As all dog owners know, most dogs love chewing on bones.
As a result, they will often become possessive of their bones and may even protect them aggressively.
Why is this?
Why Do Some Dogs Like Bones So Much?
Dogs’ love of chewing bones is rooted in their history as predators.
They have evolved to prefer eating meat and bones.
Bones contain marrow which is high in fat and very nutritionally rich.
Domestic dogs also chew bones as a way to de-stress and relieve anxiety.
It is easy for dog owners to regard their dogs as perfectly domesticated and far removed from their wild ancestors.
But the fact is that many behaviors of domestic dogs, including chewing bones, are strongly linked to their wolf species ancestors.
NOTE – If your dog always wants to eat, you might find this post about why dogs are always hungry useful to read.
Why Do Dogs Like Chewing Bones So Much?
Originally, dogs were strictly carnivorous animals.
Although they have adapted to include some plant material in their diets, they still prefer meat options and do better with a high-protein diet.
This makes a meaty bone an irresistible treat for most dogs.
If offered a carrot or a bone, most/all dogs will naturally opt for the bone.
Canine species in the wild consume all parts of the prey animal, including the bones.
Eating bones is known in scientific circles as osteophagia.
Domestic dogs still have the drive to eat bones (even if they are smelly and picked out from the garbage bin).
Dogs still retain hunting instincts, and some owners are surprised by this.
Guarding, tracking, herding, and retrieving are modified hunting drives that can be observed in domesticated dogs.
Obviously, the hunting drive exists to catch and consume the prey animal. Researchers believe this is one of the reasons why dogs are still attracted to bones.
Even though they are well-fed and don’t need to hunt, they still have deep instinctual drives to behave like their ancestors.
NOTE – You may like to read this post about why dogs like antlers so much.
Are Bones Nutritionally Beneficial To Dogs?
When we consider bones, we often think they lack nutritional value compared to meat from flesh or organs, but bones can provide a good source of calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals.
Dogs have much stronger gastric acid than humans.
As such, their digestive processes can release trace minerals from bones that they can utilize to help keep them healthy.
Bone marrow, especially from large weight-bearing bones, such as leg bones, is a nutritionally rich superfood for dogs.
It is high in fat but usually in small quantities, so it is not a risk for excessive weight gain.
In obese dogs, limiting access to bone marrow may be necessary.
Dogs prone to pancreatitis should not be fed marrow. It may provoke a flare-up of their condition leading to nausea and vomiting.
Bone marrow is rich in the following nutrients:
- Vitamin B12
Marrow bones are nutritionally beneficial for dogs. However, they are not nutritionally necessary for dogs on a well-balanced diet.
A dog can be healthy without eating bones.
NOTE – Click here to read a post answering the question: why are dogs gentle with eggs?
Chewing Bones Is Good For Your Dog’s Mental Well-Being
Dogs in our modern world are exposed to many stress factors during everyday life.
For example, dogs are natural pack animals.
When kept in isolation, they can suffer from a lack of companionship, and sadly we often have to leave our dogs at home and alone.
City noises, lack of green spaces, and yards with high walls preventing dogs from seeing the outside world can cause anxiety.
Unfortunately, dogs often get insufficient exercise or mental stimulation which can cause frustration and pent-up energy.
Dogs form close bonds with their owners – it is what makes dogs such special pets.
The problem arises when owners leave home and the dog is left alone for longer periods.
Some dogs adapt to these absences, but others develop separation anxiety.
Some dogs relieve their frustration and stress by chewing inappropriate items such as furniture, clothing, or even walls.
Unfortunately, this behavior gets them into trouble and sometimes results in the dog being rehomed or worse.
Giving a dog bones to chew on can be part of the solution to this, as it can be good for their mental well-being and reduce the likelihood of them engaging in destructive chewing.
When dogs chew bones, a neuroendocrine pathway in the brain known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is stimulated.
This pathway is responsible for maintaining the body’s physiological homeostasis (or balance).
Stimulation of this axis releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine.
These neurotransmitters relieve stress and result in feelings of calm, relaxation, and well-being.
So if you have an anxious or highly stressed dog or can’t always give your dog their ideal life, giving them a bone to chew on might be an excellent way to mitigate their mental discomfort.
NOTE – You might also enjoy this post looking at the question: Why do some dogs love eating human food?
Chewing Bones Is Good For Your Dog’s Dental Health
Dogs are prone to forming dental plaque, just as humans are.
They often resist daily tooth brushing, making them susceptible to dental and gum disease.
Dental cleaning by veterinarians is expensive, and the dogs have to be anesthetized for the procedure, which carries unnecessary risks.
Chewing bones is a natural way for dogs to clean their teeth – the rough texture of the bones chips off dental plaque and results in a healthier mouth.
NOTE – You may also want to read this post looking at the question: do dogs like their food?
What Bones Are Best For Dogs?
Although bones are good for dogs, they must be chosen carefully.
The number one rule is that bones should not be cooked before being fed to dogs.
Cooking makes bones more likely to splinter, which can cause mouth injuries and fatal gut perforations.
Weight-bearing bones from larger animals are the best ones to give to dogs.
These bones are less likely to splinter and contain plenty of nutrient-rich bone marrow.
Marrow bones are generally big enough that the dog cannot swallow them whole.
The size of the bone is critical as many dogs have sadly needed veterinary intervention or even died from bones causing blockages in the gut.
Always check your dog cannot swallow the bone before giving it to them.
Bones with some meat still attached will be more interesting and keep a dog’s attention for longer, which can be a helpful distraction if you need your dog to be occupied for a more extended period.
NOTE – You might also want to read this blog post asking the question: do dogs like ice?
Why Do Dogs Bury Bones?
Canine predators in the wild often bury meat or bones when there is a surplus.
The cool earth and absence of light preserve the meat for longer.
This practice allows them to return and eat the flesh or bones later when resources are scarce.
Dogs still retain this instinct and bury their bones to come back for them later, even though they will never run out of food.
It may also be a way of hiding their bones and preventing other dogs from stealing them.
NOTE – You might like to read this post looking at the question: why do dogs like beer so much?
Are All Dogs Obsessed With Bones?
Interestingly some dogs are not at all interested in bones. They may chew them for a short period and wander off.
Others seem appalled that their owner would offer them something as uncivilized as a raw bone and turn their noses up at them.
Final Notes On Why Dogs Like Bones So Much
Most dogs are obsessed with chewing bones.
The tasty treat provides them with extra nutrition, makes them feel good, and allows them to relieve anxiety and stress.
However, care must be taken to provide large, raw marrow bones that do not pose a risk to the dog’s health.
Before you go, you might enjoy this video explaining why some dogs love to chew on bones:
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Tim is a proud, vetted, and experienced dog foster carer for a charity helping dog owners escape domestic abuse.
He has years of experience training and caring for dogs, both his own and other people’s.
He is an expert in canine behavior and is highly skilled in dealing with all dogs but specializes in the difficult ones that other people may struggle with.
When he isn’t fostering dogs, he is making friends with other people’s pups!