Are Bones Bad for Dogs? Understanding the Risks and Safety Concerns

Are bones bad for dogs? Learn about the risks, potential dangers, and safer alternatives to keep your pet healthy and happy.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, and was last updated on July 12, 2024

are bones bad for dogs
Photo: Alan Levine

Are Bones Bad for Dogs?

Emergency Vet Visits Due to Bones

A common question among pet owners is, “Are bones bad for dogs?” Unfortunately, the answer is often yes. Bones getting stuck in dogs’ mouths is a frequent emergency seen by vets. For example, a dog was recently brought in with a beef marrow bone stuck on her lower jaw.

  • Immediate Action: Always call your vet first in case of an emergency to ensure they are available.
  • Common Issue: Bones getting stuck in dogs’ mouths can cause significant distress and requires professional removal.

In emergencies like these, it’s crucial to act quickly. Always have a plan for emergencies and know your vet’s hours and contact information.

  • Avoid Bones: The risk of injury or emergency from bones is high.
  • Professional Help Needed: Removing bones from a dog’s mouth usually requires professional tools and sedation.

In summary, the potential dangers associated with giving bones to dogs far outweigh any perceived benefits. It’s best to avoid giving your dog bones to chew on and to always be prepared for emergencies by knowing your vet’s availability.


The Risks of Giving Bones to Dogs

Circular bones caught around lower jaws and sticks or bones lodged in the roof of a dog’s mouth are very common emergencies. I don’t recommend giving dogs bones for this and many other reasons.

If your dog has been chewing on a foreign object and suddenly begins pawing at its mouth with both front paws, try to carefully open and look at the roof of the mouth. If you see the object wedged there, try carefully to extricate it with pliers or forceps. If you can’t dislodge it, get to the vet (call first!).

  • Potential Injuries: Attempting to remove bones at home can hurt the jaw or teeth. It’s best left to professionals to avoid causing further harm.
  • Bone Removal: Removing bones, especially marrow bones, often requires professional tools and sometimes sedation.

In many cases, bones are stuck so tightly that large implements like bolt cutters are needed to split the bone and remove it safely. For example, a dog named Bella needed sedation and the use of bolt cutters to remove a marrow bone stuck on her lower jaw. The procedure was successful, and Bella recovered quickly.

These marrow bones are very hard to remove by yourself. Trying to cut the bone with bolt cutters is dangerous and may require some anesthesia to do it safely. Always seek professional help to ensure your dog’s safety.

Dental Damage from Bones

Are bones bad for dogs? One of the major risks involves dental damage. Chewing on hard bones can lead to fractured teeth, which is a common problem seen in veterinary practices. Dogs, especially those with aggressive chewing habits, can easily crack or break their teeth on bones, leading to pain, infection, and sometimes the need for dental surgery.

  • Risks of Dental Damage:
    • Fractured Teeth: Hard bones can cause teeth to crack or break.
    • Infection and Pain: Broken teeth can lead to infections and significant pain.
    • Dental Surgery: Severe cases may require costly and invasive dental procedures.

To avoid these issues, consider providing safer chew options designed to be gentle on your dog’s teeth.

Seriously, folks, BONES ARE A BAD IDEA.

Serious Health Risks from Bones in Dogs

Poor Bella looked like she had selected bad body jewelry at a tattoo parlor.

Bone emergencies are a frequent occurrence, with obvious cases seen every one to two months. This does not include severe vomiting and diarrhea associated with bone chewing, or the fatal emergencies when bones lodge in the esophagus or perforate an organ.

  • Common Emergencies: Bones can cause hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE), severe vomiting/diarrhea, or fatal blockages in the esophagus.
  • Brachycephalic Breeds: These breeds, like French Bulldogs, have narrow airways and should never be given bones. They can suffocate on a bone lodged in their trachea.

For example, a 13-year-old German Shepherd that had survived massive surgery consumed large amounts of discarded chicken bones, leading to a severe emergency. Although she survived, it required extensive veterinary care and luck.

If your dog eats a small bone, it might pass without issue. However, watch for signs of anorexia or vomiting and consult your vet if you know your dog consumed bones.

  • Warning Signs: Monitor for symptoms like anorexia and vomiting after bone consumption.
  • Emergency Response: If your dog shows severe symptoms or you suspect an emergency, seek immediate veterinary care.

Gastrointestinal Obstructions

Another critical reason why bones are bad for dogs is the risk of gastrointestinal obstructions. When dogs chew bones, they can break off small or large pieces that can get lodged in their intestines. This can lead to partial or complete blockages, which are medical emergencies.

  • Symptoms of Obstructions:
    • Vomiting and Diarrhea: Common signs of a blockage.
    • Lethargy and Loss of Appetite: Indications that something is wrong.
    • Abdominal Pain: Your dog may show signs of discomfort when touched.

If you suspect your dog has ingested a bone that is causing a blockage, seek immediate veterinary care. These obstructions can be life-threatening and often require surgical intervention.

The BARF Diet and Its Risks for Dogs

The BARF diet (Bones and Raw Food) is a topic of ongoing research and controversy. While some advocates tout its benefits, veterinarians are increasingly observing problems associated with raw diets, including pathogens, unbalanced nutrition, and GI tract damage.

  • Health Risks: Pets on a raw diet can suffer from:
    • Mild to serious infections from pathogens like salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter.
    • GI tract damage ranging from mild symptoms to death.
    • Toxoplasmosis.
    • Nutritional imbalances.

There is broad agreement in the international veterinary community, including among alternative and homeopathic experts, about these risks. The benefits of raw diets remain unproven, and more research is needed.

  • Human Risks: Raw diets can also pose serious risks to humans, especially children under 12, due to potential pathogen transmission.

Some companies, such as Nature’s Variety, meet AAFCO standards for balanced pet diets and test for pathogens. Other compliant brands include Bravo! Balance Raw Food Diet, Primal Pet Foods, and Steve’s Real Food for Dogs.

Recommendations and Precautions

Legal and medical experts advise against feeding raw diets to pets, especially in households with young children or therapy dogs. The potential health risks to both pets and humans are significant.

  • Legal Concerns: Veterinarians are advised not to sell raw diets to avoid liability if a human contracts an infection.
  • Personal Experience: Even in households accustomed to consuming under-cooked meat, the risks of serious GI infections are significant and can be easily overlooked.

For more information on raw diets meeting AAFCO standards, visit Nature’s Variety.

Behavioral Risks of Giving Dogs Bones

In the past, giving dogs bones was a common practice in many households. For example, my family would give Pepe the poodle a T-bone, and he would growl at anyone who approached him while he chewed. This behavior, while seemingly natural, highlights a significant risk associated with giving dogs bones.

  • Aggression and Guarding: Bones can trigger aggressive guarding behavior in dogs.
    • A mild-mannered hound dog named Elvis became highly aggressive when given a bone, almost biting when approached.

These experiences illustrate the behavioral risks of giving dogs bones. Bones can transform even the gentlest dogs into aggressive protectors of their prized chew, creating a dangerous situation, especially in households with children.

To prevent such behavior, it’s best to avoid giving dogs bones. Instead, provide safer chew options that do not provoke guarding instincts.

Safe Alternatives to Bones

To keep your dog safe while satisfying their need to chew, consider providing alternatives to bones. Many products on the market are specifically designed to be safe and enjoyable for dogs, reducing the risks associated with bone chewing.

  • Recommended Alternatives:
    • Dental Chews: Designed to clean teeth and freshen breath without the risk of breaking teeth.
    • Rubber Chew Toys: Durable and safe for even the most aggressive chewers.
    • Rawhide Alternatives: Options like bully sticks or specially designed rawhide treats that are safer for digestion.

By choosing these alternatives, you can keep your dog happy and healthy without exposing them to the dangers of bones.

Here’s an early Easter poem from a non-poet:

May your days be bright and sunny
Enjoy that Easter ham

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why are milk bones bad for dogs?

Milk bones can be bad for dogs because they often contain high levels of sugar, salt, and artificial preservatives, which can lead to obesity and other health issues.

Why are chicken bones bad for dogs?

Chicken bones are bad for dogs because they can splinter and cause choking, internal punctures, or blockages in the digestive tract.

Why are cooked bones bad for dogs?

Cooked bones are bad for dogs because they become brittle and can splinter, causing serious internal injuries.

What bones are bad for dogs?

Small, brittle bones and cooked bones are bad for dogs as they can splinter and cause choking or internal damage.

Why are rawhide bones bad for dogs?

Rawhide bones are bad for dogs because they can pose choking hazards, cause intestinal blockages, and often contain harmful chemicals used in their processing.