Expert Input: Can Bones Damage Dog’s Teeth?

Updated February 1, 2022
Dog teeth animal health care

Depictions of wild canines often show them gnawing on bones in the wilderness, which may prompt domestic dog owners to wonder if giving their dog a bone to chew can benefit their pet, or if it is harmful. Can bones damage a dog's teeth? It's possible, so see the dog expert's advice on safe dog bones and chew toys to keep your pet from ruining their teeth.

Can Bones Damage a Dog's Teeth?

The answer to the question, "can bones damage a dog's teeth?" is unfortunately, yes. A dog's teeth can sustain severe damage as a result of chewing on hard bones, and especially cooked bones. There's a high possibility of a dog wearing their teeth down due to the constant friction, or worse, experiencing a broken tooth. When dogs fracture their teeth, it's common for the tooth to split all the way down to the pulp or root. Exposure of these sensitive areas can cause significant pain to your dog and often leads to infection.

Dog lying on blanket, chewing on a bone

That's not to say that you should never give your dog bones. If your dog really loves a tasty marrow bone, they likely won't care about anything but getting to that juicy, inner portion of the bone. With a watchful eye, you can retrieve the bone portion when they're done to prevent them from chewing on it. Always monitor your dog if they have a bone -- never leave them alone with it.

Use extreme caution when considering giving your dog other types of bones, though. Chicken bones are a huge no-no for pets, even though dogs won't necessarily hurt their teeth on them. Instead, there's a high chance your dog will bite through the chicken bone and swallow small, sharp pieces, which can damage their mouth or the inside of the intestines.

The "Kneecap" Test

A good rule of thumb when choosing chew toys for your pet is to follow the "kneecap rule." This guideline was developed by veterinary dentist Dr. Fraser Hale, DVM, FAVD, DAVDC. He states that if a toy or bone hurts when used to hit your own kneecap, then it's too hard for your dog and can damage their teeth. The Veterinary Oral Health Council also offers a list of approved products that are actually good for your dog's mouth.

Raw vs. Cooked Bones

Experts report that raw bones are generally safer than cooked bones, although they both have their risks. Cooked bones have the potential to splinter into sharp pieces that may become lodged in a dog's gums, palate, or throat. Bones also tend to become significantly harder due to the heat of cooking, so they put dogs at higher risk for tooth damage.

Two dogs with raw bones

Raw bones, on the other hand, are slightly softer, but may carry dangerous bacteria that can make your dog sick. A few different preparation options can minimize the risk, such as freeze-drying or flash freezing the bones before offering them to your dog. And, fortunately, instead of splitting, raw bones are usually softer and are prone to breaking more cleanly, reducing the risk of perforation or damage.

If you decide to offer your dog a raw bone, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Always supervise your dog with a bone.
  • Offer it to them on a surface that can be easily sanitized, like a tile floor or washable mat.
  • Be sure to avoid leaving bones out, as this can allow them to spoil and promote harmful bacteria growth.
  • Freeze for a minimum of three weeks prior to offering these to your dog to minimize or eliminate the bacteria that could be within the bone.
  • Provide bones that have a bit of flesh, also known as RMB, or "Raw Meaty Bones."

Size Does Matter

Dog owners may wonder if smaller bones might reduce the risk of adverse effects, but that's most certainly not the case. Some experts recommend picking large bones, "approximately the size of your dog's head," according to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM. This will ensure your dog can't swallow or choke on the bone. Round marrow bones have their own risks, like getting stuck around a dog's lower jaw. An emergency trip to the vet for them to carefully cut the bone while a dog is under sedation is typically required for these cases.

Puppy lying on the grass bitting a bone

Consider Alternatives to Bones for Dogs

If you want to give your dog something to chew, consider giving them a safe alternative instead of a bone. They can still enjoy the fun of gnawing on something without the dangerous consequences.

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Expert Input: Can Bones Damage Dog’s Teeth?