How to Cook Bones for Dogs

In many minds, dogs and bones go together like America and apple pie. Dogs do enjoy bones and derive some health benefits from them. The wrong bone, however, can make your dog sick or even prove fatal. As such, it's important to understand what kind of bone to give your dog and how to cook it.

Shetland Sheepdog chews a pig bone
It is important to know how to cook your dog's bones.
credit: huettenhoelscher/iStock/GettyImages

Bones have benefits

Your dog views bones as a treat, but they're actually quite good for him. They contain glucosamine and chondroitin, both of which promote joint health and can help stave off arthritis. Bones also contain zinc, selenium, and magnesium to boost immunity. They also provide lots of roughage to keep digestive health on track.

Your dog's oral health, too, can benefit from an occasional bone. When your dog chews on a bone, her mouth produces an increased amount of saliva. As such, letting her chew on a bone for 10 or 15 minutes after a meal will wash her teeth and keep them cleaner. Bones also scrape away plaque when a dog chews on them, promoting healthier teeth and gums.

Gnawing on a tasty bone can also improve your dog's mood and behavior. The act of chewing releases dopamine in a dog's brain, which helps to provide a calming sensation. Dopamine helps reduce a dog's need to engage in soothing behaviors such as excessive licking and scratching.

Bad to the bone

Bones aren't all the same, so what you give your dog matters. Dogs should never have chicken, turkey, or pork bones as these can splinter, creating jagged edges. These sharp edges can harm the inside of your dog's digestive tract and make it easier for bone pieces to get stuck in the stomach or intestines.

The same is true of cooked bones, which is why you should never save cooked bones for dogs. Cooking removes most of the healthy nutrients from bones and dries them out. Dried out bones are much more likely to break and splinter, particularly when they are baked, barbecued, or broiled. If you must cook a bone to soften it for your dog, always boil the bone rather than cooking it another way.

Bones aren't for everyone

Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, chow chows, bull dogs, and boxers should never chew on bones. Withhold bones from toy breeds, as well. Very small dogs and brachycephalic breeds simply don't have the jaw strength or structure to effectively process bones.

Even if your dog is built to handle a bone, you need to watch the size you give him. Any bone you give your dog must be at least as big as his head. Any smaller, and the bone presents a choking hazard. Never leave your dog unattended with a bone for the same reason.

Cooked bones for dogs

If you want to offer your dog a treat, it's best to give her raw marrow bones for dogs from the butcher. If your vet recommends softening bones, however, the best way to do so is to boil the bone. Simply place the bone in a pot of water and boil it for about an hour.

Give the bone to your dog only for about 15 minutes at a time so she doesn't ingest too much if it. If she does, she could suffer from constipation or a bowel obstruction. Rinse the bone after taking it from your dog, drop it into a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. If your dog gets a little hostile when you try to take her bone, replace it with a piece of cheese or her favorite treat.

Preparing bone gelatin

If you have a dog breed that can't have bones or worry about the possible health issues bones can cause, there is a way to get the benefits of a bone without actually giving it to your dog. Instead of giving the bones to your dog, use them to make tasty gelatin-cube treats. Because you don't give the bones to the dog, you can use any type of bones in this recipe, including normally forbidden chicken and pork bones.

To make gelatin treats, toss 4 cups of bones, 1/2 cup of minced celery, 1 teaspoon of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric into a pot. Fill the pot with just enough water to cover all your ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer for 60 to 90 minutes.

Strain the liquid through a colander and save it, discarding the bones and spices. Pour the liquid into a brownie pan and then stir in two packets of Knox gelatin. Refrigerate the mixture overnight so that it sets. When it has, cut the gelatin square into one- or two-inch cubes and place them in the refrigerator.

You can now give your dog one square per 25 pounds of body weight twice a day. Doing so will provide him with some of a bone's nutritional benefits without any of the risks the bones themselves can create. As an added bonus, the ginger and turmeric you added may improve your dog's circulation, fight inflammation, and kill certain parasites and pathogens.

Protecting your dog

When given a proper type and size of bone, most dogs enjoy their treat without difficulty. Problems can occur, however, and you should know how to spot them and what to do. If your dog starts to vomit or looks as though she is trying to "work something up," a piece of bone may be caught in her throat. Take her to the vet immediately.

If after eating a bone you notice your dog becomes lethargic, vomits, or loses her appetite, she may have bone stuck in her stomach or intestines. An inability to pass stool is another sign of obstruction. These symptoms may take a day or two to manifest rather than causing immediate distress. If you notice these behaviors, call your vet to check, and make sure things are moving through your pet as they should be.

It's rare, but your dog could accidentally inhale a piece of her bone and get it stuck in her airway. If she chokes, examine her mouth for a blockage and remove it if you can. If a piece of bone is stuck deep in the trachea, have your vet remove it so you don't cause damage pulling it out. If your dog starts to lose consciousness or clearly cannot breathe, perform the Heimlich maneuver on her.