Warnings about feeding bones to pets are overblown - and outweighed by the beneficial effect on pets' teeth, according to pet food experts Jimbo's.

British charity, the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, recently warned feeding bones to dogs can cause injury or even death, if pieces of bone get stuck in the animal's throat or cause a blockage in the digestive tract.

The charity also advised against throwing sticks for dogs to fetch, in case they get mouth injuries or impale themselves.

However Dave Allan, GM of pet food manufacturer Jimbo's says that while there is always a risk associated with feeding bones (as with anything), the risks of gum disease and tooth damage far outweigh those of safely feeding raw bones to cats and dogs. Jimbo's sells over 300 tonnes of bones per year which help thousands of cats and dogs keep healthier teeth.

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"When cats and dogs chew size-appropriate, raw bones, the mechanical action helps to scrape plaque and tartar from the teeth," says Allan. "By removing or reducing bacteria present on the teeth, periodontal disease can be prevented and a high standard of dental health maintained - and feeding bones is a great way to do this naturally."

Left on the teeth, bacteria on the teeth can cause gum inflammation and possibly lead to periodontitis - which can cause oral tissue damage, gum recession and tooth loss. Bacteria and toxins may even enter the bloodstream at the gum line and cause further damage to the kidneys, liver and heart.

Allan says two important aspects have to be considered when feeding bones: they must be raw, not cooked, as cooking makes them more brittle and likely to splinter; the bone must also be size-appropriate to the animal.

"For example, if you are feeding a German Shepherd we wouldn't recommend feeding them something as small as a chicken neck - they might swallow something like that whole, so they need a decent-sized bone to chew on."

Allan says smaller dogs, which might not be used to eating bones, must have appropriately sized bones to ensure they are chewing them sufficiently.
Jimbo's recommends chicken necks for dogs under about 6 kg and all cats, and veal neck bones for dogs over about 6kg.

"All our bones are selected so they can be eaten completely - they're soft enough to be eaten entirely, yet crunchy enough to clean the teeth and gums. Bones are naturally full of glucosamine and chondroitin, which are good for joints, as well as essential calcium, too."

To back up their belief in the benefits of bones, Jimbo's organised a three-month trial in 2015, studying the gums and teeth of eight dogs of various sizes. The owners converted their pets to a raw-food diet, supplemented by bones, for a three month-period with the dogs' teeth and mouths examined before and after.

At the start of the trial, the dogs' teeth were graded from 0-4, depending on the amount of harmful plaque on the teeth (Grade 0 being none or very little plaque; Grade 4 being a severe amount of plaque and gum inflammation and recession). Of the eight dogs, two were Grade 0, four were Grade 1, and two were Grade 2.

After three months of bones, four dogs were Grade 0 and 3 were Grade 1. One dog (who had been measured at Grade 2 in the beginning) had to be removed from the findings as it had not been fed the provided bones for the period of the trial.

That dog's teeth had not improved but all the other dogs showed the benefits of the diet.

"The dogs starting with Grade 0 teeth maintained their dental standard and they were joined by two of the dogs originally benchmarked at Grade 1," says Allan. "The other dog, which started with Grade 2 teeth, finished at Grade 1. So all who finished the trial showed either improved dental hygiene or maintained it.

"These findings are important to us because we are big believers in the ways raw food can help our pets live longer, healthier, happier lives."

For more information on the Jimbo's "bone a day" dental trial, see
www.jimbos.co.nz/bone-day-dental-trial