PetMeds®: Are Raw Bones Safe for Dogs and Cats?

One of the most controversial topics in veterinary medicine today is whether guardians should give bones to their dogs and cats. While there is growing interest in homemade and even raw meat based diets in dogs and cats, there has been an equal interest in the feeding of bones to our pets as well.  In fact, the feeding of raw meaty bones to dogs and cats is a major part of the BARF (Bones and Raw Food) diet, developed by veterinarian Ian Billinghurst of Australia. Many guardians around the world have seen huge differences in their pets’ health when incorporating bones into their pets’ diets.

If giving your dog bones, make sure they are raw and uncooked

Not only are bones a major source of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, but they also have been an excellent way in my experience and opinion of keeping pets’ teeth clean and free of tartar and gingivitis. Feeding dogs marrow bones, beef backs and chicken backs as well as feeding cats raw chicken wings can make a remarkable difference in the health of the teeth and gums of dogs and cats. The key is to NOT feed cooked bones which can easily splinter and cause obstruction, but to use fresh raw bones at least a few times weekly. In my opinion, feeding a diet of  50% raw meaty bones as part of Billinghurst’s BARF diet can be overkill in terms of exposing pets in the United States to potentially toxic levels of mercury, lead and arsenic, which are also concentrated in the bones of cattle, and easily measured and quantified. However, allowing pets the ability to chew up and/or ingest raw bones a few times weekly can go a long way in providing necessary minerals for healthy bones, teeth and other organ systems.

Many of the calcium sources in processed commercial pet foods comes from questionable sources, as evidenced by cryptic listings on ingredient labels with terms like “meat and bone” or “meal as a source of calcium,” which leaves this ingredient wide open as to what the actual meat and bone meal consists of and where it came from. And while most veterinarians are strongly against giving raw bones for fear of E. coli or salmonella exposure, salmonella has actually been part of a normal cat’s digestive tract flora. In most cats there are few problems unless they are immune suppressed and/or on immune suppressive therapy. However, it is extremely important for pet parents to thoroughly wash their hands after handling raw bones.

Although they are domesticated, dogs and cats’ digestive tracts are still identical to their wild dog and cat relatives, and the anatomy of both their teeth and digestive tract hardly evolved to chew on carbohydrate based processed dry kibble. Over the years I have received many distressed phone calls from feline guardians when their outdoor cat has killed and ingested a bird. The fears of poisoning and obstruction are often raised, however, I have yet to see a cat have any problem after killing and eating a healthy bird, as that is what they evolved to eat – bones and all! As for other imitation bones, giving processed chewable toys like rawhides, beef jerky and other related products are full of toxic ingredients in many cases, as well as preservatives and flavor enhancers that are hardly health promoting in our dogs and cats.

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29 Comments

  1. Can you tell me what bones to buy for my shit tsu’z? Specifically are any bones better than others? And which have the most marrow?

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm · Reply

      I have found beef marrow bones most helpful, as well as giving beef backs and chicken backs. Although this area very controversial in my profession, those of us who practice holistically have not found problem in most cases, and it really seems to help clean dogs teeth better than any artificial products.

  2. feeding bones is natural and healthy for dogs, and that feeding bones promotes clean teeth and aids the nutritional status of the animal.

  3. Hi,

    Thank you for your website with very useful info.
    I have a question about raw bone?

    Would raw bones be safe for small dogs like a 6lbs 1 year old maltipoo?

    Thank you!

    -Ly’

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm · Reply

      In most healthy small breed dogs, giving raw bones can be quite helpful with dental health, as well as a source of calcium in my experience and opinion. I usually use chicken wings, etc. IF your pet has a medical condition then check with your veterinarian if ok to do. Learn more on line by googling BARF diet.

  4. My 2 year old Min-Pin was diagnosed with colitis last summer and is on Royal Canin Sensitivity prescription diet. Would introducing raw bones upset her system and cause another colitis attack. I am concerned with her teeth as regular brushing doesn’t seem to totally control tartar.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianFebruary 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm · Reply

      I would check with your vet on introducing raw bones at this point. Some dogs with previously colitis history may not tolorate raw bones well. Other options include natural products like vetz life which you can find on line or leba III. Check out CET products from 1800petmeds which are also helpful.

  5. Pingback: Dog Food - Page 4

  6. where is an owner able to purchase these bones for a relatively large (70lb) dog at a reasonable price? Can they be picked up at a local butcher shop?
    Thanks for your advice and keep on blogging, Doc!

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMarch 10, 2011 at 8:54 pm · Reply

      You are welcome for kind comments. yes many butcher shops will sell beef backs and chicken backs as well as often package meals for pets now that feeding raw meat home made diets are becoming more and more popular.

  7. I have been feeding my now 13 year old Lab, German Shepard, Husky MIx Raw Bones almost every week and never have brushed his teeth and everytime I take him to a Vet they are impressed by his dental health. He has been on a raw diet almost his hole life and still is healthy and active at 13. People are amazed at his age. Exercise and good food help people and Dogs!!!!!

  8. I’ve been having a discussing with my husband. We have a lab and a GS. He insists on giving them raw calf bones from the butchers, I tell him it’s dangerous because the next day the dogs always vomit yellow bile with bone fragments. The bones are always raw with meat still attached. Should he keep feeding them the bones or should we stick to Denta-Stix?

  9. Is it safe to give my german shepherd raw or cooked bones? If so, which kind? Vets tell me it will splinter the teeth or bacteria on the raw meat will make her sick(this doesnt make any sense to me, but need to ask). thanks, Brenda

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianAugust 10, 2012 at 1:45 pm · Reply

      I have not had problem feeding raw bones to healthy dogs a few times weekly to help with dental hygiene an d plaque buildup, etc

  10. Gisele NascimentoAugust 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm · Reply

    Is there anything I should be aware of, before feeding my dog raw bones, full or empty stomach ( I heard it should be full)? She is a 9 y old JRT.
    And, is that ok to buy frozen bones from a regular pet store?
    Thanks for your help.

  11. Pingback: The Skinny on Raw Food Diets | PetMeds.org

  12. hello,

    my kitten will be one in feb but i’m ready to start feeding her raw meaty bones as a treat. i’m hearing and reading a lot of negativity when it comes to cats and raw bones. what are your views of giving cats bones? she’s a domestic, calico short hair cat. thanks.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 21, 2012 at 11:41 pm · Reply

      I have not seen problems in most healthy cats given raw meaty bones. A great book and resource for you is The Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier, one of the bibles of natural feline care.

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 23, 2012 at 12:40 pm · Reply

      I think most healthy cats do wonderfully on raw meat based diets and giving raw meaty bones can help with dental health, etc including chicken wings, etc. In the wild, cats eat birds and mice with bones all of the time. To learn more about natural life styles for dogs and cats see the wonderful books Dr. Pitcairns guide to natural health for dogs and cats by Richard Pitcairn, DVM, phd and The Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier

  13. My dog was diagnosed with hypothyroidism a few years ago, and I have since followed in her footsteps. Reading in greater depth about the disease in people, I have read that “calcium can interfere with the absorption of thyroid drugs. You should take calcium at least two to three hours apart from taking your thyroid hormone.”
    This was news to me, and to my dog who is used to getting her cattle knuckle to chew after dinner (she gets thyroid pill, 1 hr later dinner then bone). We’re now working on dis-associating dinnertime with the bone, since she’s very classically Pavlovian in her expectations and not afraid to make her opinion known!
    She is 11.5 years, never had a professional dental cleaning, spectacularly clean teeth.

    http://thyroid.about.com/gi/o.htm?zi=1/XJ&zTi=1&sdn=thyroid&cdn=health&tm=21&f=00&su=p284.13.342.ip_&tt=2&bt=0&bts=0&zu=http%3A//www.thyroid-info.com/articles/thyroid-drug-faq.htm

  14. What a great find this page is! I’ve been buying my Rhodesian Ridgeback beef soupbones (the big knuckle looking things) that my market slices and sells very cheap, and beef neck bones. I’ve been cooking them because I was afraid of things like e coli, etc. I’m going to try the raw bone thing, as it makes good sense NOT to boil out all the good stuff that she loves, although I’ve enjoyed cooking rice for us both in the broth! She is also wild about smoked pig ears…are these safe? Thank you Dr. Dym for this enjoyable and informative page!

    • Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianNovember 15, 2014 at 6:01 pm · Reply

      HI Joe. I would be careful with smoked pig ears, as sometimes there are pesticides and/or preservatives sprayed on to them as well. Rice is fine for most dogs.

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