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Can German Shepherds Eat Bones? What People Get Wrong!

To give your German Shepherd a bone to eat or not to give? That is the question! And the answer seems to vary among German Shepherd owners and experts. But what would be right or wrong about giving or not giving your German Shepherd a bone to eat?

German Shepherds can eat bones to clean and strengthen their teeth, to get Calcium and Phosphorus, and to keep their mind stimulated. When giving your German Shepherd a bone make sure it is raw, either beef or lamb and larger than the muzzle to limit the risk of choking.

There are different explanations for why you should or shouldn’t give your German Shepherd a bone to eat. In this article, we explore the things people get wrong about dogs and bones.

We’ll look at the type of bones to give (especially the safety rules), some of the benefits your German Shepherd can reap from chewing on a bone, and some of the hazards to be aware of.

German Shepherd chewing a large raw beef bone. Can German Shepherds Eat Bones?

Read on to discover the important details when giving your German Shepherd a bone.

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 a lot 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.

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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 are discussing 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 out of it. It’s important to understand the nutritional needs of your dog, for example, the recommended daily protein allowance for an adult dog is between 18-22%. Your German Shepherd Dog will not get that amount from a bone with barely any flesh on it, 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 that is 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 and 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 just 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 is made up of 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 essential for your German Shepherd’s skeletal and bone health and as with other nutritional components, a low intake of calcium and phosphorus has dire consequences for your dog’s growth and health, and so does overconsumption of the nutrients. 

Below are some of the health conditions that your GSD can suffer from if they have 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 in the absorption of the two minerals.

The fact that bones have healthy and necessary nutrients for your dog leads us to our next question: Does your German Shepherd Dog have to gnaw on a bone to get these nutrients? 

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 are made with the recommended amount of the two minerals, and some are also 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 a 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. 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 and 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 fruits – Vegetables are another good source of calcium for your dog. Broccoli, spinach, green beans, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and peas are all safe for your dog. See here the many types of vegetables you should or shouldn’t give to your dog and fruits that your German Shepherd can eat.

Of course, I am not disqualifying the nutritional value of meaty bones. But 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 in bones from other food sources. 

Nonetheless, if you decide to give bones to your German Shepherd, there are certain safety rules you need to abide by. Here’s what many people get wrong when giving their dog a bone.

Safety Rules for Giving your German Shepherd a Bone to Eat

We’ve established that it is ok to give your German Shepherd a bone, even though your dog can survive without bones by eating other foods with the nutritional value found in bones. 

But saying that your German Shepherd can eat a bone does not mean just any bone. Some safety rules need to be followed.

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

CAN DOGS EAT BONES? (Do's & Don'ts of giving dogs a bone)

1. Give your German Shepherd Raw Bones (Not Cooked)

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.

German Shepherd chewing a large raw beef bone. Can German Shepherds Eat Bones?

Instead, cooked bones are softer and can easily splinter, causing the risk of injury to both 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.

2. Give your German Shepherd Beef and Lamb Bones (Not Chicken or Pork)

If a bone easily breaks into big pieces, then 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

Note that the bones that you cannot give your German Shepherd to chew on can be thoroughly ground and included in their meal. Be sure to consult your vet for advice on how much ground bone you can include in your dog’s meal.

3. Give your German Shepherd 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 at times is only rectifiable by surgical intervention. So, unless you have a good pet insurance policy, this could be both an expensive and worrying time!

4. Time Matters when Giving a Bone to your German Shepherd

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. 

Large Raw Bone for German Shepherd

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

To avoid creating a problematic chewing behavior in your German Shepherd, avoid leaving your dog with a bone for hours on end. 15-20 minutes is considered a safe interval and then put the bone in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria and dispose of after 2-3 days. 

5. Bones for a German Shepherd with Stomach Problems is an Absolute No!

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. Monitor your German Shepherd when Giving a Bone

Since it’s obvious that 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 be certain that 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.” Besides, your GSD can also get other benefits from chewing a bone, as we discuss in this next section.

Additional Benefits of Giving your German Shepherd a Bone

All is not doom and gloom with giving your German Shepherd a bone, as explained by the nutritional benefits. But there are other non-nutritional benefits associated with giving your dog a bone. Here are the major ones:

1. Bones Are Good for your German Shepherd’s 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.   

This study sought to find out if chewing beef bones were 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 on your dog’s teeth. According to Vet Times, a general but disputed rule for chewing in dogs recommends that dogs 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 for your German Shepherd

German Shepherds are high-energy dogs and need to be engaged most of the time. Gnawing on a bone keeps your dog physically and mentally occupied. He has to concentrate on the bone, and that 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 helping reduce anxiety, which can cause other health conditions in your dog.

Other benefits

Other benefits associated with chewing bones among German Shepherds include:

  • The stimulation in the production of saliva enzymes that are important in the reduction of 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, coat, and the cartilage and marrow in bones have collagen, which is good for both healthy skin and bones.
  • Reducing your German Shepherd’s tendency to chew on their paws as an alternative.
  • Reduces your dog’s tendency to be a destructive/excessive chewer. 

Final Thoughts

The decision to give or not to give a bone to your dog is contentious. But it is agreed that giving your German Shepherd a bone provides healthy minerals. Also, chewing bones cleans and strengthens your dog’s teeth and stomach muscles. 

Despite these benefits, gnawing on bones can put your German Shepherd dog at risk if large pieces are swallowed, or the flesh on the bone has been exposed to bacteria, especially if the bone has been left out for a long time. Besides, some bones are brittle and can harm your dog’s teeth and mouth.

To reduce these risks when giving your German Shepherd a bone to eat:

  • Only feed raw bones
  • Choose beef or lamb bones
  • Ensure the bone is larger than your dog’s muzzle
  • Monitor your dog

Alternatively, you can opt for other food choices. Fish, yogurt, cheese, and vegetables can offer the same minerals obtained from bones. I choose not to give my German Shepherd bones to eat as I believe the risks far outweigh the benefits. Ultimately, the decision is all yours but there are also many bone alternatives your dog can try.

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