Why Do Dogs Like Bones?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM October 31, 2019
You may have noticed the near feeling of euphoria that your dog gets each time you give them a bone; a bare, no-meat-on-it bone. Why is that? They seem difficult, even painful to eat, have little or no foreseen nutritional value, and can’t taste that great. Or can they? There’s more to bones than we realize, and they have evolutionarily been a great source of valuable nutrients and fat. As for the difficult to eat part, dogs have highly specialized teeth and powerful jaw muscles to tear into even the toughest bones, and they may even enjoy that mental stimulation and exercise that chewing on bones provides. So maybe there’s more to that euphoric feeling than we realize.
Why Do Dogs Like Bones?
There’s more than one reason for dogs to love bones. First of all, any meat bits left on the bone are nutritious and delicious, as is the bone marrow packed inside. Secondly, chewing on bones provides mental stimulation, exercise for jaw muscles, and a natural way to clean plaque and tartar from teeth all while massaging the gums.
A bone probably doesn’t seem like a delicacy to you and me, but for dogs it can be almost as good as the steak or roast from which it came. Let’s gnaw on those reasons that dog’s like bones in a little more detail.
- Meat bits
Even the most precise butchers are going to have a hard time removing all of the miniscule bits of meat from a bone. For your dog, the effort is every bit worth the reward that they get from those few small morsels of fresh meat.
- Bone marrow
In the dog world, bone marrow is the equivalent of a Snickers bar. Bone marrow is high in fat which means it is highly sought after for taste and nutrition. Eating bone marrow can be the difference between life and death for starving animals. However, bone marrow isn’t the only area of the bone that is tasty. The boney structure itself can contain fat which is the glue that holds the minerals like calcium and phosphorus together.
Mother Nature works in mysterious ways. One of those ways is that chewing stimulates dogs to release endorphins. We all know endorphins make us feel good and are responsible for that so-called “Runner’s High” that we experience after exercise. But why is chewing so important for dogs? As we discussed above, bone marrow is a great source of fat and is one of the body’s last fat reserve to be lost when an animal is in starvation mode. This means that when wild dogs are faced with poor quality prey, they often rely on bone marrow as a significant source of energy even though it is harder to get to. If chewing makes a dog feel good, they’re more likely to do it and therefore, more likely to get to that life-saving bone marrow when needed. But just because your dog is not facing starvation, doesn’t mean that they don’t want to experience the natural high from chewing.
- Mental stimulation
Since most of our pups don’t have a 9-5 job, they need to fill those daytime hours while we’re gone with something constructive to do, otherwise they’ll become destructive. Gnawing on bones can actually be very stimulating for them. Besides the endorphin release that they get when chewing, dogs may actually enjoy the problem solving skills that it sometimes requires to get to that last bit of meat or bone marrow off the bone.
- Clean teeth
The act of chewing on a bone is very similar to the action that a dental descaler has on your dog’s teeth. Gnawing and chewing on the rough surface of a bone can actually scrape off tough tartar and plaque while massaging and stimulating gums.
Do All Dogs Like Bones?
Now that you’ve seen the reasons why dogs like bones, you may have noticed that all of these reasons are non-specific to the breed or the size of a dog. So, it would be fair to assume that all dogs appreciate a good bone gnawing, whether they’re little, big, or somewhere in between. That being said, every dog is different. We’ve all had that pup that was a bit of an outlier that didn’t care much for normal doggy things. Some dogs might not like bones while others would think that bones hung the moon.
Certainly, those pooches that have experienced an injury or illness from gnawing a dog bone might be a little more apprehensive. While others might prefer the flavor of their chewing toy instead.
Are Bones Good For Dogs?
Having just read that dogs may experience an injury or illness from chewing on a bone, you might be wondering if bones are any good for dogs. As with most things, the answer is it depends. Canines have been chewing bones before they became a part of our lives, so there must be something beneficial about it. Animals are amazingly adept at taking care of most of their problems naturally. As we discussed before, chewing bones helps to clean teeth in between professional dental cleanings. Healthy teeth and gums are a major cornerstone to having a healthy animal, so the more that can be done to prevent dental disease in your pup, the better.
Besides cleaning your dog’s teeth, chewing on bones serves as an activity in itself. This is something for those who have a dog with separation anxiety or destructive boredom can really get on board with. Not only does it provide mental stimulation for your bored pup, it also exercises the muscles of the jaw and face, and even the feet and legs, depending on how into it they get.
Should You Give Your Dog Bones To Chew?
Giving bones to your pup may seem like a win-win situation-they get a euphoric endorphin release, you get a little peace and quiet. However, bones can be quite dangerous and can cause injury, illness, or even death. To begin with, bones are a hard substance that when broken creates splinters and sharp edges. Imagine what a bone splinter can do to the inside of your dog’s mouth, throat, stomach, intestine, etc. Besides the possibility of becoming lodged in the digestive tract, bone pieces can actually pierce those soft organs and lead to a life-threatening infection. So if your dog is more of the destroyer type rather than the dainty gnawer, then giving them bones may not be the best idea.
If you’re still curious to see how your dog handles a bone, and you want your dog to experience the benefits and joy of chewing them, then there are some safer options. First of all, cooked bones are a definite no-no. Cooking leaches most of the nutritional value from bones; all of that glorious bone marrow fat will be lost. Cooking also makes bones more brittle, easier to splinter, and break into tiny pieces. As we said before, those tiny pieces can cause big trouble to the digestive tract, among other things.
Raw bones are by far best for dogs to chew. Choose bones that are large enough that your pup can’t swallow them whole. The most commonly used bones are what’s called a knuckle bone, which is the head of the femur or large leg bone that connects to the hip, or a marrow bone, which are various large cuts of the other portions of the femur. You can also buy fresh or frozen oxtails for smaller dogs. These donut-shaped bones are perfect for cleaning teeth, but can be easily swallowed by bigger pooches.
Whichever cut you choose, it’s best to get one with the least amount of meat bits. Even though your pup would love you forever if you set a meaty bone down in front of them, the extra richness might be a little too strong for their tummy. Remember to always supervise your pup when they have a bone until you know how they are able to handle them. Another thing to keep in mind is that bones are not easily shared, so be sure that every dog gets their own.
Alternatives to Real Bones
Your dog doesn’t have to chew on real animal bones in order to reap the benefits. If the risks involved with chewing bones has you a little on edge, consider some of these alternatives.
Hard rubber chews make a great alternative to real bones. Make sure that the rubber is hard enough that it can’t be indented with your thumb nail to ensure that most pups won’t be able to chew them up. You also don’t want the rubber to be too brittle, so replace these often as they start to age.
A great natural alternative are antlers. They are super indestructible but still offer hours of gnawing and teeth cleaning action.
- Frozen treats
As a special treat, especially in the summertime, try freezing some broth, peanut butter, or even just water to let your pup gnaw on the ice cubes. No risk of choking or splinters here, but maybe a small puddle on your floor.
Why Do Dogs Bury Bones?
By now you’ve figured out why it is that dogs love bones, but if they love them so much, why do they bury them? It may seem a little counterintuitive but burying bones goes way back into a dog’s ancestral roots. In the wild, dogs rely on their hunting skills and the abundance of prey to determine when their next meal will be. Since there is no guarantee when their next meal will be, burying food and bones is their way of preserving it for future use. Burying also protects the food from the sun and from decomposing as fast. It’s sort of a wild dog’s version of a refrigerator. Along with this instinct comes a sort of sixth sense as to where the meat or bone is buried. They always remember! After all, if a dog doesn’t remember where they buried that treasure, what’s the point of burying it in the first place?
Dogs and bones go together like peanut butter and jelly or peas in a pod. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of why dogs like bones by now. Dogs are drawn to bones for many reasons, most of which stem back to their ancestors. You can help foster this innate behavior safely with the right products and precautions so that your pup can enjoy the benefits of chewing bones without the concern of injury or illness.