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The truth about dog bones as dog treats, & which ones are healthy for dogs.

Healthy dog bone treatsThere is much misinformation and conjecture of the roles of bones in a dog’s diet. As I believe in a raw diet (sans vegetables) for your dog,

it is very important to know how to safely feed your dog bones, and what value (nutrition, entertainment and otherwise) they are receiving from various bones.

Firstly, the main reason that dogs should be give bones is that they form part of the complete diet that the domestic dog’s recent ancestors the grey wolf consume. The wolf whenever possible attempts to eat the majority of an animal that it kills or is given. The wolf’s body has evolved over a long time to utilise all of the nutrients from the various parts of the kill including the bones. The same is true of your pet dog.

Over the past fifteen thousand years, man has massively modified the domestic dogs shape and behaviour however the internal configuration and function of organ systems has remained essentially unchanged. The general pattern of teeth, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, heart and other mammalian organs has remained the same as there was no evolutionary need to change. It has only been in the last one hundred years since the rise of corporations providing highly inadequate grain based manufactured ‘dog food’ in the shape of cans and pellets, that the average domestic dog has had many of the natural benefits of a raw diet, and bones, removed from their diet.

A true raw diet places the daily consumption of bones at somewhere between 10 and 15 percent per weight of a dog’s total diet. But the reality is that the health benefits are very much more complex than this. I will now provide you with the nutritional benefits of bones then the specific value of feeding dogs bones.

Anti –raw / anti-bone groups have cited the reason for not feeding dogs any form of raw food is because of the chance of Salmonella and E.coli ingestion. In the wild dogs don’t make this snap judgement, but then again they will take a fresh healthy kill where they can. Dogs also bury their meat as a way of storing food for lean times and to soften the bone structure which you might think could lead to poisoning. But as they have a high acid stomach and short intestinal tract, meat and bones in many forms can easily be processed quite fast, by the vast majority of dogs.

To keep your domestic dog healthy, it is best feeding it a variety of healthy meat from different sources (i.e. a quality that you would also eat), offal AND bones. As an extra precaution, it is recommended that if you are not sure of the quality or source of your offal, that you should freeze it for 48 hours before defrosting and feeding it to your dog.

The only other main issue seems to be the question of bone impaction (in the mouth) or intestinal perforation. However, as will later be discussed, the chances of this can also be greatly reduced by feeding your dog the RIGHT bones.


It is understood that many manufactures’ incidentally include finely ground bone in their dog food products. But this is not done out of love or nutritional balance, but simply because bones are cheap and it’s easier to grind them with the meat, than to try and remove all bones.

Bones usually come with some meat attached, and the marrow on the inside of the bone, with connective tissue and blood. The marrow is considered to be highly valuable source of energy for dogs, but the information immediately below is about the bone nutritional benefit alone, not other associated matter such as marrow.


Analysis of dog food bones suggest that about “one third is organic and two thirds inorganic material. The inorganic matrix of bone has a microcrystalline structure composed principally of calcium phosphate.” (Miller's Anatomy Of The Dog, 2nd Edition, W. B. Saunders Co., page 112) and is it also known that “calcium and phosphorus ratios and total amounts in the diet are very important factors, especially in rapidly growing, large breeds.” Large breed puppies are best provided with a diet matrix that contains a minimum of 26% protein (high quality, animal-based source), a minimum of 14% fat, and 0.8% calcium and 0.67% phosphorus.” (ref 1) The ideal amount of calcium in dog food is said to be 1.0 to 1.8 percent of the dry weight of that food. This is often exceeded in low quality manufactured dog food because of the inclusion of a high amount of cheap ground bone as filler.

What does the amount of inorganic material mean? Inorganic material simply means there is no carbon present in the compound. The typical thigh bone has 65-70% inorganic substances known as hydroxyapatite, which is a matrix of mineral crystals (10 Calcium atoms, 6 Phosphorus atoms,  26 Oxygen atoms, and 2 Hydrogen atoms). Thus around two thirds of dry bone mass is composed of: Calcium, Phosphorus, Oxygen and Hydrogen. But remember this is the bone only, not the marrow or other structures found inside of the bone. You will also find that raw meat (the major thing you should feed your dog) has all of the nutrients required by dogs in the exactly right proportions.

The remaining 30 to 35% of bone is composed of organic material of which 95% is composed of collagen. This fibrous protein is difficult for both dogs and cats to digest, so it is analogous to humans taking fiber in their diet. The remaining 5% of the 30% of organic materials are: Chondroitin Sulfate, Keratin sulfate, and Phospholipids. You may know of Chondroitin sulfate as sulfated glycosaminoglycan, which is used for the treatment of osteoarthritis.

Forms of bone available as dog food.

Bones are generally identified into the following classes by regulatory agencies: (ref 2):

  • • Bones (whole, fresh or frozen) derived from hand deboning;
  • • Fresh bone meal or “green” bone meal produced from dried ground bones without a sterilization step;
  • • Bone meal or “raw” bone meal derived from bones boiled to remove tissue before drying and grinding;
  • • Steamed bone meal produced from bones that have been pressure-cooked to remove tissue and fat, then dried and ground; and
  • • Bone meal ash or calcinated bone meal produced from bones that have been ashed (burned) in the presence (bone charcoal) or absence (bone black) of air.

Whole dog bone nutrition

While the previous text is accurate, it is only discussing the bone structure itself, and not any of the other material found on and in the bone, which is how most whole bones are sold.

Whole bone nutrition relates to fresh, steamed and oven baked bones. “Bones make up from 7% to 12% of beef or swine live weight. Age, body condition and feeding practices affect the composition of the bone. To wit, beef and pork bones will contain around 32-50% moisture, 20-29% protein, 12-22% fat and 13-29% ash (Ockerman and Hansen, 2000). Calcium composition of the ash is relatively constant at approximately 37.7%, regardless of age or species (cattle, pigs, sheep and poultry; Field et al., 1974). “ (ref 2)

Composition of Bovine bones (not meat or marrow) – average animal ages ( Table 2  - BONE  COMPOSITION  IN  CATTLE,  PIGS,  SHEEP  AND  POULTRY , Ray A. Field et al, 1974)


Composition of fresh bone %

Composition of Dry-fat-free bone %




Dry Matter





Ca  in Bone ash, %

Ca/ N ratio




























Pro-bone nutritional discussion

It would appear from the references above that whole bones, with some meat left on them, and marrow, offer a significantly better nutritional value than the bone alone.

Proponents of the raw diet, quote the value of retaining a natural diet and how the physiology of domestic dogs essentially remains the same as the grey wolf, but they go further in the value of bones. “Bones contain minerals which are embedded in protein. They also contain fat. If the bone is from chicken or pork, then that fat will be very high in the essential fatty acids. Along with the fat are fat-soluble vitamins. The central parts of most bones contain marrow, which is a highly nutritious mix of blood forming elements, including iron. Raw bones also provide natural antioxidant/anti-ageing factors including enzymes.” (Ref 3) Meat on the bone also supplies methionine and most of the B vitamins.

Beef bone marrow is mostly composed of fat. However for dogs this is a good thing as they mostly gain energy from proteins and fats in meats, not carbohydrates. It is said that 100g of marrow has 1850 kilojoules of energy. The fat is unsaturated fat, though dogs can handle all types of fats well as their physiology means they don’t have cholesterol issues like humans.

...., Many Roo bones

What BONES to feed your dog and the total benefits of bones

Vets and many books will tell you of the danger of feeding dogs cooked bones. These are typically small bones that are cooked to the point of total dehydration. They become brittle and present a choking and intestinal damage issue. Do not feed your dog small cooked bones.

Many people suggest that feeding dog’s large raw bones is ideal, as this is what dogs in the wild would get, however this does not take into account context. A dog in the wild lives in a pack, they hunt for a living and hierarchy decides which dogs get which parts of the kill. A dog in the wild would rarely have time to leisurely gnaw at a bone all day, and if it did, it would get very little energy payback for its efforts. The main issue with domestic dogs that have a strong jaw and propensity to chew on a large leg bone until they have cracked it open and get access to the highly nutritional marrow, is that they are also likely to quickly wear down their teeth. Do not feed these types of tenacious chewing dogs large raw bones.

Conversely dogs that do not eat bones at all and only eat relatively soft canned or pellets can develop weak jaws that are not good for long term teeth health (bones clean gums and teeth). They will also lack jaw control useful for playing with other dogs.

This is why there are really only two main types of bones beneficial to your dog.

The best Raw bones are ideally small bones that can be chewed on, broken and the whole of the bone ingested relatively quickly. In the wild dogs would catch and kill any animal they can, and so they would have a large variety of different meat proteins for which they systems can gain nutrients from. Similarly they would gain fats and calcium from a wide selection of animal bones. Ideally the best small raw bones are soft and pliable and can be cut relatively easily with a knife. The best readily available raw bones are: pork and lamb rib bones, chicken, duck and rabbit bones, kangaroo (not leg bones).

Oven dried bones. This is where my healthy dog treat site comes into play. While small raw bones as described above should be fed to your dog every day or second day, large oven dried bones can also have a place in your dog’s diet. The use of these bones are not only as part of their nutrition, but also useful for a distraction. Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety can be distracted or partially placated, by chewing on these bones. When dried appropriately, these bones are soft enough that they do not damage the dog’s teeth like large raw leg bones can. Thus they provide jaw exercise, nutrition (meat and marrow), teeth cleaning etc.

Dogs fed on a raw diet are much healthier than those fed on a manufacturer’s diet, and their stools are often a small fraction of the size of their can fed cousins. However an exclusive meat diet can lead to loose stools. In the wild, bones, feathers, fur and hide provide ample structure to solid stools.

Puppies and adult dogs fed bone rarely experience indigestion or diarrhoea. In this way bones can be seen to have an equivalent function as fibre in an omnivore’s diet. Besides bulking out the food bones can have a dog feel feel full without necessarily ingesting all of the calories if they spent the same amount of time eating meat. Bones can also help in removing toxins and promoting healthy bowels.


Most dog experts, who are not part of the dog manufacturing trade, understand the important value of small raw bones and large oven dried bones in a dog’s diet. While the bone itself mainly provides calcium and phosphorous, the marrow (fat) can provide a dog with many health giving components.

Bones have been a part of dogs and the dog’s ancestors’ life for centuries. Just make sure that you feed your dog the right bone, with some variety (different animal sources), in the right quantity. This will ensure that it is getting the best out of a bone and its associated nutrition, entertainment, teeth cleaning and jaw strengthening functions.

Regarding healthy meat dog treats, remember that there is the full spectrum of energy and time options available. Small soft treats, are ideal as rewards for training or when out in social settings. Longer lasting treats such as the chicken, duck, roo and beef jerky will take the dog much longer to consume without adding too many kilojoules. Then as discussed above, small raw bones are ideal from a nutrition aspect, while the large oven dried bones take the longest time to consume and provide many valuable benefits.

Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please refer to the article as a reference and provide a link to

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