AKA: Paleo for your canine companion.
Dogs that chew real bones (specifically bones, not dental chews) have less tartar. If you watch your dog chew their bone, you’ll see and hear why. Their carnassial teeth and incisors are used to shear meat and fascia from the outside of the bone. That griding successfully removes tartar from the surface of the tooth and stimulates the gums. Dental disease is a serious problem for many dogs, one that may lead to tooth extraction, abscesses, GI problems, and oral cancers, among other issues.
Puppies (and dogs!) that are orally enriched with appropriate chewing materials are less likely to look to inappropriate objects (qiviuq yarn, sunglasses, shoes) to satisfy their need to chew. The frozen bones are also very soothing for teething pups.
Chewing bones is an intensely physical activity. On days when your pet is holed up due to bad weather, healing, or just because you don’t have the time to get outside, bones offer a way to get out a portion of their physical energy.
Bones are also mentally stimulating. Getting to the marrow inside requires problem-solving and manipulation of the bone.
The list goes on and on.
You will find people who disagree with the idea of feeding raw bones and bones in general. Do your own research. Feel free not to feed bones. I personally feel that the benefits of raw bone feeding outweigh the potential hazards for most dogs. I have seen raw bones perform the equivalent of a several-hundred-dollar dentistry on a 10 year-old dog that would have otherwise had to have been sedated. Dory, who chews deer femurs, is 11 years-old, has never had a cleaning and has almost no tartar. My dog eats bones until they are gone, and has yet to have severe GI upset. She has retched up pieces, but rarely. That said, the intestinal tracts of all dogs are not created equal.
What kind of bone?
I’m glad you asked. I recommend medium sized raw beef or bison pipe bones for most dogs. Bones should absolutely not be cooked – it changes the way they break into pieces, increasing the likelihood that they will shard. The nutrients in raw bones are also more readily absorbable by your dog’s digestive system.
The bones I recommend for beginners are cut from the center of a leg bone of a cow or bison. They have no protruding pieces that could be easily broken off, contain marrow, and have a small amount of meat that remains attached to the outside of the bone.
BEGINNING BITING BONES:
I hope that a lot of my suggestions will sound like common sense. First, a few caveats:
– Know your dog.
Does your dog’s stomach rumble if he eats a dropped piece of food in the kitchen? Just had a $3000 visit to the vet for bloody stool? It may then be a good idea to skip the bones, or to be extra cautious. A gobbler? Maybe 5 minutes is a good length for your first attempt at bone time. An overzealous chewer? Monitor for cracked teeth. Your dog (like mine) regularly brings home deer legs and voles and consumes them, with no issues? Probably safe to skip forward a few steps. If you have questions or concerns, I’d be happy to talk with you about them, but a great asset could be your veterinarian, who has a relationship with you and your pet.
– You are in charge of the bones.
When first introducing bones, many dogs are fanatical about this wonderful, new, delicious experience. This excitement can be used for good, or evil. Require good behavior (all four paws on the ground, quiet, etc.) before giving the bone. Any undesirable behavior while chewing results in the immediate loss of bone privileges, to try again another day.
Let us begin!
Day 1: Bone Time
Start with a frozen bone, as seen above. Introduce “bone time” after your dog has had some exercise, preferably when the house is calm. If there are multiple dogs, each should have their own bone, in their own room/area to reduce potential conflicts. For day one, I recommend 15 minutes of bone chewing. All bone time should be supervised. If you hear or see pieces of bone being broken off, remove the bone shards immediately, and the bone itself if sharp points remain. This is unlikely in such a short amount of time, but if it does occur, consider scaling back bone time. Once the time has elapsed, retrieve the bone, praising your dog for giving it up willingly, and use a plastic baggie to store it in the freezer ’til tomorrow! Check the bone for broken pieces and fractures before freezing, and discard if you find any.
Repeat, but with one addition: today you get to monitor your pet’s stool. A little loose is fine, but any blood or explosiveness means you need to slow things down a little, or consider alternative oral enrichment. If all is well, proceed!
Examine bone, and if it is intact, with marrow inside, try 30 minutes, again under supervision, removing the bone if it starts to break into shards.
Rest, and continue to monitor stool.
Depending on your dog, it may be time for a new bone, especially if the marrow is gone, or your dog has lost interest. Today, go for 30 minutes supervised bone time. Continue to monitor stool. It’s a good habit to get into, and so fun!
45 minutes, or break it up into 15 minutes AM, 30 minutes PM. Report findings in the comments.
As Day 6, only you don’t have to comment this time.
New bone, and try it for an hour – that is probably long enough for your dog to have extracted the majority of the meat, fascia and marrow. If not, use it again!
Antlers are a great alternative for dogs that are overzealous, or for guardians that aren’t too sure about having raw bone/canine saliva drippings on their carpet (weirdos). The bones pictured above are suitable for dogs from around 10-100 lbs. Larger dogs may need to be more closely monitored, or have longer bones that they are unable to swallow. Often times, the bones that are cut from closer to the head of the femur are larger.
At this point, if there has been no sign of gastric upset, you should be safe to have supervised bone time as you see fit! 1-2 fresh bones per week should keep your dog healthy and happy. Take a look at your dog’s teeth before you start feeding bones, then reexamine after 2 weeks of bone chewing. I’d be surprised if you didn’t find improvement, and would love to see photos. You can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org