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Chewing can be a very rewarding activity for dogs and it also provides mental stimulation and helps clean their teeth. So I'm planning to give a bone to my dog from time to time, to keep him busy, but what is the better choice?

I've read this question Are chicken bones dangerous for dogs? where this answer discusses the dangers of cooked bones. So cooked bones are out.

That leaves two choices: rawhide bones or natural raw bones. We can also distinguish between the regular rawhide bones and the pressed rawhide bones.

Can they be dangerous for the dog? Is one choice better than the other one? Should I avoid bones altogether and use rubber chew toys?

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In my experience the benefits of chewing raw or smoked bones far outweigh the draw backs. They work really well keeping the dogs teeth clean... much better than brushing I have found. They really help give puppies and young dogs something to chew on to meet that need. I hear that it also serves as a good calcium source but I don't know the scientific facts there.

Larger bones seem to be the best because they breakdown slowly so I can throw them out after a lot of use but before they are small enough to be a choking danger. Some bones from the butcher come with a lot of fat/meat on them so I freeze the bones before giving them to the dogs and only leave them down for 20 to 30 minutes at first to help avoid upset stomachs from the fat. After a couple days of just the 30 minute sessions then they can be left out without worrying about that.

I find that rawhide doesn't help clean teeth as well and they don't last as long. My dogs are hard chewers and they eat the rawhide so fast that I have had it cause upset stomachs. They have also choked a little trying to swallow it so fast too. Pressed rawhide is much better because it breaks down more like a real bone so it provides more chewing time and it does a better job cleaning that the regular rawhide. But my dogs don't like it as much as real bones so I don't bother with those much.

As stated in your question, do not use cooked or boiled bones as they can splinter.

I have 4 dogs with a total 34 years between them and have given them raw and smoked bones their whole lives. I have had only one of my dogs have a chipped tooth. I can't really say if it was a bone that caused it but she was 9 when it happened and even if it was because of the bone, I still think that the bones have done more good for her dental health than bad.

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  • Thanks for the excellent overview of the different kinds. I'll go for raw-from-the-butcher then! – Cedric H. Apr 17 '14 at 10:25
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The biggest danger I'm aware of (aside from possible chewing off a piece bigger than they can chew and choking) is that the rawhide can expand when it gets wet. So when a dog ingests rawhide, it expands either in their stomach, or in their intestines, blocking their normal bodily functions and causing them harm.

Another is a manufacturing issue. Rawhide is made from separated animal skins, a process that is usually done with chemicals that can be harmful to dogs. As long as you make sure to buy trusted brands, you shouldn't have to worry about it though.

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  • Also,not really dangerous for the dog, but some countries make it with dog and cat skin. – Spidercat Apr 16 '14 at 20:26
  • I've had vets tell me about incidents where long pieces of rawhide are consumed and are caught in the intestines, where they cause digestion issues. – JoshDM May 29 '14 at 19:05
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We never gave our foster pup (who LOVES to chew) rawhides because we've heard that they're dangerous if they splinter. Instead we gave her deer antlers, which are readily available at pet stores in our area. They don't splinter and they take a while to get through.

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    I like antlers as well but they are not immune to splitting. Most don't but I have had a couple that shattered in an odd way that make me wary of letting them chew antlers unsupervised. I like raw or smoked bones much better. – Beth Whitezel Apr 17 '14 at 6:32
  • Can you expand on how a rawhide would splinter? This seem counter intuitive. – James Jenkins Apr 17 '14 at 10:43
  • @JamesJenkins: I've never given a dog a rawhide so I can't attest to whether they can actually splinter, it's just what I've heard. They're supposed to be chewy, but I guess if one is dry enough I could imagine it splintering. – Alex A. Apr 17 '14 at 14:19
  • @BethWhitezel: I appreciate you sharing your experience with antlers. I'll try raw bones next time. It seems to me that pre-split antlers (with the marrow exposed) would split much more easily than whole antlers. Which were you using? – Alex A. Apr 17 '14 at 14:22
  • Yes the pre - split are more likely but I have had the other split on their own too. I wonder if the ones that have split are processed in some way that makes them more susceptible but I don't know that. – Beth Whitezel Apr 17 '14 at 14:30
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There's a persistent rumor (at least where I live) that all hollow bones (like those in legs) are harmfull to dogs and all non-hollow bones (like ribs and shoulder blades) are safe. This myth is wrong. It's rather correct that all raw bones are safe for dogs and all cookes ones are harmfull.

Raw bones are no danger to dogs because they're part of their natural diet. The digestive tract is built to break down raw meat, bones and hide. What it cannot cope with is too much calcium at once, which happens if you feed cooked bones. The dogs often become constipated and you can see all the calcium in the white poop they leave behind.

The teeth are the hardest material in any mammals body and thereby harder than bones. Chewing bones also provides calcium for healthy teeth. Of course you should feed bones relative to your dogs size, but in theory even a small dog can chew a big bone.

A raw bone is constructed of organic material that makes it elastic and minerals that make it rigit and hard. Breaking it down takes time and the digestive tract can cope with the amount of minerals that are ingested.

Cooking breaks down most of the organic material in a bone and leaves only the mineral structure intact. That makes the bone brittle and easier to break down. It can splinter while being chewed, causing injuries or choking. The amount of minerals ingested is much higher than naturally possible and the digestive tract cannot cope with it, causing constipation.

If you have had a meal and want to give some waste to your dog as a treat, give them the cartilage. It's easy to cut from cooked bones and has some health benefits for your dogs joints. It's a much better and safer alternative to feeding cookes bones.

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