Feeding Bones To Dogs Is Linked To Less Dental Disease

In this article you will see original research conducted at Walkerville Vet between 2010 and 2011. It remains unpublished, for reasons that will become clear. You will find a link to the full article at the bottom.

Nowhere in dog care is there more argument than if bones should be fed as part of a regular diet.

You’ll see a lot of advice that it’s dangerous. It certainly can be. However, if you follow our bone feeding advice, you will minimise the risk, but not eliminate it.

You’ll also see a lot of advice saying it has no benefit, or that certain manufactured products are better. This is a much more complicated issue and as you will see, not entirely true.

Why Is There So Little Proof?

Absence of evidence is not always evidence of absence.

In other words, there can be no proof of benefit without studies designed to look for it. The problems with bones is that they generally lack companies with the financial incentive to fund major studies.

Therefore, we know that toothbrushing, Dentastix, Greenies, dental foods and even mouthwashes can help, but we just don’t know enough about bones. It was this gap that we attempted to resolve in 2010.

The Walkerville Vet Bone Feeding Study

For 12 months, we surveyed dog owners at the time of vaccination, asking many questions about their diet. We also gave their mouth a dental score.

At the end of the study, we had 479 completed surveys. Then, owing to the fact that we’re always busy, we put them aside for a few years but never forgot them.

In 2017 I approached a statistician at the University of Adelaide about publishing the study. He was very helpful, and together we statistically analysed the data so that this was possible. Here’s what we found.

Bone Feeding Study Results

The graph gives a quick summary of the dog dental scores we collected. There was a dramatic difference in the rate of periodontal disease based on how often bones were fed. This difference was statistically significant at several points.

bone dental cleaning

We also found that certain breed groups (Terriers, Gundogs, Working Dogs) were less likely to have dental problems when compared with Toy breeds.

According to these results, the feeding of bones to dogs is associated with better periodontal disease scores.

Although this suggests that the bones are keeping the teeth clean, we must be careful to not claim causation; we can’t prove that one causes the other. For example, owners who feed bones might generally be more conscious of dental care in other ways. Of course, we tried to ask about such things in the study, but only a long-term study would answer that question properly.

Regardless, the results are compelling and unique. It certainly suggests that dogs who are given dietary bone will benefit.

So Why Isn’t It Published?

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time any such study has been conducted anywhere in the world. But it still hasn’t made it into a scientific journal.

We have submitted the manuscript to several journals, and there are three main reasons why it remains unpublished.

  1. We have not tried the low ranking journals. Any paper can be published if you’re not fussy about where.
  2. Legitimate criticism has been made that we were too close to the data. Claire and me both knew the patients, and it’s conceivable that our dental scores were biased as a result. Of course we don’t think so!
  3. The journal reviewers are leaders in the field of veterinary dentistry, which is generally antagonistic towards bone feeding. Just read this quote from one:

It has already been established that diets with coarser materials will help to decrease the incidence of plaque and calculus accumulation, however there are major concerns in regards to the other problems that raw diets and diets with bone can cause.  From an oral health stand point, the incidence in dental trauma  or fractured teeth and endodontic disease should also be compared.  Without this comparison it is irresponsible to recommend this type of diet.

It’s like saying we aren’t allowed to publish on the benefits of early reading in children if we don’t also look at associated eye diseases. The reviewer’s comments are, of course, not evidence-based as no one has looked at rates of problems with bones either.

I would love that study too, but no-one asked the dental chew manufacturers to prove their safety. Are we not allowed to show a benefit if it exists?

So we continue to try. In the meantime, here’s a link to the full scientific paper, including references to other bone studies over time. Enjoy, and feel free to ask lots of questions in the comments below!

Related: How To Feed Bones To Reduce Risk | Other Ways To Keep Dogs’ Teeth Clean

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.


4 Replies to “Feeding Bones To Dogs Is Linked To Less Dental Disease”

  1. Great blog – and well done for trying to do your own valid research on diet. I’ll admit I’ve gone a bit conspiracy nut over “Big pet food”. I feel like we were groomed from the very beginning of vet school to believe commercial foods are the only thing and raw/unprocessed foods are an evil we must protect our pet owners from.
    I would love to see more research done on natural diet alternatives.
    I’ve been telling my pet owners to feed raw whole chicken pieces or other meaty bones for years.

  2. Thank you for this article. I have a Service Dog Program and it is almost impossible to find good things for our dogs to chew that vets will approve of. I feel we are a don’t do this, don’t do that society but we are not providing people with direction on what to do. i have fed marrow bones for 30 years and have never had dental problems with my dogs. I have to say if there is a problem then possibly it was an underlying condition that eventually would have shown up. Thank you for your study. It’s hard to buck industry…

  3. Hi Andrew, interesting results! I have a question about the analysis. Given that you found working dogs have lower incidence of periodontal disease, did you try controlling for dog breed in the statistical analysis? That is, was there also a significant benefit for toy dogs taken separately? It might help to tease out whether some breeds have better teeth because they have been bred for performance above looks, or whether working dogs etc. are more likely to be fed bones by their owners.

    1. Hi Anne. You can see the full statistical analysis in the linked pdf file, but the short answer is yes, the analysis was rigorous or we would not make such a claim.

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