Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Becky Roberts
My dog can’t seem to get enough of beef bones. Like every healthy dog, she loves gnawing on that stuff! It’s an instinct that keeps her teeth clean and her gums healthy. So I give her big, raw beef bones now and then.
But dogs aren’t wolves. They’re domesticated animals, and their jaws and teeth come in relatively smaller shapes and sizes. Not every type of bone is safe for a dog to chew or eat. For instance, can dogs eat cooked beef bones?
Cooked bones are risky
I’d love it if I could serve my dog the leftover cooked beef bones from my plate, without a second thought. (Waste not, want not, as the old saying goes.) But sadly, cooked bones are inherently risky for dogs.
And here’s why.
When bones are cooked, they become dehydrated and brittle. A hungry dog can chew them and easily get at all the remaining meat, cartilage, and marrow.
However, this also means the bones break more easily or splinter into smaller, sharper pieces. This is especially true of pork or poultry cuts. But it can also be true for certain cuts of beef or venison.
Here’s what can happen if you give a dog a bone that’s already cooked:
- Some bone bits are dense or hard enough to break teeth enamel as your dog tries to chew and grind them into smaller bits.
- Bone shards can be sharp enough to cut a dog’s mouth, tongue, gums, and inner cheeks. (Some dogs even get lacerations in their throats and tonsils!)
- A dog can also accidentally choke on larger bone shards. If this happens, you’d better know how to perform the doggie version of the Heimlich maneuver.
- Your dog can swallow smaller bone fragments whole. But some of these still have sharp edges. If your dog accumulates enough of these in his digestive organs (i.e., stomach or the intestinal tract), these can wound the organs’ internal lining.
- Sometimes bone bits can cause intestinal blockage. If this happens to your dog, you’ll see him suffer from either severe constipation or diarrhea. (He might also vomit at times.) Your vet might resort to prescription laxatives and even surgery to fix the problem.
Nutrition reduced by cooking
Beef bones are inherently nutritious, especially for carnivorous animals like dogs. These are an excellent source of essential fats, proteins, and minerals — especially in the rich bone marrow — that aid in the formation of fresh blood. (More on the nutritional value of beef bones, later!) Best of all, beef bones are relatively cheaper compared to other large meat sources like bison or deer.
However, a good portion of these nutrients gets lost when beef bones are baked or boiled. The level of nutrition gets lowered to that of cheap, grain-based commercial dog food. Even a significant portion of that delicious marrow gets reduced or liquefied.
So if you’re spending more to give gourmet beef bones to your dog, only to cook them, you’ll still be wasting your money!
How to safely give beef bones to dogs
But dogs and beef bones are meant to be together — dogs get better dental health and nutrition from eating these. So how should you feed bones to your dog?
- Give your dog raw beef bone cuts instead! Raw bones still contain enough liquid and collagen to be pliable. Your dog can gnaw at the bone, with a smaller chance of having it splinter into dangerously sharp or small pieces.
- Raw bones are not 100% safe, however. Get only the freshest cuts from a reputable butcher. You don’t want meat contaminated with dangerous bacteria (e.g., E. coli)!
- For extra safety, you can blanch the bones before giving them to your dog. Blanching won’t completely cook the bones, but at least it can reduce the chances of your dog consuming harmful surface bacteria.
- Generally speaking, the bigger the dog, the bigger the bone should be. (Ergo, the smaller the dog, the smaller the cut.) Your butcher can give you beef bones and beef cuts that are appropriate to your dog’s size.
- Is your dog extra-dainty or tiny? Just extract the marrow from the beef bone and give that to him instead, along with big chicken bones or pork bones. (Again, those need to be raw.)
- However, avoid giving your dog those big “hollow” beef bones filled with lots of marrow (e.g., shank cuts) or any of a cow or bull’s “weight-bearing” bones. Never mind if your dog is huge — canine teeth are no match for these bone parts. For safety, go with knucklebones or beef rib bones instead.
- How much beef bones should you feed to your dog? Nutrition experts suggest that raw bones (beef or otherwise) should make up 10% to 25% of any dog’s diet. Don’t try to go beyond this, because too much bone in your dog’s diet isn’t good, either.
- How often should you give beef bones to your dog? For a visible effect on your dog’s teeth and gums, give him a raw bone treat once or twice a week.
- Feed the bones separately from your dog’s usual pet food. This trains your dog to adopt a different chewing approach for each one.
- If it’s going to be your dog’s first time to try eating raw beef bones, and he’s been eating dry or grain-based dog food all this time, don’t give him a large serving right away. (Even when he starts to beg for more!) Introduce the raw beef bones into his diet gradually, so that his gastrointestinal tract has time to adapt to this new food.
- Just the same, don’t let your dog chew and eat a raw bone by himself, without you around to check on how he’s doing or stop him from harming himself. You never know when an over-enthusiastic dog can bite off more than he can chew (and starts choking on it!).
- There are processed and ready-to-eat beef bones that are sold in pet shops. But are these safe? That depends on the product size and how it’s made. Some prepared beef bones are dried, smoked, or partially baked, and may not be as pliant or sanitary. If you’re planning on using these, buy only the reputable brand or product that your vet recommends.
With carefully-chosen raw beef bones, you’ll be giving your dog a boost in nutrition.
Every 100 grams of raw beef bone provides a significant does of the following:
- Fat, 26 grams
- Protein, 17 grams
- Potassium, 224 milligrams
- Calcium, 10 milligrams
- Iron, 1.66 milligrams
- Niacin, 4.046 milligrams
- Vitamin D, 0.20 micrograms
- Vitamin B12, 1.59 micrograms
(For a more complete list of nutrients, click here.)
So try to avoid giving your pooch any cooked beef bone, as it can bring in serious safety issues. Your dog is much better off with raw beef bones — if you know how to pick the right cuts!