If you’re a raw feeder, you’ve probably noticed bits of bone in your dog’s commercial raw food, or you make sure to incorporate bone dust into your homemade raw. Bone is an important part of a balanced meal, and any diet without it could be seriously lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. But what about whole raw bones for dogs? Is a weekly turkey neck or beef rib bone a good idea or a bad idea?

The Benefits of Raw Bones for Dogs

There are 2 very major benefits of feeding raw bones to your pup.

1. Perfect Nutrition. One of the biggest draws of raw bones is the calcium – which contributes to strong bones and teeth. But calcium isn’t the only nutritional benefit. Raw bones also contain things like phosphorus and trace minerals. But there’s more!

Raw bones also provide:

  • essential fatty acids
  • valuable amino acids
  • cartilage
  • fat-soluble vitamins
  • collagen
  • blood-forming factors found in the marrow, including iron and copper
  • proteins
  • glucosamine

2. Natural Teeth Cleaners. Do you brush your dog’s teeth? Your animal’s oral health is so important, yet so many of us don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in their mouths. Many kibble companies claim that kibble cleans teeth, but the fact is, there isn’t enough friction in commercial kibble to have any impact on oral health. A build up of tartar, gum disease, infected mouths, and bad breath are all real issues. Thankfully, raw bones do offer that friction and natural teeth cleaning. Raw bones act like floss in the mouth, polishing and scraping away tartar as your dog crunches and gnaws. Additionally, any raw meat on those bones contributes to an acidic environment in the mouth, which can help stop plaque formation and freshen your dog’s breath!

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Choosing the Right Raw Bone for Your Dog

There are so many different types of bones you can get, but not all bones are best for all dogs.

One of the best ways to choose is based on your dog’s size.

Always choose a size that is appropriate for your dog. For example, a small dog (or cat) will only need a small bone. Larger dogs will want something more substantial. A larger bone for a large dog will prevent your pup from swallowing the bone whole. A good gauge is a bone that’s bigger than your dog’s jaw.

You also need to think about the purpose of the bone: is it for eating or just for chewing?

Edible Bones

Edible bones are bones you’re feeding as part of your dog’s diet. They’re meant to deliver the nutritional benefits along with the chewing benefits. Edible bones are typically softer, usually hollow (but not hollow like marrow bones – there’s a big difference here), and covered in cartilage or other connective tissues.

Some ideal edible bones include:

  • Chicken feet or backs
  • Turkey necks
  • Lamb, pork, venison, and beef ribs
  • Pork feet
  • Ox and pork tail

If you’re watching your dog’s weight, make sure you’re factoring in the calorie count of any bones you feed. You will want to reduce her regular food amount to accommodate for the increased calories in the bones. One or two bones a week is great. A nice meaty bone can even replace a meal.

Recreational Bones

Recreational bones are more for the teeth cleaning benefits and for the mental and physical exercise of chewing. They’re not actually meant to be eaten. They’re much harder and should always be fed with caution and under supervision. They don’t really offer much nutritional value, but that’s ok, because you’re not feeding them for that.

A healthy adult dog who isn’t a “gulper” – one with good chewing habits – will likely be just fine with a recreational bone. That said, if you’re worried at all, just stick with edible bones.

Some good recreational bones include:

  • Knuckles
  • Hock bones
  • Kneecaps
  • Necks

Again, with recreational bones, choose the size depending on your dog’s size.

NOTE: Proceed with caution (or not at all) with weight bearing bones. These are the leg bones of the animals and they can be really, really hard. They can splinter or crack your dog’s teeth. These types of bones include: lamb shank, turkey leg, chicken leg, marrow bone (beef). Some dogs are ok to gently chew these or tear the meat off, but many will also try to eat the bones itself, which can be dangerous.

raw bones for dogs

Safety First

There are a few safety tips to get the most of those raw bones, and to keep your pup safe.

  1. Never feed cooked bones. Raw bones are great, but once you cook them, their whole composition changes. Cooked bones become brittle, and they can break and splinter as your dog chews away. These sharp pieces can not only do damage in the mouth, they can also do damage as they travel along the digestive tract. Tears to the intestines, stomach, or esophagus are painful and life-threatening, and can leave you rushing to the vet for costly and invasive surgery. Cooked bones can also do damage to your dog’s teeth. Just keep the cooked bones for the compost pile rather than your dog’s bowl.
  2. Find the perfect spot to chew. If you give your dog a raw bone, don’t just hand it over and let her take it where she pleases. Pick a spot and stick to it. Maybe that means giving it while she’s in her crate, or perhaps outside on the back deck. Ours have “bone” towels, and know (after some consistent training) they they stay on these towels until they’re finished. Make sure to give the area a good wipe down to sanitize the area once they’re done.
  3. Supervise. This one’s pretty simple. Don’t leave your dog unsupervised when feeding raw bones. Give her space, but always keep an eye on her, just in case. This is also important if you have a multi-dog household. Even if your animals are the best of friends, bones are really tempting treats, so make sure each pup has lots of space and try to keep them away from each other as they chew.
  4. Raw bones should always be treated like raw meat. Most will actually have raw meat on them. When you bring them home, treat them just as you would meat you’d serve anyone in your family. And, if your dog doesn’t finish a bone in one sitting, don’t let her bury it in the backyard for later! Make sure you’re refrigerating leftovers in between chew sessions. Again, treat those leftovers like you would raw meat, and don’t let them sit in the fridge for weeks on end – they will spoil! Additionally, even if the meat is gone, leaving a raw bone out will allow it to dry out, which can make it more likely to splinter, plus it’s still carrying any bacteria from the meat.

Raw Bones for Dogs: Final Thoughts

Hands down, raw meaty bones can improve your dogs health! Many holistic veterinarians, including Dr. Ian Billinghurst, creator of The BARF Diet, recommend feeding raw bones as a significant part of your dog’s diet. Overall, these meaty additions provide great nutrition, offer easy teeth cleaning, and even good mental and physical exercise. So, once a week (or more) give your dog a bone!