The Right Bones and Chews for Your Dog


Before we go any further, let me say that I don’t allow Janice and Leroy to have bones. Dr. Steve backs me up on this, as he believes that no bones are truly safe for dogs, especially dogs of large breeds that can easily chew even the biggest bones into tiny fragments that can lodge in the digestive tract.

I do allow them to have chewies, though, and I’m pretty vigilant about the type I choose. And I’m not saying that dogs should never have bones – even Steve agrees that there’s little harm in a small dog chewing on a huge knuckle bone, because they’re never going to break it down to the point where it’s in fragments.

What I do worry about, though, is toxicity in treats. You’ve probably heard about dog chewies that came from China a few years back, and caused toxic reactions in a number of dogs. You need to be careful – you have to consider where the product came from, how it was processed, and what it might contain beyond the base ingredients.

So, how do you choose the right bones or chewies?

Use Your Common Sense

How big is the bone or chewie? Is it going to fit your dog’s mouth comfortably, or end up lodged in his throat because it’s too small? What if a piece breaks off? Could it end up in your dog’s throat or stuck in his intestines? Also, what about the ingredients? Are there additives and artificial flavorings that could be bad for your dog? How was the chewie processed – can you be sure that it’s free of pathogens?

What Kind is Best?

The reason you offer your dog bones or chewies is that they work to break down tartar and plaque on the teeth. That’s why you should always choose large bones and chewies – if they’re gone in seconds, there’s no benefit. That’s why it’s important to match the size of the chewie or the bone to the size of your dog. Big bones and chewies are also better because if your dog is the kind that tends to just slam down everything you give him, the bone or chewie could end up in his stomach without ever being chewed. Or, he could try to swallow it whole and choke on it. A good rule of thumb is to always offer a bone or chewie that is bigger than your dog’s head.

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Aggressive Chewers

Maybe your dog isn’t a “scarfer,” one who’s just going to swallow a bone whole. Instead, he’s a dog on a mission – he just wants to eat the whole thing as quickly as he can. The trouble here is that he might chew very enthusiastically, and damage his teeth. So, with this type of dog, you don’t want to offer hard bones, or antlers. This can result in serious damage to the teeth.

Aggressive chewers also shouldn’t be given anything that is going to encourage them to deliver a strong vertical bite. Again, this can cause dental damage. A better choice is knuckle bones. You still need to watch closely, though, because a vertical chewer can take even the biggest knuckle bone down to not much at all in little time, and once the bone is small, it can splinter. Take it away at that point.

Consider Your Dog

Remember that natural bones come from all manner of body parts, and not every bone is right for every dog. Rib bones, for instance, are small and narrow, and might be okay for a dog that chews gently, but they’re not right for dogs with a lot of bite force that are likely to break it down and splinter it easily.

You might also have seen “ring” bones in your supermarket or butcher shop, and these can provide hours of pleasure for small dogs, because they don’t splinter easily. I made the mistake of offering a ring bones to my Boxers once, though. Janice made out just fine, but here’s what happened to Leroy – he actually ended up with the bone stuck, ring-like, over his muzzle. I couldn’t get it off. Long story short is that we ended up visiting Dr. Steve, and Leroy was put under general sedation so that Steve could saw the bone off Leroy’s muzzle. You wouldn’t believe the extra work I had to take on to pay for that little escapade! This is why I have no money – because of Leroy!

So here’s the thing – if you’re going to offer bones, make sure that they’re not too small or too big.

What About Marrow Bones?

Dogs love marrow, and rightly so – it’s full of nutrients! But the thing is, if you give a dog a great big marrow bone, he’ going to immediately focus on trying to extract the marrow. And since marrow is full of fat as well as nutrients, you could end up with a dog that has an upset tummy. Marrow is also very high in calories, so if your dog has a weight problem already, marrow bones might not be the best thing to offer.

Edible Versus Fun

Fun bones are those that are purely recreational – they don’t offer much in the way of nutrition, but dogs love them. Edible bones, on the other hand, are meant to be eaten and swallowed, and they’re often used by dog owners to deliver extra calcium to the diet.

Recreational bones are long bones that are meant to be chewed on, but not necessarily digested – they’re long bones. Edible bones, on the other hand, are small bones that are intended to be chewed up and digested. The problem with edible bones is that they aresmall, and they can end up piercing your dog’s digestive tract. Putting it this way, chicken and turkey bones are edible, but there are good reasons why your vet tells you not to let your dog have them.


Some dogs just love holding a bone and gnawing on it. If this sounds like your dog, you might want to consider offering antlers. You can buy them, or even find them during a walk in the woods. If you know a hunter, you can ask him or her to let you have the antlers once they’ve bagged their deer. The great thing about antlers is that they will take a very, very long time to wear down, and there is no danger of splinters ending up in your dog’s digestive tract. Generally speaking, give small antlers to small dogs, and offer big dogs big antlers. It’s not a good idea, though, to give antlers (or any type of bone, for that matter) to a dog that is a very aggressive chewer.

No Hooves

You’ve probably seen them in pet stores, in their raw state and sometimes flavored, and there’s no doubt that dogs love chewing on hooves. It’s not a good idea, though. Hooves can be sharp, and can cut your dog’s mouth. In fact, veterinarians report that they treat more mouth cuts due to dogs being offered hooves than they do with any other type of treat.

If you’re going to offer hooves as a treat to your dog, make sure to supervise. Also, don’t use flavored hooves – there have been reports of toxicity.

Rawhide Chews

I’ve never heard of a dog that didn’t love rawhide chews. It’s time-honored, and reliable, and there are generally no additives. Dogs love them because they’re hard in the beginning, but the more they’re chewed, the softer they get. There’s a dental benefit in the beginning, when the chewie is hard, but you have to be careful, because when it gets softer, it could present a choking hazard. That said, I’ve always done well with rawhide chewies for my dogs. One time I decided to see how many rawhide chips Janice could go through in a day – I stopped her at 17.

Rawhide chews are available in any number of sizes and shapes – flat chips, little twists, or huge tied bones. The natural variety is white, and that’s what I give my dogs. There are also flavored rawhide chews available, but they’re treated with dyes and preservatives. If they come from another country, you might not know what your dog is getting, so you’re best off to go with US-made products and avoid any artificial colorings, flavorings or preservatives.

Again, take a look at the size of your dog’s head. A rawhide chew should always be bigger than your dog’s head. If you want to be really safe, once it’s chewed down a bit, throw it away and offer another chewie.

Tendon Chewies

These treats have become very popular recently. They’re a lot like rawhide chews in that they get softer the more they’re chewed, but because they’re longer and ropier, they can pose a choking risk, so be careful when offering these treats. And again, as you would with rawhide chewies, take them away when they get too small. Your dog might just decide to swallow it whole once it get to a certain point, and that could be dangerous.


Okay, I really did say that. And I’m not kidding. A popular dog treat is dried pig penis. The trouble is, pig penises aren’t all that big. And no, I’m not going to start making jokes about how sows feel about that.

The issue with pig penises, which apparently dogs find tasty, is the same as it is with several other treats – because of the size and shape, this type of treat can easily be lodged in a dog’s throat, and can lead to choking. And again, I am not going to make jokes.

If you’re going to offer this type of treat, go for it, but you should also make sure that your dog understand the “Drop it” and “Leave it” commands. Trust me, you don’t want to have to tell your friends, “I buried my dog today; he choked on pig dick.”

For that matter, any type of treat that you can’t actually see extending out of your dog’s mouth should be taken away. It’s a choking risk.

Pig Ears

Okay, now on to the other end of the pig. Pig ears are not the best treat for a number of reasons. First and foremost, when pigs need injections of antibiotics, hormones or vaccinations, the most common injection site is the ear. It’s assumed, or course, that the medication travels through the ear and into the rest of the pig, but can you really be sure? Pig ears are often also heavily flavored using God knows what before they hit the treat section of the pet store.

Personally, I don’t give my dogs pig ears. I worry about hormone and antibiotic residues as well as what might be present in the flavorings. If you really want to feed pig ears, though, make sure that you know that they’re from organically-raised pigs.

Bacterial Contamination

Now, even if you buy only bones from your butcher, and only chewies from reputable pet stores, you have to know that any natural treat is going to be vulnerable, over time, to bacteria. The chewies you purchase in the pet store will probably have been irradiated against bacteria. The bones you buy from the butcher are not. Even frozen bones can be vulnerable to bacteria.

The main thing here is that you need to be comfortable with your source. You need to know where the product came from, who the supplier was, and how long the product stayed in the store before you bought it.

Chewies with No Animal Parts?

Yes, there is such a thing. Some new chewies actually contain no animal products at all, unless you consider milk an animal product. They’re more likely to contain compressed vegetables. These are actually great choices for dogs who have dental issues, soft mouths, or tend to gulp down their treats. You can find them in various sizes, and another benefit is that the treat will usually break into small pieces before your dog has a chance to chew off a huge chunk that he could choke on.

There is a down side, though – some of these non-animal chewies contain ingredients that might be questionable. So you should read the ingredient list carefully. Some are also made out of compounds like flavored plastic or rubber, and I think that simple common sense should tell you that there’s not going to be a good outcome if you feed rubber or plastic to your dog.

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Synthetic Dog Bones vs. Natural – Which Is Best?

The Final Word

Be careful. I think what I’ve been trying to convey to you is that when you offer your dog any type of bone or chewie, you should be sure that it’s appropriate for his size, and that it doesn’t contain anything that could be harmful to him. Dogs are generally going to love just about anything you give them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for them. Be very careful with bones and chewies, and make sure they’re size-appropriate.

And finally, remember that sometimes it’s best not to offer bones and chewies, period – the risks could outweigh the benefits. The last thing you want is to have to take a dog to the vet to have bone splinters removed from his intestine. You also don’t want dental damage. For sure dogs love bones, but if you love your dog, sometimes it’s best to withhold the bones.

It’s just common sense. You know your dog. So if you’re going to give bones and chewies, make sure you know what you’re doing. Your dog’s health is in your hands, so proceed accordingly.