The Best Bones for Puppies Explored
Every puppy goes through a phase where they want to chew everything. And what is the most natural chew toy a puppy can have? A real bone! Well, it certainly is very natural, but you’ve probably also heard cautionary tales about bones being dangerous for dogs.
While the opinions on this matter differ, one thing is certain: you can make bone-chewing safer by choosing the right bone. This guide is here to help you find the best bones for puppies possible.
Are Bones Good for Puppies?
Yes, bones are good for puppies for quite a few reasons. Raw bones are nutritionally valuable, improve the dog’s dental health and help get rid of excess energy. However, if you’ve just thought about this question after finishing dinner and realising your dog would love these leftover bones - don’t! Cooked bones are much more dangerous for dogs.
Related: What To Feed Puppies In Their First 6 Weeks?
Related: What To Feed A Puppy At 8 Weeks Old?
Bones and Nutrition
So do dogs need to eat bones for nutrition? Well, not necessarily. However, bones are a great source of calcium and phosphorous:
“Bone, then, is composed mainly (two-thirds) of calcium phosphate. The calcium and phosphorus ratios and total amounts in the diet are very important factors, especially in rapidly growing, large breeds.” - T.J.Dunn, DVM, PetMD (1)
Calcium is especially important for young puppies to ensure proper growth. Calcium is essential for developing healthy bones while the dog is young, but too much calcium can also lead to problems. Many dog foods contain lots of calcium (that often comes from bone meal) so one should be careful not to overdo it. On the other hand, raw diets (without bones) often lack calcium, which then makes bones the necessary addition for a complete diet.
Gnawing on bones improves canine dental health. This has been proven by at least one study and confirmed by countless vets and pet parents. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from tartar buildup on their teeth, which in turn causes gum disease. Bones work like natural toothbrushes and help the dogs scrape the buildup off their teeth. Chewing also stimulates the gums, thus helping keep them healthy.
A Healthy Outlet
More than anything, bones provide a healthy outlet for the excess energy so many puppies have. Chewing on the bone provides physical and mental stimulation, thus keeping a puppy entertained for a long time.
The Risks Involved
The first concern with bones is that they are too tough for canine teeth. Many veterinarians simply don’t recommend letting your dog chew anything that is as hard as a bone:
“Basically, the main rule that we use is that you should be able to make an impression in the item with your thumbnail. If you cannot, it’s too hard.” - Frank J.M. Verstraete, DVM, Whole Dog Journal (2)
The concern here is that chewing on a bone too aggressively could lead to broken teeth. If we would follow this rule, yes, it would mean no bones ever. Teeth injuries are a real danger when it comes to dogs chewing bones, but some dogs are less susceptible than others. Dogs that chew aggressively and try to destroy the bone are more likely to damage their teeth, and should probably be kept away from bones.
However, many dogs seem to learn the right technique for chewing bones and do it gently and with patience. There might be some truth to the idea that puppies who start chewing bones while young instinctively learn how to do it (3).
The other big concern with bones is that they might be too brittle. Bones can sometimes split into small pieces with very sharp edges, and these can be quite dangerous. They can hurt the dog's mouth or even intestine if swallowed, and can even cause choking or intestinal blockage. That’s something to avoid, but choosing the right type of bone can do a lot to mitigate the risks.
Are Bones Good for Teething Puppies?
Even though it might seem that bones for teething puppies are a great idea, perhaps it might be too early. Puppies start growing their first set of teeth when they are a couple of weeks old, which will later be superseded by permanent teeth.
Teething puppies have the urge to chew all the time, and it might seem that offering a bone might be a great choice to soothe the urge. This might work for some puppies, but it is certainly safer to wait until the permanent set of teeth is fully established around 6 months of age.
So, when choosing bones for puppies at 8 weeks of age, artificial bones made of rubber or something similar and rated puppy-friendly might be a safer choice. If you do give a bone to a teething puppy, make sure to choose a nice big bone and supervise the chewing closely.
What Bones Are Best for Puppies?
When choosing bones to give to puppies, there are a few things to consider. First of all, it’s best to stick to the cardinal rule: cooked bones are off-limits. This is because the cooking process makes bones more brittle and hence more likely to split into dangerous razor-sharp pieces.
With that in mind, if you want to try feeding your puppy real bones, they should be raw. Some bones are still better than others, but with a couple of simple rules to follow (see below), you’ll be able to find the best bone for your pup.
With some puppies, it might become obvious that a real bone is not the best idea. For example, if they try to chomp on the bone too aggressively, or if the puppy is too young. In these cases, a safer artificial bone might be a better choice.
When looking for the best raw bones for puppies, you want them to be fresh. Bones that were frozen while fresh are also good, just make sure they have thawed completely before offering the bone to your furry friend.
But what about the type of bone? Most pet parents who choose to feed bones to their dogs will tell you that poultry bones like chicken or turkey are off-limits (4). This is because they are too brittle and very likely to split into shards with sharp edges. Others claim their dogs have been eating chicken bones for ages with no issues. Still, we recommend staying away from chicken bones to be on the safe side.
Pork bones are also considered too brittle by some, but others choose to feed them to dogs. The key here is probably in the type of bone. For example, pig rib bones are not the best idea, pork femur bones are considered softer and often offered for sale by companies who sell raw bones for dogs.
In fact, femur bones from almost any animal, including beef and lamb, and in Australia also often kangaroo, are considered to be among the most suitable bones due to their density and shape.
Shank bones also tend to work well, as do knucklebones. According to some reports, they are less likely to splinter than other types of bones:
“If you put a shank bone or a knee cap from the knee joint to your test, neither of these bones will splinter even for the most aggressive chewer. Any knuckle bone does not present a danger of splinters. The bones that do splinter for the aggressive chewer are the straight bones, which we call center bones.” - Laura Herr of Jones Natural Chews, Whole Dog Journal (2)
One type of bone that should probably be avoided are the large marrow bones that are cut in pieces, like something that could be used for Osso buco. Although they look cute and eatable, they are at more risk of splintering and can get stuck around the dog’s jaw in a very weird way.
How To Choose the Right Size Bone
A very important factor in choosing the right bone for your dog is the size. The best bones are not too large, but also not too small. Some recommend choosing bones that are at least as long as your pooch’s head - from the tip of the nose to the top of the head. Such bones are much less likely to be swallowed.
Also, if the bone is thick enough so that the dog cannot get his or her back teeth around it, there is much less chance of crushing the bone and breaking it into pieces.
My Final Thoughts
Giving bones to puppies is somewhat of a controversial topic. Some recommend against it, but millions of bones have been happily chewed by dogs over the ages. Still, there are real dangers associated with chewing bones so you should always exercise caution.
The most important thing is to keep an eye on your dog while chewing and take away the bone if it gets splintered into small pieces or react if the dog seems to be having any kind of problems.
- Dunn, T.J. March 07, 2011. “The Nutritional Aspects of Bone Composition”. PetMD. Retrieved March 21, 2022. https://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_nutritional_aspects_of_bone_composition
- Holland, C.C. July 10, 2003. “Commercially Produced Recreational Chew Bones”. Whole Dog Journal. Retrieved March 22, 2022. https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/commercially-produced-recreational-chew-bones/
- Andrew. November 1, 2015. “A Guide To Feeding Bones To Dogs”. Walkerville Vet. Retrieved March 21, 2022. https://www.walkervillevet.com.au/blog/feeding-bones-to-dogs/
- Jones, S. March 02, 2022. “Can Dogs Eat Bones? The Ultimate Guide To What’s Safe And What’s Not”. Canine Journal. Retrieved March 21, 2022. https://www.caninejournal.com/can-dogs-eat-bones/