Is it safe to give my puppy a bone to chew on?

As a loving and responsible new puppy owner, I know you want to provide your furry friend with everything he needs to be happy and healthy. One common question many new pet owners have is whether or not it’s safe to give their puppy real bones. 

While natural bones can provide many benefits for your puppy, such as dental health, entertainment, and nutrition, they can also pose significant risks to your pet’s health. 

As a vet, I’ve seen my share of pups that needed surgery after their owners gave them bones, so you really need to know what you are doing. 

Nowadays we have instant access to information, but it’s not easy to find reliable sources. Some people will tell you that it’s perfectly ok to give your dog bones (usually the word ‘natural’ gets mentioned a lot 😛), while others will strongly advise you against it (hello fellow vets 🤗). But nothing is black and white, and as with everything else, the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

I wrote this guide to help you understand the potential risks and benefits of giving bones to puppies, how to choose the bones that are safe or what to give them instead 🙂

While I am a veterinarian, this article is not intended to replace professional veterinary advice. If you have any medical concerns about your pet, consult your vet immediately. Always seek professional assistance if you are unsure of your pet’s health.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. Please see my full disclosure for further information.

dog chewing on a bone

Why do puppies love chewing on stuff

Young puppies go through similar development stages as human babies. One of their main growth milestones is teething. 

Puppies get their first puppy teeth at around 3 weeks of age, and by 6-7 weeks, all of their baby teeth have erupted.  At around 3 months of age, these baby teeth will start to fall out and are replaced by permanent teeth. By 6 months of age, most dogs have a full set of adult teeth. 

Adult dogs have 42 permanent teeth, while puppies have 28 baby teeth. 

Teething can cause discomfort or pain, as the new teeth push against the gums. Puppies try to relieve the discomfort by chewing on…well basically on anything they can find, including your legs and hands 🤷‍♀️

It’s a natural instinct that helps them massage their sore gums and even speed up the teething process. 

Risks of giving bones to puppies

Firstly, I would like to talk about the risks associated with bones and why most vets don’t recommend giving bones to dogs. 

The truth is, bones can be dangerous. They can splinter and puncture your dog’s stomach or intestines. And bone fragments pose a serious choking hazard and often cause severe bowel obstipation.

So you need to know what you are doing if you want to give your puppy bones to chew on. Otherwise, you can really harm your pup. 

→ Choking hazard

Bones pose a serious choking hazard for dogs. If you want to give your puppy a bone to chew on, make sure it’s one that doesn’t splinter and is large enough that the puppy cannot swallow it. 

Supervise your puppy when you give him a fresh bone to make sure he plays with it safely. 

The most common signs that a dog is choking are:

  • pawing at their mouth 
  • drooling excessively 
  • coughing, gagging, or wheezing
  • blue gums
  • difficulty breathing 
  • loss of consciousness

If your dog starts choking, the best thing you can do is to call your vet. He will instruct how to help him and can also prepare for a potential emergency patient.

→ Severe digestive problems

If you want to give your dog natural bones, you need to choose the right type very carefully. 

Bone fragments can cause severe constipation or obstipation. 

Constipation is the difficult defecation with the passage of hard feces.

Obstipation is one step further, where the animal has a severe intestinal obstruction and is no longer able to pass the hard-dried feces. In severe cases, the poor pup will need surgery to remove the intestinal blockage. 

Bones from birds are hollow, which makes them very easy to splinter. And when they do, the splinters are very sharp. They can penetrate the dog’s stomach or intestine, causing an extremely painful and life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention.

I’ve seen dogs that ate chicken bones and were dead within 3 hours, so please be careful…

→ Broken teeth and injuries

Some dogs are aggressive chewers and may try to break the bone with their teeth instead of gnawing on it. This can cause their teeth to chip, crack, or fracture

The size of the bone is important. If the bone is too small for the dog’s mouth, he may chew on it more aggressively and accidentally break his teeth or injure himself. 

If your puppy is teething, it’s normal for him to lose his baby teeth while chewing on a different object. You might even find a bit of blood on the toy/bone or on his gums. This is normal. 

However, there is a difference between a lost baby tooth and an injury. If you see blood on the bone or your dog’s mouth, inspect the inside of his mouth thoroughly to make sure he didn’t injure himself. 

→ Bacterial growth

Puppies have an immature immune system, which makes them more susceptible to bacterial infections.

If you don’t store the bones properly, they can become contaminated with bacteria.

If they are left out in the open, and exposed to dirt, dust, or other contaminants, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Your puppy can experience diarrhea or vomiting if he eats or licks a contaminated bone or a bone with rotten meat on it.

To minimize the risk of bacterial infections, it’s important to choose ones that are fresh, properly stored, and free from contamination. 

Types of bones that are dangerous for your puppy

Most of the health issues mentioned above are caused by certain types of bones you should avoid.

Here are the different types of bones that are dangerous for a dog:

Chicken bones (or bones from other birds)

Birds have hollow bones, which makes them lighter and helps them fly. However, these bones splinter very easily and the splinters are very very sharp. 

Chicken bones are especially dangerous. They are very small and brittle, and can easily break into small pieces that can puncture your puppy’s stomach or intestines. Stomach or intestinal perforation is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate surgical intervention. Time is of the essence in these cases!

Cooked bones

A cooked bone can easily splinter and break into small pieces, which can cause serious damage to a puppy’s digestive system if swallowed.

The same is true for bones from processed or smoked meat (for example ham bones). They can be brittle and prone to splintering but are also high in salt and other preservatives, which can be harmful to puppies in larger quantities.

Small bones

Bones that are too small can be dangerous for puppies because they can be easily swallowed, causing choking or digestive problems. You should only give your puppy bones that are appropriate for his size and age.

Old bones

Bones from old animals are very hard and your puppy might break his teeth when chewing on them. If you want to give your pup antlers or other hard bones, make sure they are from young animals. 

The same goes for bones that have been lying around for a long time. Additionally, these can also become a breeding ground for bacteria. 

At what age can I give my puppy a bone? Is it safe to give your puppy a bone? Here are the types of bones that are dangerous for puppies - cooked bones, bird bones, old bones, bones from old animals and bones that are too small for your puppy

Benefits of giving bones to puppies

Now that you know about the dangers, let’s talk about the health benefits of giving your pup a bone to chew on.

→ Psychological benefits

Puppies need to chew. It’s a natural instinct that helps them during the teething process (much the same as human babies), but it has many other mental benefits. 

Chewing releases endorphins and reduces anxiety and stress. Because of this, it can be used for example as a calming method for separation anxiety or during crate training. 

It prevents boredom and can be helpful for puppies that are displaying unwanted destructive behaviors. 

Chewing also provides entertainment, and mental stimulation and improves cognitive functions. Your puppy has to figure out how to hold the bone so it doesn’t slide away or how to get the yummy bone marrow out. 

You can keep your pup entertained longer by giving him different types of bones to play with. Just be careful not to give him the wrong kind of bone. 

→ Dental health

Chewing on bones can help keep your dog’s teeth clean and healthy by removing plaque and tartar buildup. This can help prevent dental problems such as tooth decay and gum disease.

It mechanically stimulates gums and promotes the eruption and growth of permanent teeth during teething. 

→ Nutritional benefits

Bones are a good source of calcium and essential nutrients, including phosphorus, and other minerals that are important for bone health and development.

Dog owners who prefer to feed their dogs according to the BARF method often give them softer bones, for example, rib bones or neck bones, as a part of their raw diet. 

However, the risk of constipation or obstipation is higher when you feed your dog bones.

If you want to start feeding your puppy a raw diet, I highly recommend that you first educate yourself on this topic. While your intentions might be good, it’s very easy to harm your pup if you don’t know what you are doing. 

In any case, your puppy needs a healthy balanced diet. I know that with so many options to choose from, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. Here’s a Dog food guide that will give you an overview of different types of dog foods and their pros and cons.

However, you can give your puppy so-called recreational bones if you want to. These are big bones your puppy can chew on, but not eat. Just make sure you’re giving him the right kind of bones ☺️

→ Physical benefits

Chewing on bones helps strengthen your puppy’s jaw muscles and improves the dexterity of his paws. 

Young dogs often do not just chew but also play with their new bone. This helps them release energy and improve their coordination.

Which types of bones can you give your puppy

Raw bones

The best bones your puppy can chew on are raw long bones. 

Your puppy can have hours of fun with fresh raw meaty bones. Most people use beef bones since they are easy to come by, or antlers from young animals. 

If you want to give your furry friend marrow bones or bones with meat or connective tissue still attached, make sure you store them properly. They must be fresh when you give them to your puppy, otherwise, the meat and tissue can pose a health hazard. Do not cook them! 🙂

Sturdy, large bones

It’s very easy for your puppy to swallow smaller bones. Make sure you give him bones that are large enough for his size. 

It’s important to choose the right type of bone for your puppy and to supervise him while he’s chewing on it to ensure he’s not at risk of choking or ingesting dangerous pieces. 

It’s also a good idea to consult with your vet about the best types of bones for your puppy, based on his size, age, and health status.

At what age can you give your puppy a bone

If you got your puppy from a breeder, he’s already over 8 weeks old and has a set of baby teeth. At around 3 months of age, these will start to get replaced by permanent teeth. During teething, puppies need to chew to relieve the pain and discomfort. 

You can give your puppy a bone to gnaw on already during teething, provided that you avoid dangerous types of bones that can seriously harm your pup. If you decide you don’t want to risk it, don’t worry, there are other ways how to help a teething puppy ☺️

Tips for giving bones to puppies safely

Supervise your puppy

Start with a few short chewing sessions to see how your puppy reacts. Don’t leave your puppy alone with a new bone and make sure he’s not able to bite a piece off. 

Choose the right type of bone

Choose bones that are appropriate for your puppy’s age, size, and chewing habits. 

Avoid giving him cooked bones, small or old bones, or bones from birds. Bigger fresh raw bones are the ones you want to go for. 

Store your puppy’s recreational bones safely

Store the bones in a cool, dry place to prevent bacterial growth. The best thing is to give your puppy a fresh bone. 

Bones that are left out for too long can become contaminated with bacteria and may pose a health risk to your puppy.  Be sure to discard any bones that have been chewed on for too long.

Don’t give bones as a substitute for a balanced puppy diet

Your puppy needs a balanced puppy diet to keep him healthy. Unless you have enough reliable information on raw diets and similar feeding methods, don’t give your puppy bones to eat. 

Giving him high-quality dog food and a few recreational bones to chew on will make him happy enough 🙂

BONUS TIP: your puppy has to allow you to take the bone away. This might require a bit of training and maybe a few yummy doggy treats 🙂

printable puppy planner

Safe alternatives your puppy can chew on

Puppies need to chew. That’s just how it is and you have to deal with it. If you don’t provide your puppy with safe options, he will find something on his own (your new shoes, chair legs, table legs, your legs…the possibilities are endless 😛 )

Some puppies are not interested in bones or have trouble chewing on them, so you can provide them with other toys or chews that are safe for them. 

Or maybe by now, you decided you don’t want to give your puppy a natural bone and want a safe alternative instead. 

If you read again the benefits of giving your puppy a bone to chew on, you’ll see that most of them come from the fact that you provide him with something to chew on, not because you gave him a bone.

So if by now you decide not to give your pup a natural bone, there are many safe options your puppy will enjoy that have the same or similar health benefits ☺️

Chew toys

Every puppy is different. Some puppies like soft chew toys, like plush or rope toys, while others may prefer rubber toys that are harder to chew on. 

A great option for teething puppies is for example kong puppy rubber toys. They are sturdy and can survive a rough play 🙂 You can buy them now with a 10% discount from Entirely Pets 😎 

Another option for teething puppies is a freezable toy, like the freezable Cooling Ices Cones from Pet Life.

Pig ears, rawhides, and bully sticks

Some puppies will happily leave your furniture alone if they get the chance to chew on bully sticks, pig ears, or rawhides. However, please be careful and buy only certified high-quality products! 

You can get natural and safe chews and hides for example from Farm Hounds 😎

Farm Hounds Pet Treats

Giving a bone to your puppy may seem harmless, but it’s important to understand the potential dangers they pose to your pup. Certain types of bones can easily break or splinter, leading to choking hazards, digestive problems, or life-threatening medical conditions if swallowed. 

On the other hand, giving your puppy a bone to chew on can provide many benefits, such as strengthening their teeth and jaws, keeping them entertained, and reducing stress and anxiety. 

Now you understand the benefits and potential risks of giving your puppy a bone to chew on and can decide for yourself if bones are the right chew toys for your pup. 

I would love to know your decision! ☺️

PS: If you are as crazy about animals as I am and want to get more pet health tips, subscribe to my newsletter! Now you will get a free pet planner as a bonus 🤗

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