diet ensure that they have many raw bones in their diet. They will feed raw chicken backs, raw turkey carcasses, raw beef bones (especially the large knuckle bones), and whole raw fish. Since the meat has not been cooked, the bones remain soft, pliable and easily digested.
Uncooked fresh bones are perfectly safe. They will remain soft and pliable and will not cause a puncture.
The major problem with feeding raw chicken or turkey bones is that if the dog eats too much at a time, the bones can cause a blockage in the gut. Too many soft bones can be constipating. The problem will resolve itself if you do not feed the dog for a day or two, allowing the bones time to absorb. Veterinarians will treat the problem by giving the dog enemas and medication for constipation.
The revolutionary idea that there is nothing wrong with feeding raw bones to dogs, and that it is important to feed your dog raw bones, came from the Australian veterinarian, Ian Billinghurst in the late 1990s. His book (BARF: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), which was privately printed, hit North America with widespread results. They invited him for lecture tours, which were filmed for audience consumption. The logic of his presentation spawned the raw food industry for both dogs and cats. An industry which has grown remarkably fast. The idea of feeding raw food, including bones, to animals was more quickly accepted by owners and breeders than by veterinarians. (As a sequel, Dr. Billinghurst published a little book called “Give your Dog a Bone” which focused on puppies.) Today, there are several books available on feeding a raw diet.
As a breeder of German Shepherd Dogs, I was convinced of the science behind Billingshurst’s recommendation and began feeding my adult dogs and my puppies-raw food. Green tripe was a favorite. My puppies munched small chicken necks on with gusto. I never had a dog with dental problems. The bone development of my puppies was outstanding. Another significant result was that my dogs never again ate their stools. The raw food provided all the nutrients they needed.
Feeding dogs bones can be dangerous, particularly if the bone is dry and brittle (such as the smoked bones available at pet food stores). Take caution in the amount of raw whole chicken or turkey bone in the diet to decrease the possibility of blockage. Ground raw bone does not cause this problem. Avoiding all cooked bones, especially fish and fowl, should decrease the possibility of intestinal puncture.