I have a two-year-old Springer Spaniel called Belle. A friend recently told me that feeding bones will help to keep her teeth clean – is this true? Is there anything that I need to be careful of and what bones would be best?

Anna Cherry advises…

This is a really good question and one that I get asked frequently. Many owners are keen to give their dog a bone as a treat or as part of their dietary routine. In fact, feeding bones to dogs has risen following the increase in popularity of ‘raw feeding’, which endorses this practice.

For many dogs, the chance to gnaw on a juicy bone will be met with great excitement and delight. It’s also true that the physical action of chewing on a bone can help to reduce plaque (the film of bacteria that forms on teeth) and tartar deposits on your dog’s teeth.

However, from a vet’s perspective, feeding bones to dogs is also associated with certain health risks. The first problem is they can be a choking hazard. Over-eager chewers may swallow large chunks, which can get lodged in the throat or lower down the digestive system and cause an obstruction.

The second problem is that even adequately chewed bones can break into sharp fragments, which can potentially injure a dog’s bowels or even cause a perforation (this is when the bone creates a hole in the digestive tract) – leaving your dog in a critical condition.

Thirdly, depending on the chewer and the type of bone, they can also cause teeth fractures, which may result in discomfort and the need for dental treatment. Finally, due to their low digestibility, bony fragments can lead to constipation, which in severe cases can make your pooch seriously unwell.

If you are still keen to feed Belle on bones, then here are some general dos and don’ts to help maximise safety and avoid any complications:

Do:

  • Only feed raw bones, as they contain more moisture and are more flexible compared to cooked bones that become dry and brittle, making them more likely to cause damage as they pass through your dog’s digestive system.
  • Always supervise your dog when he has a bone and take it away from him if he is going to be left alone.
  • Remember, raw bones can contain bacteria, so it’s important to practise good hygiene and to store bones in a plastic bag in the fridge between sessions.
  • Always feed a bone that is suitable for your dog’s size, age and bone-chewing experience.
  • To reduce the risk of contamination from bacteria (for example, salmonella, campylobacter), it’s recommended that you give your dog a ‘commercial’ raw bone, as these undergo a strict freezing protocol to help kill any pathogens. Bones sourced from your butcher can be riskier, as you do not know how they have been stored and they will not have been pre-frozen.

Don’t:

  • Never feed cooked bones to a dog, as they become dry and brittle and are more likely to splinter when chewed.
  • Never leave your dog alone with a bone; always take it away if you cannot supervise.
  • Never feed chicken or turkey bones, as these small bones can be di cult to chew and it’s not uncommon for a dog to try to swallow them down whole! This makes them a choking hazard, and even if they do make it down the throat, they can still cause an obstruction later in the bowels. These fragile bones also have a tendency to break into small spikey fragments that may cause trauma to the digestive system.

Feeding bones to dogs is not something that is suitable for every dog (or every owner), and precautions must be taken to ensure their safety. If you do notice any abnormalities after giving your dog a bone, always seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

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