For as long as most people can remember, bones have gone hand in hand (or paw in paw) with dogs. They are often thought of as the ultimate reward for your four-legged friend but are bones actually good for your pet?
To help you answer these questions, we’ve put together a complete guide to dog bones and everything you need to know about them. We’ve also got the help of two experts in dog health to make sure you’re well-informed before giving your dog a bone.
Our dog experts
To help us understand more about bones and how our dogs can safely interact with them, we’ve got the help of two experts. Both are vets and have a combined total of 45 years working with dogs and other animals. We’ve also received some advice from experts at Dogs Trust.
Our first expert is Dr Scott Miller, who studied at the University of Queensland Veterinary School before starting his career at the largest animal hospital in Australia. He is now the resident vet on ITV's This Morning, a Barking Heads Vet, and owns his own vet practice in West London, where he films for Channel 4's Vet on the Hill. Dr Miller knows all about dogs and what to feed them and has shared his tips regarding bones.
Our second expert is Dr Ella Wringle, who studied to be a vet in 1986 at the Royal Veterinary College in London and has since worked in South Wales. She now runs her own practice and cares for hundreds of dogs a year. Dr Wringle also volunteers for the RSPCA, helping them care for animals at a rescue centre.
Are bones good for dogs?
Yes, the right bones are great for dogs, with lots of benefits for their oral health, happiness and well-being, and are great to use during training - we’ve listed all their benefits in our section below.
However, you should only ever give your dog raw (uncooked) bones or bone-type treats made from other materials. Check out our section on what bones should you give your dog for more information
If you’re still unsure about giving your dog a bone, Dogs Trust suggests opting for an option with less risk, like a treat ball.
What are the different types of dog bones?
Before giving our dogs bones, it’s important to know which ones are on the market. Bones that dogs are typically given vary based on the animal the bone is from and how it has been processed.
Some common bones that are given to dogs don’t even contain an animal bone at all, whilst others have been crafted for safer consumption. They all differ in various ways, such as their shape, size, flavour, texture, and ingredients.
More like this
Natural bones are the first thing people usually think of when they hear dog bones. They come from animals and are usually made from cows, chickens, lamb, etc. They are the most common form of bone given to dogs and can be eaten entirely. It is always important to make sure they are raw (see our section on what bones you should give your dog).
These are unsurprisingly made from cow or horse hides (another word for hide is skin). The skin is dried into a bone-like shape and then given to the dog. They are chewy, long-lasting, and help clean a dog's teeth. They can sometimes be advertised as cow/horse skin bones in shops.
As the name suggests, these are bones made from the antlers of deer, elk, or moose, and they are both durable and long-lasting. They are a good source of minerals and can help clean a dog's teeth, as well as being one of the longest-lasting bones.
Dental chews are often shaped in bone-like form and are commercially made to target oral health in dogs. They help to keep your pet's mouth and teeth as clean as possible and have similar effects to natural bones but are more widely available and often carry less risk. Usually, they don’t actually contain real animal bones.
Not technically a real bone but worth including are nylon styles of bone. They come in various shapes and sizes and can help clean a dog’s teeth, as well as being flavoured to taste like bone. Despite being inedible, Dogs Trust advises owners to opt for a nylon-style bone if worried about the risk of bone consumption.
What bones should you give your dog, and which should you avoid?
Many dog owners are apprehensive when it comes to bones, but knowing which ones to avoid and which ones are safe can help build confidence. Our two experts have given their tips, and they both say you need to be warier about natural animal bones (those straight from an animal) rather than rawhide, dental, nylon bones, or antlers.
Both Dr Miller and Wringle advise that one of the most important considerations is to make sure that the bone is raw when given to your dog. Giving your dog a cooked bone makes the likelihood of choking or perforated insides higher because the bones become more brittle.
Dr Miller also advised giving your dog a bone that is brought from a dog food supplier or trusted bone maker. He said: “Commercially prepared dog bones are much safer than actual bones. This is because when bones are cooked, they become brittle and can lodge or perforate the gut when consumed. Cooked bones can also lead to dental damage and bleeding gums.”
He went on to explain that although raw natural bones are better than cooked, some bones should never be fed to your dog. These include pork bones, which easily splinter and crack, and rib bones of any kind because they are small and likely to crack or get stuck in your dog’s throat. He also advised it’s best to avoid bones smaller than your dog’s mouth as they may swallow them whole.
Benefits of dog bones
Our two experts have helped us understand the benefits of giving your dog a bone and what they can gain from chewing on them.
Dr Scott Miller explained that oral health is one of the main benefits that dogs can gain from chewing on bones. He said: “Bones can help to keep teeth clean by being abrasive to the enamel when chewed.” Dr Wringle added that a build-up of plaque could be combated, and gum disease risk is reduced when dogs are given bones. She said that this is because salvia enzymes are activated!
Dr Wringle explained that bones can be good for training, especially if they’re flavoured. She said: “Bones can be used as a treat during training, so if your dog does something right, such as go to the toilet outside, you can give them a bone to chew on for a few minutes. This will help them build positive affirmations with bones and good behaviour as you give them bones as a reward. This can help make the training process easier.”
Dog bones help canines’ mental health, and Dr Miller explains that they are “great entertainment for a dog, especially those left alone where it can help to reduce boredom and separation anxiety.” Used as a reward, they can also make dogs happier and feel as if they have done well or ‘been a good boy’.
Dr Wringle also adds that bones can help with energising dogs and give them the urge to play. She also says that because dogs have a natural urge to chew, they are likely to enjoy time spent with a bone more than typical toys or food.
Bones can provide good nutritional benefits for dogs and can help with your dog’s intake of certain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous. Dr Wringle added that essential amino acids and proteins can also be provided in bones. With commercially made dog bones, these minerals and proteins can be added to the bones providing a more nutritionally complete snack.
What are the risks of giving your dog a bone?
If you have decided to give your dog a bone, you should be aware of the risks involved. To avoid a dreaded trip to the vet, you should keep our expert’s advice in mind and follow their tips to ensure your pet’s safety.
Dr Miller explained that choking is one of the biggest risks associated with giving your dog a bone. He said: “The main concern is the possibility of blockage (choking), which can still be problematic in commercially designed bones if chewed up in large enough chunks.” Dr Wringle agreed and said you should keep an eye on your dog when they’re eating bones and take it off them if the bone break into small enough pieces to swallow whole.
When your dog is chewing on a bone, you should always supervise them, especially if it's a new type of bone that they haven't had before. You can then check to ensure that they are chewing safely and not biting off large chunks or swallowing the bone whole. You should also make sure you chose the right bone which is not cooked and is less likely to splinter. Read our section on what bones should you give your dog if you’re unsure.
Dental and mouth problems
Experts from Dogs Trust said that “bones can cause traumatic injury to the mouth if they splinter into sharp fragments when bitten and bones can cause painful fractures of teeth enamel which require tooth extraction to treat.” Dr Miller added to this and said that “oral injuries are a common side effect of giving your dog bones.”
It is important to make sure that the bones are not too hard for your dog or you risk dental fractures, but also make sure they’re not too soft so they don’t splinter and cut the gums. Good practice is to only allow your dog a certain amount of time to chew on their bone before you take it away.
Dr Wringle says that eating dog bones can cause serious stomach issues, which include constipation, diarrhoea, and vomiting. This often happens if the bones get stuck during the digestion process. If the bone splinters, there is also the risk of internal damage such as perforated stomach and intestine - this can be fatal.
Dogs Trust experts reiterated this and said: “Bones can cause constipation, obstruction of the throat/gut or even pierce the gut, which can be fatal.” Once the bone becomes small enough that your dog can swallow it whole, you should throw it away. Don't allow your dog to continue chewing on a bone that is small enough that it splinters or could get stuck in the throat or digestive system.
Want to read more expert-recommended pet product round-ups? Check out our Pets page for a full list of recommendations, including our list of the best dog beds, the best dog toys and the best dog treats, all recommended by dog experts.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.