Are Raw Bones Okay for Pets?
By Shawn Messonnier, DVM
In the wild, dogs and cats routinely enjoy feasting on fresh bones from their prey. In addition to receiving nutritional benefits from the minerals contained in the bones (calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus) and the nutrients contained from the meat attached to the bone (and the marrow in the bone,) regular chewing has additional benefits.
- First, animals, both wild and domestic, need to chew as part of their normal behavior. If they don’t chew, they are being deprived of an important daily function. Pets that don’t have access to chewing bones are more likely to become destructive chewers of household objects such as furniture and clothing.
- Second, chewing provides pleasure to the pet. Pets deprived of chewing bones miss out on a pleasurable part of what should be a daily event.
- Finally, regular chewing can promote healthy teeth and gums. Since wild animals don’t brush their teeth, and since many pet owners don’t brush their pets’ teeth, regular chewing of healthy bones minimizes periodontal disorders, resulting in greater health to the pet.
While feeding pets bones is healthy for the pet and to be encouraged, it must be done as safely as possible. Here are some tips to help you.
- If your pet has periodontal disease, have the teeth cleaned professionally first before offering bones to prevent unnecessary pain that could occur from irritation of the teeth and gums from the bones.
- If your pet has never had access to bones, move slowly. Offer 1 bone every few days to make sure the pet will accept it and not “over-do” it and get sick.
- Choose your bones wisely. Fresh, raw meaty bones from a reputable natural pet food company are an excellent choice. These can be purchased from your veterinarian or pet store.
- Pick the correct size bone for your pet. Small dogs and cats should be given smaller bones, whereas larger dogs can chew on larger bones. If the bone is too big for the pet, it will prove difficult (or even discouraging) to chew and may be wasted. If the bone is too small, it could be eaten whole without being chewed, which could become an obstruction in the GI tract.
- Uneaten pieces or splinters of bones should be promptly removed and disposed.
- While chewing the correct sized bone is generally safe, regularly inspect your pet’s teeth and gums for any abrasions or cracked teeth, and have your veterinarian check the mouth at least twice annually for signs of periodontal disease.
Most pets relish the opportunity to have regular access to bones. They can provide much needed oral exercise, enhance your pet’s psychological well-being, and provide nutrition as well. Feeding bones and the proper natural diet are important to ensure not just dental health but overall health. And don’t forget that even pets eating bones and a great natural diet may still need their teeth cleaned at the vet’s office to prevent more serious problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease.