5 min read


Can Dogs Digest Bones?



5 min read


Can Dogs Digest Bones?


The topic of feeding dogs’ bones is a controversial one and the short answer to whether or not they can digest them is yes, but not all of them. Just like the beloved pooch, dog bones come in different sizes and densities, which means that while one type is a tasty treat, another could be an accident waiting to happen. Let’s look a little more in-depth at dog bone digestion!


Signs Your Dog Could Be Choking

Choking in dogs is not very common, but every dog owner should be aware of the symptoms to be able to act quickly. A dog will choke if there is an object stuck in their throat (bones, bone fragments, rawhides, small toys, etc) and this can be life-threatening if not removed as soon as possible.

If a bone splinters or breaks when it’s being chewed, it could lead to choking, but the main difference between coughing and choking is the breathing-in part. If your dog is coughing, breathing in will be normal but if your dog is choking, they will struggle with breathing and often this will be accompanied by wheezing.

 The initial symptoms will be easily noticeable:

●      Pacing – Your dog may become agitated, restless, and nervous. They might paw at their mouth and neck and pace around.

●      Chewing – Your dog might show exaggerated swallowing motions even though they aren’t eating.

●      Drooling – Your dog might start drooling excessively; they might also gag and cough.

The main issue here is that, if the obstruction isn't total, your dog will quickly stop having these acute symptoms, even though the foreign body is still present, and is causing further injury. Other symptoms of choking include:

●      Head tilting – Your dog might tilt their head while trying to get rid of the obstruction. This is most commonly accompanied by pawing at their mouth or digging.

●      Whining – Your dog might whine to signal that something is wrong.

●      Cowering – Your dog might cower and behave as if afraid.

●      Shaking – Shock is possible with choking, especially if their air supply is limited, so your dog might start to shake.

●      Weakness – If the obstruction is limiting their air supply, your dog might become very weak suddenly.

Your dog's personality plays a role too, as various personality types can react differently. Some might be unusually loud and start barking, whining, or howling, while others might try enduring it silently and cower.

If you see your dog is choking, you have to intervene immediately by either attempting the Heimlich maneuver or pulling their tongue forward and attempting to reach and remove the object causing obstruction. If neither of these options work, it’s time to call the vet.

When feeding bones, always make sure to supervise your dog to see their eating habits. Even though dogs have an extra-wide and hard oesophagus that helps them ingest bones, supervision is crucial to avoid potential choking. 

Body Language

Here are some of the ways to tell if your dog is choking:

  • Head Tilting
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Chewing
  • Pacing
  • Weakness
  • Drooling

Other Signs

Other signs to watch for if you suspect your dog is choking or has an obstruction are:

  • Lack Of Appetite
  • Constipation
  • Gagging
  • Vomiting Foam

The History of Dogs and Bones


Dogs have evolved from wolves and have thus kept some similar characteristics when it comes to eating. "Wolfing down your food" is said for a reason, as dogs eat the same way - and they are both content with large chunks of meat, fat or bones, but they can’t swallow them whole.

Wolves, as well as their ancestors, thrived when prey was plentiful, often ignoring the challenging bones, but fell on hard times when there wasn’t enough. In these situations, they would try to hunt larger animals and let nothing go to waste. 

Although protein is their primary food, they also need fat. With over 50% fat in the marrow, and bones also being rich in protein, it makes dietary sense that canines would begin to eat them. Consuming this fat often meant the difference between surviving the harsh winter or not, so with sharp teeth and a strong jaw and stomach that can deal with bones, the verdict is that wolves and ultimately dogs can grind down the bones to the marrow.

As people domesticated dogs, these traits aren’t as pronounced today, so some breeds, particularly the smaller domesticated types, will have more difficulties with eating and digesting bones than their ancestors, or other breeds that kept their strong jaws. Their current diet also plays a big role, for example, dogs that are fed kibble have a higher PH 2.5 stomach acid which is not ideal for digestion, while raw fed dogs have a PH around 1.5, which is closer to natural range making it easier in some cases for them to digest.

Science Behind Bone Digestion in Dogs


Dogs are considered omnivores, but their digestive tracts differ from ours considerably and because of this, they have to be fed differently too.

The mouth, the very beginning of the dog’s digestive system, is designed to bite off large chunks of food and eat quickly. Then, with their powerful esophagus, it makes pushing bones into the stomach easier. The lower the PH in your dog’s stomach, the quicker food will be broken down by the hydrochloric acid and enzymes and turned into nutrients.

Dogs have the shortest digestive system of all mammals and it usually takes about 8 hours for the whole process of digestion. This time is shorter for small breeds and longer for large breeds. The quality of the diet plays a role too, and whether your dog drinks enough water. This is why a proper diet plays such a crucial role in the health of your dog. 

How to Feed Your Dog Bones


If you decide to feed your dog bones, make sure they are raw and fresh, not cooked or dried (like the ones found in pet supply stores). A fresh, raw bone is bendy and springy, while a cooked or dried one is hard and brittle, often breaking into dangerous splinters. When feeding bones to your dog, there are several things to take into account:

●      the bone size, type, and density

●      your dog's size, health, condition of teeth, and eating habits (do they chew on bones or do they swallow everything?)

Not all raw bones are appropriate either. The best type of bone to give to your dog is a marrow bone. Avoid feeding large, dense leg bones, or long rib bones. Dangerous scenarios including such bones include broken teeth, choking, or punctured guts, so it's best to avoid them and because of this, you should always give your dog a bone under supervision because things can happen in an instant. 

Have questions or concerns about your pet?

Chat with a veterinary professional in the Wag! app 24/7.

Get Vet Chat

How to Feed Bones to Your Dog Safely

  1. Always feed your dog bones under supervision.
  2. Do not pre-cook the bones as this can make them brittle and shatter.
  3. Select the right type of bones for your dog to eat.

By Charlotte Ratcliffe

Published: 03/14/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

Wag! Specialist
Does your pet have a supplement plan?

Learn more in the Wag! app

Five starsFive starsFive starsFive starsFive stars

43k+ reviews


© 2023 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.