Should you give marrow bones for dogs as a recreational chew? That’s definitely a bone of contention in the dog world!
First, the easy answer: you should never give your dog cooked bones. The cooking process dehydrates the bones, making them far more likely to splinter and break. Splintered bones can puncture an organ and lead to life-threatening complications.
Beyond that, though, things get a little stickier with both pros and cons to giving your dog marrow bones. We’ve got the pros and the cons below so that you can make the best decision for your dog.
The Pros of Giving Your Dog Marrow Bones
Ask most raw advocates and you’ll hear that raw bones—from large marrow bones to chicken wings and thighs—play an important role in their dog’s diet.
Digestible bones (comprising up to 10% of the diet) provide the necessary calcium your dog requires, and large marrow bones are a recreational favorite and are also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.
Our dogs like nothing better than a marrow bone. We’ve seen raw bones calm Irie during times of thunderstorms and fireworks as she keeps herself busy chewing (and chewing and chewing) that bone.
The Cons of Giving Your Dog Marrow Bones
On the flip side, raw bones can present a danger. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says, “Bones or bone fragments in some raw diets can result in intestinal obstruction or perforation, gastroenteritis and fractured teeth.”
We can testify to the fractured teeth: our Irie, a devoted marrow bone chewer, had to have three teeth extracted due to fractured teeth.
The next year, Tiki lost two teeth due to the same reason.
Today our dogs only get marrow bones as a very occasional special treat; for everyday chewing, our dogs have Icelandic+ horns (which are keratin–similar to a fingernail–not bone).
If you are going to give your dog large marrow bones, give the bones as a fresh treat but then, once your dog has chewed out the marrow and the bone begins to dry, discard the bone.
As it dries, the bone becomes more harder and more brittle, more likely both to break a tooth or to splinter into dangerous pieces.
For some dogs, the rich fat of the marrow can also cause intestinal upset. It is also high in calories.
Tummy troubles have rarely been the case in our house, but we have seen another down side of bones: resource guarding.
When Irie and Tiki each get a marrow bone, we see them go to opposite sides of the yard (we only give the bones outdoors except during thunderstorm/firework periods when we give them in the house but with an old sheet over the bed and couch).
If you have multiple dogs and they already engage in resource guarding (Irie and Tiki happily share any other time), keep a close eye on them when they have this high value treat.
The decision to feed bones, whether as part of a diet or as an occasional treat, is one that you will need to make after consulting with your veterinarian.
What do Veterinarians Think about the Safety of Marrow Bones?
We turned to Dr. Audrey Harvey for her advice on marrow bones.
“Both the US Food and Drug Administration and veterinary dentists agree that eating bones is not good for dogs. They can fracture teeth, and cause intestinal obstructions and constipation,” she noted.
But Dr. Harvey realizes that it’s not as simple as instituting a “no bone” rule.
“Do you give him a bone to satisfy his urge to chew, or do you take the chance on him eating a tree branch which is also potentially dangerous? There are alternatives to bones that he may enjoy, such as nylon bones, or stuffed rubber Kongs. They are easier on their teeth but a determined chewer can still gnaw them into little pieces and swallow them. Pigs ears and cows ears are also an option.”
The bottom line? “I think that if you’re aware of the potential risks, and the alternative is your front fence or the leg of your dining room furniture, then bones are okay. Avoid the large marrow bones because they do break teeth, and also small bones like neck bones which may be swallowed whole. Brisket bones are a good choice. Whatever your dog is chewing, make sure you don’t leave him unattended.”
There you have it!
As with many aspects of life with dogs, choosing whether to serve marrow bones or not to your dog is a matter of personal choice, depending on your dog, your dog’s chewing habits, and your schedule as to whether you’ll have time to watch your dog.
The numerous pros and cons definitely give pet parents a lot to chew on!
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