Like parents of toddlers, some dog owners are looking for that silver bullet.
The item, activity or distraction that will occupy the dog and give us a bit of “me” time- without the constant pestering.
Are marrow bones your silver bullet? And if so, how should you prepare them before giving them to your dog?
Well in this post I try to answer that question by looking at it from all angles.
If you want the long and the short of it, you shouldn’t need to do much physical preparation to your marrow bones before giving them to your dog because they should be raw.
But for a slightly more detailed answer, I want to start with a quick definition of marrow bones?
Marrow bones: a quick definition
Although every animal bone contains marrow, marrow bones in the dog bone sense tend to come from the leg bones of cows because these are some of the longest and largest bones in a cow’s body with a thick filling of marrow in them.
But you might also come across pork marrow bones or even lamb marrow bones- but these tend to be smaller than beef marrow bones.
Marrow bones come in all shapes and sizes
Marrow bones come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on where you get them from.
In terms of length they can be anything from 10cm- 20cm.
Some of them will be cut so that they are semi circular, whereas other marrow bones will be circular.
The right size of marrow bone for your dog
Part of preparing marrow bones for your dog is making sure that the bones that you give them are the right size for your dog.
And I think that with most marrow bones, this will mean making sure that the marrow bone isn’t too big.
Although some bones are a real choking hazard to dogs, I don’t think that applies to most beef marrow bones because they are far too big to choke on.
Very occasionally hard bones such as marrow bones do get stuck on a dog’s teeth.
I think size is an important issue because marrow is a very rich food which your dog can overdose on.
Two of the biggest dangers seem to be that 85% of marrow is fat and that eating too much marrow will cause some dogs to have a bad dose of diarrhea.
Another size related issue to think about with your dog and marrow bones is that the bone is so large that the dog can’t get to all of the marrow.
Although you want your dog to chew on some of the bone, the main purpose of a marrow bone is for your dog to lick out all of the lovely marrow.
And if your dog can’t get to all of the marrow because the bone itself is too long, then the bone itself is the wrong size for your dog.
But we will tackle this issue more in the next section, where we ask ourselves how should I prepare marrow bones for my dog?
How to prepare cooked marrow bones
If some of you have come to this page looking for advice about cooking marrow bones as a way of preparing them to give to your dog, then I need to say right now that you should never give your dog any cooked bones, marrow or otherwise.
Cooked bones are far too brittle and far more likely to break off into razor sharp pieces that will be very dangerous to your dog if swallowed.
A slight exception is when your simmer marrow bones to make a broth to give to your dog.
But I will talk about marrow bone broth later in this post and any bones are removed from the broth before it is given to a dog.
How to prepare raw marrow bones
For many of you, there will be very little preparation to do with your marrow bones especially if you have ordered them from an online raw food specialist for dogs.
These marrow bones should be ready to go.
In an earlier section, I talked about how marrow bones come in a range of sizes and cuts.
Some marrow bones are circular (so that the marrow can only be accessed from either end of the bone) whereas other marrow bones are semicircular in shape where the marrow is totally exposed.
If your marrow bones are semicircular then a dog of any size can access all of the marrow but if your bones are circular then the amount of marrow that a dog can get to will depend on the length of their tongue in comparison to the length of the bone
When you take these bones out of the pack, you will see that the outside of the bones have been cleaned to get rid of any strands of meat but also to make sure that there are no sharp edges or sharp bits of bones anywhere along the length of it.
If you maybe get your marrow bones from your local butchers or meat market then the bones may not be quite so clean.
Don’t worry about any bits of meat or gristle that are on the outside of the bone, just check that there are no sharp or broken edges or sharp “shards” of bone sticking out.
If there are, then clean them up.
Once you have prepared the bone so that it is an appropriate size for your dog to eat, the next step is to think about whether to give these bones to your dog straight from the freezer or from the fridge.
Frozen vs unfrozen marrow bones
The safest way to present a marrow bone to your dog is straight from the freezer.
Seems a bit strange that one, doesn’t it?
But, believe it or not, marrow bones that are frozen are softer than bones that have been stored in the fridge or at room temperature.
And because frozen bones are less hard, they are safer for your dog to handle because there is less chance that they will break a tooth when they are gnawing and chewing on it.
Now that’s decided, it is time to think about the shelf life of marrow bones. Do they go bad or will they last forever?!
Do dog marrow bones go bad?
Once defrosted, marrow bones like any other bones, seem to have two “best before” dates.
The first date is the time at which you think that the bone has started to smell bad and the second one is the time that your dog starts to back away from it!
If the bone is normally gone within a day then this really isn’t an issue.
However if a marrow bone lasts more than a day, then you have a decision to make: throw it away or store it.
The rights and wrongs of this decision are personal to you.
If you have a separate fridge or freezer for your dog food, storing it is easier than if you haven’t.
Also, will your dog be interested in the bone again? If they won’t, then throwing it in the trash is the best idea.
Another factor to bear in mind is how your dog’s stomach will cope with gnawing on an “older” bone.
If your dog has a sensitive stomach you might want to get rid of the bone within a day.
But if your dog doesn’t suffer from gnawing on “aged” bones, then it just depends on how tolerant you are of that rotting meat smell!
That ‘s the unsavoury section finished! In the next section, I want to look at marrow bone broth, which as I said earlier is the one and only time that you should think about cooking marrow bones before giving them to your dog.
How to prepare marrow bone broth
Never ever consider giving your dog a cooked bone, unless it has been partly dissolved in a fantastic broth!
Marrow bone broth is considered by many to be some to be a wonder drink- sort of like a protein shake but made out of marrow bones, apple cider vinegar and water.
And it could be as good for us owners as it is for our dogs.
I have written in much more detail about how and why you should make bone marrow broth for dogs and the vitamins and minerals which dissolve into the broth as a result of a very long simmering process are astounding.
Having discussed the one exception to the strict rule about cooked bones and dogs, I want to move onto talking about how dogs should never be left alone with bones.
Supervising bone chewing
Any bone that you give your dog, no matter how careful you have been in preparing it, should still come with a safety warning.
Bones can get stuck in dog’s throats, get stuck on their teeth, shards of a bone can get cut the lining of a dog’s stomach or block their intestines.
The list of potential dangers is as long as my arm.
The trouble is that for many dogs there is nothing that they like better than to chew on a bone, it is in their DNA.
And bone chewing provides dogs with many benefits and a really good idea that I have just read about is to provide your dog a bone when they are in stressful situations, such as thunderstorms or fireworks
But to be on the safe side, always be around when you give your dog a bone.
And what I don’t mean by this is that you should sit next to your dog on the sofa as they are chewing their bone.
When I give bones to my two golden retrievers, the first thing that they do is to find a private space somewhere- away from everyone else.
But I do mean that you should never give a dog a bone just as you are leaving the house to go to work.
Thinking specifically about marrow bones, don’t leave your dog with the bone for any longer than about an hour.
This should give them ample time to have licked out all of the marrow, cleaned their teeth by gnawing on the outside of the bone and provided them with some peace of mind by indulging in such an enjoyable activity.
And not enough time to have been gnawing so much that they break a tooth or two!
All of this leads me to the last section in this article about how to prepare marrow bones for dogs, which is making sure that you have a guaranteed way to get the bone away from your dog!
How to take a bone away from a dog
Because I’m suggesting that you limit the time that your dog spends with a bone, it means that you need to be able to take the bone away with the minimum of fuss.
Bones are like crack cocaine to most dogs and so getting that bone back might be difficult for some dogs and their owners.
My youngest golden retriever, Sylvie is the sweetest and gentlest of dogs that it is possible to imagine.
Until you give her a bone or some food.
The need to claim any of these possessions brings out the devil in her.
When she was younger, she was also very aggressive around balls or other toys but she now willingly gives those things up as she realises that they are part of a game.
On the odd occasion that I give her a marrow bone, the first thing that I do is to make sure that she is in a part of the house where she will not be disturbed.
Next, I make sure that I have something which she finds so irresistible that she will leave her bone for.
Because otherwise, trying to get the bone off her would be too traumatic for both her and me.
And if I can distract her by chasing a ball, it means that I can quickly retrieve the bone without there being any confrontation.
And the lack of confrontation is the most important aspect of it.
Once you have retrieved the bone, throw it away and make sure that your dog can’t get it back out of the bin!
How will you get the bone back off your dog?!
Hopefully in this article I have shown you that preparing marrow bones for dogs means a lot more than just making sure that the bone is the right size for your dog or that the bone itself hasn’t any sharp edges.
Marrow bones can be important occasional treats for our dogs but it is important that we don’t just throw our dog a bone that we have just bought from the meat market and then forget about it.
² Photo by Nicole Bratt on Flickr