We asked canine expert Caroline Hearn from Hedgerow Hounds to guide us through the ins and outs of feeding raw bones to your dog

Feeding raw bones can be a concern for some owners.

Here we explain the best bones to start off with and what to consider when feeding bones to your individual dog.

Edible bones, such as this raw chicken carcass, go towards the daily bone ration and are the ideal starter bone for pups, young dogs and beginners. They are soft, flexible and contain a lot of cartilage.
Edible bones, such as this raw chicken carcass, go towards the daily bone ration and are the ideal starter bone for pups, young dogs and beginners. They are soft, flexible and contain a lot of cartilage.

Bone is a very important part of feeding a raw food diet, but it is a subject that can cause worry and concern for the dog owner and often a reason people decide to rule out raw feeding altogether.

The inclusion of raw bone in the diet provides nutrients such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, fat soluble vitamins, amino acids and essential fatty acids, all of which are used by the body for blood and bone formation. Calcium is regarded as a macro-mineral and is the most abundant and essential mineral in the body. It isn`t just needed for optimum skeletal growth but also responsible for the correct functioning of muscle and nerve impulses, keeping the immune system healthy and regulating the heartbeat.

Meat contains high levels of phosphorous and very little calcium so feeding a diet of only meat and offal would be extremely deficient in vital minerals as well as giving the dog loose stools.

Our dog’s anatomical features

So what has nature blessed a dog with to make them so efficient at eating and digesting bone?                                                                                                                       

Just a glimpse inside a dog’s mouth will showa whole range of “tools” to make the job of piercing, tearing and slicing meat and bone an easy task. A pair of specialised teeth for crushing, called the Carnassial are the largest and most jagged of the premolars and you will notice your dog tilting his head on the side in order to bring them into full use.                                                             

Unlike ourselves and herbivores, a dogs jaw has no sideways, grinding action, so in order to add lubrication within the mouth and around the food there is a lot of saliva production to assist its transit to the stomach. Once in the stomach there is an incredibly strong stomach acid to not only help kill any bacteria but also to dissolve raw bone.

Edible vs recreational                                     

Raw bones are split into two categories of edible and recreational bones.

Edible bone is consumed completely in one sitting and adds towards the dog’s dietary calcium requirements. Examples would be chicken necks and wings, duck feet, lamb ribs, pigs trotters, chicken carcass or the finely ground bone within a minced complete meal.                                                                                                             

Recreational bones are not completely consumed within one sitting and add little if anything towards the dietary calcium requirements. These would be something like a large beef knuckle bone or a venison neck as an example. The main advantage of these large bones is that they keep the teeth clean and also provide the psychological benefits that come with the chewing action, such as a release of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, which are the calming and feel good hormones.

Recreational bones are for teeth cleaning and also release feel good hormones as the dog chews them. They are not included as bone content, as they are not consumed in one sitting.
Recreational bones are for teeth cleaning and also release feel good hormones as the dog chews them. They are not included as bone content, as they are not consumed in one sitting.

With 90% of dogs in the UK under 3 years of age having some form of periodontal disease and needing a general anaesthetic to remove a build-up of plaque on an annual basis, kibble despite what we are lead to believe, does not clean teeth. If you watch a dog eat kibble they gulp and swallow, there is certainly no abrasive grinding taking place in order to keep the teeth plaque free.  

Potential issues with certain bones

If ever there is a problem with bones it is generally due to feeding a bone which is too small for your particular dog, leaving the dog unsupervised or giving very rigorous chewers weight bearing bones.

Chicken wings: Better suited for small dogs as medium and large dogs or those that are greedy feeders, can try and swallow them whole and due to the shape of the wings, carry a choke risk.

Marrow bones: The central marrow is extremely high in fat and can cause diarrhoea. They tend to be weight bearing bones so are extremely hard, which in very vigorous chewers can cause tooth fractures. There is the danger of the bone encircling the lower jaw when it has been chewed down into a “ring”, often requiring veterinary assistance. Dispose of the bone long before this risk is a possibility.

Neck bones: Chicken and duck necks are better for smaller dogs unless you can guarantee your larger dog will not swallow them whole. I have seen dogs do this on a number of occasions, with no negative consequences whatsoever as their strong stomach acid made short work of digesting it, but it is better that they chew them first. The necks have a good covering of meat on the bone and turkey and goose necks are ideal for medium to large breeds and provide a meal in themselves.

Vertebral bones: Bones that form the neck and vertebral column in larger animals such as sheep and venison, when eaten right down will become circular and have a higher risk of causing choke. This also applies to ox tail. If your dog has a reliable leave command then you can remove the bone when it starts to become eaten down into smaller sections.  

Ribs: If ribs are fed from young animals such as lamb or beef then they are soft and contain a good amount of central red marrow and you will find that dogs can crunch them up with ease. The only potential problem and why it is essential to supervise your dog when they eat bones, is that they can very occasionally become stuck across the roof of the mouth and require assistance to remove them.


There are some pet stores that still sell large baked knuckle bones for dogs. They are often sourced from overseas and are extremely dangerous due to the likelihood of cooked bones splintering and causing perforations to the gut often with fatal consequences. Raw hide chews are also a major choke hazard and are known to cause obstructions in the bowel which require emergency surgery.  

Choosing the right bone for your dog

The main problem area when introducing raw bones to a dog is not offering a bone that is appropriate in size or type for that individual dog. It is always better to feed a bone that is a little too large than too small and also pair the bone with the chewing style of that particular dog.

If you are transitioning a dog onto a raw diet that has previously been eating kibble and you plan to feed edible bones then it is wise to leave 2-3 weeks before introducing whole bones to give the stomach acid time to adjust in order to adequately digest raw bone. Your dog will still be receiving his calcium ration from the complete minces that contain 10% finely ground raw bone.  

Raw chicken or duck carcass are good starter bones as they still contain some meat on the bones and plenty of cartilage making them flexible and easy to crunch. They are usually from young birds which mean that the bones are still quite soft.

 If your dog is straining to pass a motion or the stool is very white and crumbly then you know that they have too much bone content in their diet and you will need to re-evaluative the percentage. The majority of dogs do well on 10% – 12% bone in their diets with no issues.    

Multiple dog households

This can certainly be a big challenge for some owners and even the most placid dog can see a raw bone as the highest valued item he has ever been in possession of. If you have a dog that shows strong resource and food guarding behaviour then offering a raw bone of any type could be a tricky situation so unless you are working through this particular type of issue with a qualified behaviourist it is wise not to put the dog in that situation.

Every dog has to be treated as an individual character in order for things to run smoothly. Some will strut around for ages showing everyone their “prize”, others will just take the bone off into the garden and bury it, you may have a dog that becomes very protective of such a precious item and then there are those greedy ones that will chew until their mouths bleed or the nervous dogs whose motto is “if it`s in my stomach then no one else can get to it” and attempt to swallow the bone whole rather than risk it being taken off them by another dog or their owner.

If you have a number of dogs with very individual ways of tackling a bone then it can prove extremely difficult to manage and the only safe way is for them to be sectioned off in their own safe space where they can relax and enjoy their bone. Edible bones tend to be eaten within minutes, so they are less of an issue than the recreational bone which can be around for days on end. 

When whole raw bones are just not an option

It is really important that you feel confident and happy in providing your dog with nourishing meals. If feeding whole bones, edible or otherwise causes you to panic and worry and is creating friction and tension within your four legged family, then just don’t feed them whole bones.

If you are giving complete meals where muscle meat, offal and ground bone is added for you, then your dog will be getting the calcium they need. If the percentage is not clear on the product label then ask the manufacturer, as it should be between 10-12 % ground bone. The raw bone is finely ground so it is unlikely you will notice it when dishing up and your dog will have no trouble digesting it.

Semi frozen tracheas are a good alternative to bones, especially for seniors or those with missing teeth, large dogs need the beef version while small dogs can manage the lamb.

If recreational bones are not fed and even tracheas cause problems then you will have to resort to other ways of keeping their teeth clean via a toothbrush or micro-fibre cloth and dog-friendly toothpaste.  

This blog originally appeared on the Hedgerow Hounds website and is reproduced here with thanks.

Useful links

Blogs on feeding a species-appropriate diet.
Blogs by Caroline Hearn ~ Holistic Healthcare for your Senior Dog ~ Holistic Healthcare for your Senior Horse or Pony ~ Winter Care for your Horse – the Holistic Approach

Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT

Caroline is a Member of IAAT, the International Association of Animal Therapists. She is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. Caroline has a lifelong obsession with dogs, a passion for holistic healthcare and natural nutrition, and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse.

Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs.

Links for more information:

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website