With pet dental month coming to a close, there has been a lot of questions raised about bones. Raw, smoked, boiled, baked... are they safe for dogs?
Cooked chicken bones are very dangerous, but raw ones are safe, as long as they are not gulped whole, which could be a choking hazard. Normal digestive juices break raw ones down easily.
Smoking, boiling and baking beef or bison bones can make the bone very hard and less digestible. As a recreational chew, supervised, they can work for many dogs, but you shouldn't plan on them being consumed. Cooked marrow bones stuffed with a filling are very popular with some people, and can be effective at keeping a dog occupied. But once the filling is gone, they can lose interest, which is actually good, because the bone can be too hard to break, leading to dental problems, and too hard to digest.
Raw bones are perfectly fine to give dogs as long as you follow certain guidelines and supervise in case the animal gets in danger. Because they have not been cooked, they are still high in water content, and relatively soft. The bone is also easy to digest if the pieces consumed are an appropriate size and in an appropriate quantity.
Marrow bones can have a lot of fat in them, and can cause digestive upset, or worse. Removing some or most of the marrow can be a good idea if it is a large bone or for a small dog. Marrow bones are usually cut, and if they are cut too small, they can pose a choking hazard if the dog breaks them in half, or if the dog has a small jaw, can get caught on/over the jaw.
Knuckle bones are a little different, and pose a different challenge for dogs and owners. Dogs like the unique shapes, and will usually tie into them pretty good. Ones marketed for dogs tend to have some meat left on them, so there is that nutrition as well as chewing enjoyment.
People worry about raw bones in the house, and many keep them as an outside treat. If you want to let your dog enjoy them indoors, use a mat to train them on. A bath mat, a towel, or something you can toss in the washer or throw away. If they take the bone off the mat, take it away from them and return it to the mat. They learn really quick that when the mat comes out, they're getting a bone, as long as they stay on the mat.
Observing the dog during its consumption of the bone, and ensuring it does no have a chance to ingest a large piece that may pose a choking hazard is essential. Most dogs have no issues, but some get over excited and over ambitious, and "bite off more than they can chew", or swallow as the case may be. If your dog is an excitable gulper, bones are probably not an option for you.
Many vets warn about possible dental issues, including cracked or fractured teeth, and yes, these may happen chewing a bone. Most of these incidents happen with cooked bones, though. It can also happen chewing a stick, a nylabone, or even dog kibble. I had a Dachshund who had a slab fracture of a molar even though she had had no access to recreational bones, and the hardest thing she ate was "dental diet" from the vet. Short of putting everything our dog eats through a blender, there is no way of guaranteeing a dog will never have a broken tooth.
Once you have established that your dog can handle eating a bone properly, they are a very good product for recreational chewing and dental cleaning.