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Can German Shepherds Eat Bones? – The Do’s and Don’ts

Last Updated: January 31, 2024

Can German Shepherds eat bones? This question divides many owners and experts. As a German Shepherd owner myself, I used to ponder whether offering a bone is beneficial or risky.

German Shepherds can eat bones but with caution. It’s crucial to choose the right type. Raw bones, such as beef or chicken, are safer than cooked bones, which may splinter and cause harm. Always supervise your dog during bone-chewing and avoid small bones to prevent choking risks.

Key Takeaways

  • For German Shepherds, choose raw bones like beef or chicken. They are safer than cooked bones, which can splinter.
  • Always supervise your German Shepherd when chewing bones to prevent accidents.
  • Avoid small bones to reduce the risk of choking hazards for your German Shepherd.

In this article, we’ll cut through the confusion and provide clear answers. Discover the types of bones that are safe for your Shepherd, the benefits of bone-chewing, and the potential risks involved.

Let’s dive into the essential facts about German Shepherds and bones!

A German Shepherd Puppy chewing a large raw bone.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Bones to German Shepherds

German Shepherds can eat bones to clean and strengthen their teeth, get Calcium and Phosphorus, and keep their minds stimulated.

When giving your German Shepherd a bone, ensure it is raw, either beef or lamb and larger than the muzzle to limit the risk of choking.

Check out this short video on the do’s and don’t of giving your dog a bone from veterinarian Dr. Alaess:

Let’s explore the best practices and safety guidelines when giving your dog a bone…

1. Give your German Shepherd Raw Bones

There seems to be widespread consensus that raw bones are healthier and safer for your dog than cooked ones.

Raw, meaty bones will give your German Shepherd dog more phosphorus and calcium than cooked bones. Also, raw bones are good for your dog’s gums and teeth.

Cooked bones are softer and can easily splinter, causing the risk of injury to your dog’s mouth and digestive tract. 

Note also that, even though raw meat has bacteria-fighting enzymes, poorly stored meat/bones can be habited by bacteria such as Salmonella and E.coli.

Besides, raw bones can also turn poisonous for your dog if they have added preservatives.

Ensure that the source of the bone you give to your German Shepherd is reliable and will not put him at risk of infection or intoxication.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) advises that you should only give your dog human-grade raw meaty bones.

German Shepherd chewing a large raw beef bone.

2. Offer Beef and Lamb Bones (Not Chicken or Pork)

If a bone easily breaks into big pieces, it is not good for your German Shepherd.

Beef and lamb bones are most recommended because they are considered tougher than chicken and pork bones. 

Even the delicate human tooth can easily chew on chicken and pork bones. But because, unlike you, your German Shepherd will not know when to send the bone to the bin, it is better to desist from giving him a soft bone.

Bones that splinter easily will be swallowed by your German Shepherd and can cause intestinal injuries. Here’s a quick summary of what bones you can or can’t give to your GSD:

Safer BonesUnsafe Bones
BeefChicken
LambTurkey
GoatPork

Remember, bones unsuitable for chewing can still benefit your German Shepherd if ground and added to their diet.

However, you must consult your veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate quantity of ground bone to include in your dog’s meals.

3. Give Your Dog Large Bones

If you give a bone to your German Shepherd Dog to eat, choose one that is bigger than his muzzle.

This limits the risk of swallowing or choking. Also, larger bones are tougher and harder to break into pieces that can be easily swallowed and cause injury. 

Swallowed bones can also cause intestinal blockage, which is sometimes only rectifiable by surgical intervention. So, unless you have a good pet insurance policy, this could be an expensive and worrying time!

4. Time Matters When Giving Your Dog a Bone

If your German Shepherd is an aggressive bone chewer, he is more likely to pull off big bone pieces and swallow them if he is hungry. 

It is recommended that you give a bone to your GSD after a meal when he is likely to gnaw for other benefits rather than filling his stomach.

It is safer if your dog swallows small pieces of bone after a meal since the bones act as roughage when the food is digested. 

Do not leave your German Shepherd with a bone for hours on end to avoid creating problematic chewing behavior.

15-20 minutes is considered a safe interval, and then the bone is put in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria and disposed of after 2-3 days. 

Large Raw Bone for German Shepherd

5. Avoid Bones for German Shepherds with Sensitive Stomachs

German Shepherds with stomach problems such as frequent diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and those who have had issues with Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat, or have been operated on in the stomach should never be given a bone.

For these dogs, the risk that comes from swallowing a bone is greater and can be fatal.

I also have a must-read article on bloat, especially as German Shepherds are prone to this life-threatening condition. It’s important you know the signs and symptoms of GDV.

6. Supervise Your German Shepherd While They Chew Bones

Since giving your German Shepherd a bone can be risky, despite the nutritional benefits, it is always advisable to supervise your dog when you give him a bone. 

If you notice that your GSD has swallowed a piece of bone, monitor him for any of these signs:

  • Vomiting (could be caused by gastrointestinal obstruction)
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Cuts and wounds in the mouth or on the tonsils
  • Lethargy or sudden inactivity
  • Blood in the excreta

Even if these signs are not manifested, it is important to track your dog’s excreta for signs of the swallowed bone. To ensure your dog is not at risk, seek your vet’s advice. 

Bear in mind that unattended injuries caused by swallowing a bone can be fatal.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of the health problems caused by swallowing bones between 2010 and 2017 in 90 dogs, at least 15 proved fatal. 

Following these safety rules will keep your German Shepherd out of danger and help him reap the benefits of gnawing on a bone if you decide to go the “bone way.”

Beyond the Chew: Extra Benefits of Bones for German Shepherds

Allowing your dog to chew a bone has additional benefits. Let’s explore these additional rewards and lesser-known benefits of incorporating bones into your pet’s diet.

1. Bones Are Good for Oral Health

This is a difficult statement!

On the one hand, chewing is an instinctual behavior in dogs and acts as a way of strengthening teeth as well as a form of brushing and ridding teeth of dental calculus.

“Gnawing on bones serves to break down tartar and reduce the risk of gum disease.” – World of Dogz

This study sought to find out if chewing beef bones was effective in reducing dental calculus and reported a remarkable reduction in the same after dogs chewed on a bone for two weeks.

On the other hand, however, chewing bones can have adverse effects on your dog’s oral health. Tough bones can cause cracks or fractures in your dog’s teeth.

According to Vet Times, a general but disputed rule for chewing in dogs recommends that they should not chew on anything too hard to be bent as this creates more risk for fractured teeth.

2. Bones Serve as a Mental Stimulant

German Shepherds are high-energy dogs and must be engaged most of the time. Gnawing on a bone keeps your dog physically and mentally occupied. He has to concentrate on the bone, which keeps his brain alert.

Gnawing on the bone also works as a challenge for your GSD and helps with boredom. Mental stimulation is key to help reduce anxiety, which can cause other health conditions in your dog.

3. Other benefits

Other benefits associated with chewing bones among German Shepherds include:

  • The stimulation in the production of saliva enzymes is important in reducing plaque formation.
  • Strengthening your GSD’s stomach muscles.
  • Acts as roughage during digestion, preempting digestion problems such as bloat and excessive pressure on the anal glands.
  • The nutrients in bones are good for your German Shepherd’s skin and coat. Bones also contain cartilage and marrow, which have collagen, which is good for healthy skin and bones.
  • Reducing your German Shepherd’s tendency to chew on its paws as an alternative.
  • Reduces your dog’s tendency to be a destructive/excessive chewer. 

A German Shepherd Can Survive Without Bones

It’s surprising what people get wrong with German Shepherds and bones! Dogs are originally hunters and, hence, meat-eaters. But canines have had to change many of their feeding patterns and behavior traits through domestication.

For example, German Shepherds no longer have to hunt for their food but instead rely on us to feed them. 

In their ancestral hunting world, dogs would tear the flesh of their prey with their teeth and gnaw on their bones, probably for days on end.

This knowledge has likely led us to believe that “a dog can’t survive without bones.”

But is this true?

Let’s discuss some facts and see if we’ll still think the same.

Your German Shepherd Needs the Nutritional Benefits from a Bone – True or False?

The “bone of contention” in discussing whether your German Shepherd should or shouldn’t be given a bone is majorly about their nutritional value.

If we take bone to mean everything that comes with it, we discuss the organic components (meat, marrow, fat, and connective tissues) and the inorganic component (the actual bone).

There are several nutritional benefits German Shepherds can get from the different components of a bone:

  • If a bone is fresh, your dog will get plenty of protein. It’s important to understand your dog’s nutritional needs. For example, the recommended daily protein allowance for an adult dog is between 18-22%. Your German Shepherd will not get that amount from a bone with barely any flesh, especially not from one that has been gnawed on for days! 
  • Large bones will contain marrow, the soft tissue at the core of a bone mainly composed of fat and blood. While the nutrients in the marrow are beneficial to your dog, experts suggest that the little amount that a dog can get from a bone is not a consistent requirement in your German Shepherd’s diet.

The marrow in a bone may not provide the recommended 5% fat for an adult dog; not every bone comes with marrow, anyway.

German Shepherd With Large Raw Beef Bone
German Shepherd pup with large raw beef bone
  • Bones also have cartilage, the connective tissue that is 50% collagen, and 50% mucopolysaccharides (glucose molecules and mucous tissues). These tissues have little nutritional value and may promote mucus formation in your dog’s digestive system. Nonetheless, they can count as useful roughage for digestion.
  • The actual bone is the inorganic part and probably the part where dog owners focus most interest, and rightly so. This part forms 2/3 of the bone and comprises a microcrystalline structure containing mainly calcium phosphate. 

Your adult German Shepherd Dog’s daily recommended calcium and phosphorus intake is 1g and 0.75g, respectively (some will say 1g for both). This makes around 0.8% calcium and 0.67% phosphorus in your dog’s meal.

Calcium and phosphorus are crucial in maintaining your dog’s bone and skeletal health.

Both insufficient and excessive intakes of these nutrients can have significant impacts on your dog’s growth and overall well-being, highlighting the importance of a balanced dietary approach.

Below are some of the health conditions that your GSD can suffer from if he has a low or exceeded intake of calcium and phosphorus:

  • Rickets – Insufficient phosphorus or/and vitamin D and, rarely, calcium deficiency.
  • Osteomalacia (rickets in mature bones) – low phosphorus, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • Rubber Jaw Syndrome (fibrous osteodystrophy) – poor metabolism of calcium and phosphorous.
  • Hyperparathyroidism due to kidney disease – high phosphorus, low calcium.
  • Hypoparathyroidism – low calcium, high phosphorous.

It’s important to note that the consumption of calcium and phosphorus is often discussed with the intake of vitamin D because the latter helps absorb the two minerals.

The fact that bones have healthy and necessary nutrients for your dog leads us to our next question…

Your GSD Doesn’t Have to Eat a Bone to Get Calcium and Phosphorous

While your German Shepherd Dog needs the calcium and phosphorus from a bone, he does not necessarily have to chew a bone to get his recommended dose of the two minerals.

Most commercial dog foods contain the recommended amount of the two minerals, and some are enriched with ground bone. 

It will not be difficult to find a good quality commercial dog food with the recommended 0.8% calcium and 0.67% phosphorus levels

I feed my German Shepherd high-quality cold-pressed dog food that contains 1.3% calcium and 1% phosphorus. If you have never heard of this type of food and its many benefits over dry kibble, you can read my in-depth review here.

Also, your GSD can get his calcium and phosphorus from other homemade food sources.

Meat is rich in phosphorus, and the following foods, which are healthy and safe for your dog, are also rich in calcium:

  • Yogurt – Rich in calcium, protein, and probiotics. It should be given without sugar or any added sweeteners. Some sweeteners like xylitol are poisonous for dogs.
  • Cheese – Can be given as an additional calcium source. Cottage cheese is especially easy to digest for dogs. However, avoid large quantities as cheese has a high-fat content, and some brands may contain onions, garlic, and chives, which are toxic for dogs. Be aware also that some dogs cannot tolerate the lactose in dairy products.
  • Fish – Fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon, and trout are rich in calcium, less prone to mercury, and so good for dogs. Do not give them to your dog raw or with additional seasonings and oils. Also, ensure they have no bones.  
  • Vegetables and fruitsVegetables are another good source of calcium for your dog. Broccoli, spinach, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and peas are all safe for your dog. This article also has a list of safe fruits that your German Shepherd can eat.

Of course, I am not disqualifying the nutritional value of meaty bones.

What I’m saying, in summary, is that your German Shepherd dog can eat bones, but he doesn’t have to because he can get the nutritional value of bones from other food sources. 

Final Thoughts

As a German Shepherd owner, you need to understand that while your furry companion can enjoy bones, caution is key. Opt for large raw bones, like beef or lamb, and steer clear of cooked bones that can splinter and cause harm.

Always supervise your German Shepherd’s bone-chewing sessions and avoid small bones to minimize choking risks.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.
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