Tender at the Bone

Well, Tender at the Bone is admittedly the title of a book about food (if you love food and good writing as much as I do, this is a fantastic book by food critic Ruth Reichl), but I borrowed the phrase to continue our discussion about dental health and chewing on bones. If you haven’t followed it yet, read the comments from my A Fully Functional Tooth? post, they add lots of meat to the conversation (sorry).

A few readers asked for more photos from Africa, so I thought I’d combine topics and send some more pictures of our time with the pack of African Wild Dogs.

Relevant to dental health, here’s a photo of the mouth of “Jones,” the 4 year old breeding male who was darted and radio collared when we were there watching. What I think is interesting is how good some teeth look (keeping in mind the comment made earlier reminding us that white, clean teeth are not necessarily healthy teeth) and how bad the 2 problem teeth are. The bright red area on the lower gum, by the way, was probably caused by either the act of predation that morning or from ingesting part of the kill, and was only temporary.

But, look at the lower canine and upper incisor. Ouch. I’ll have to ask Dr. McNutt how common it is to see a set of teeth like that, but I’d guess it’s not uncommon at all. There is a high rate of injury (and death) in African Wild Dogs, either from lions or from injuries received while taking down prey. What happened to these particular teeth? Who knows… could be from chewing on bones, or from strikes by horns of ungulates?

In case the photo above is a little bit more intimate than you want to get with a AWD, here’s a portrait showing off their huge, gorgeous, cartoon animal ears.

And here’s a photo of the pups just seconds after an adult had walked in and regurgitated for them. It all happened behind the bush, and was over, from start to finish, in about 4-5 seconds, but you can see one of the pups licking his lips, apparently having been one of the lucky ones and getting his share of the food.

Meanwhile, back at the farm: Will is back to chewing on his stuffed Kong in the morning, and I haven’t gone out to find just the right real bone to give to him and Lassie. Admittedly, although I have decided to let them eat carefully selected bones for a short time, I haven’t yet gone looking for them.

It was sweltering hot and humid last night (okay, all is relative: hot for here at this time of year). Mostly it was humid without a breath of fresh air. It’s a bit better today, and tomorrow it will be better still. Can’t wait for the nights to get cool again so I can snuggle under a blanket with Lassie on one side and Willie on the other!


  1. says

    I missed following your blog for a few months and am still catching up but will definitely read the post you mentioned.

    It’s already cooling down here in PA, and it’s still not cool enough for my big dog to think cuddling is a good option. He lays next to me until I fall asleep (even if he insists on sleeping in the floor) then returns to his bed until I start to stir in the morning.

    Love the pictures from Africa by the way!

  2. MJ says

    I know you aren’t in to raw, but you might look into raw chicken bones for them — get some chewing in, but also completely edible.

  3. says

    I might be misinformed, but I thought raw [and especially cooked] chicken bones were dangerous because of splintering issues, as well as the risk of lodging within the gastrointestinal tract (due to their size). I read an account several months ago where splintered bone fragments caused small perforations the small intestine of a dog (I’ll attempt to find the article, but it was found while searching for other material). If I remember correctly it lead to sepsis.

    I’d love to hear more about the subject of which bones are better and why, since opinions seem to be mixed.

  4. JJ says

    I also love the African pictures. Please post many more. I find it fascinating.

    re: real bones
    I’m of the opinion that it is like anything else in life. There are always risks and you simply have to weight the benefits against the risks and costs. How many years has Lassie been eating bones and been just fine? Do you deny a dog a pleasure that you think is significant and important because there is a chance that it might cause a non-life threatening problem? I’m not diminishing poor Willie’s tooth problems. I’m just saying, given the pleasure you have seen that Willie takes from the real bones, maybe the risk of a cracked tooth is worth it. Of course, if Willie’s tooth is weaker now that it has been cracked, I think you have a different situation compared to pre-cracked tooth times. (say that fast 10 times)

    For me, it is the same thing as the dog park question. There is no doubt in my mind that going to the dog park is risky. There is a chance Duke could get a disease or pick up parasites. He could be attacked and seriously injured or killed. Due to dealing with troubled dogs, Duke could suffer set backs emotionally. On the other hand, the real, every day benefits that are 100% guaranteed (not a risk that *might* happen) are huge. So, Duke goes to the dog park. I take precautions, and the responsibility that something might go wrong. That’s life. I’m not going to lock Duke up in the backyard and never let him out just because it is marginally safer.

    My point is: I agree that it is important to find out if the risk is even real. (Is it true that real bones cause cracked teeth? If so, how often? Under what conditions?) But just because a risk might exist, is not always a reason to stop the presses.

  5. Amy says

    I was able to observe 5 AWD’s at The Wilds Conversation park in Cumberland, Ohio. What a treat!

    It was mid-afternoon, so for the most part they were just hanging out in the shade; however, I did see some scent marking in action. The first dog (and lowest ranking member I think – physically the smallest and seemed rather young) urinated, then one-by-one each of the other dogs came over and unrinated overtop of the same spot. When you were in Africa did you observe any similar displays among the pack?

    I interpted this scent marking to be a social status ranking system, but I am by no means an expert. Any thoughts? Too bad I can’t figure out how to attach the picture of the dogs smelling the pee spot to this reply.

  6. MJ says

    The people who are do raw feed chicken as a starter food to get their dogs used to chewing and digesting bone. It is cooked bones that splinter. Not to say there is no risk to feeding raw bones.

  7. Faith says

    I have fed my dogs a raw diet in the past. They do not have problems digesting RAW chicken bones. As MJ says, it is cooked bones that splinter and can cause problems. The finer bones (breast, wing, back) are easy for them to chew up. The thigh/leg bones, since they are weight-bearing bones, tend to be more difficult to break so I would chop them into smaller pieces with my cleaver. I don’t feed my dogs cooked bones at all, even beef. I buy soup/marrow bones and let them chew on those. Do their teeth show wear? Absolutely they do, but I suspect that also comes with age. My old Dobermann, who made it to 13 years old, never had a professional teeth cleaning and my vet always commented at how good his teeth looked. He always got to chew on raw bones.

    I think it is just a balancing act of what will cause problems, and how to minimize damage. I’ve found that raw bones are softer, and therefore tend to cause less damage to teeth.

  8. says

    @ MJ & Faith

    Thanks for the reply. I thought it was cooked bones but wasn’t sure about raw. Is there a problem with lodging still? You mention that when you begin feeding a raw diet, you start with chicken to get the dogs used to chewing, etc., do you watch the dogs more closely while they adapt to this? I see what you are saying about the larger bones, which allow for chewing, what about wing bones or other small bones? Do you feed those as well?

    Sorry, curiosity is a professional hazard of mine!

  9. Sandy says

    My BC, Raji, now age 10, had a root canal at age 2 (also $1600.) He’s actually been doing well with it although it does tend to tarter more than the other teeth. The vet did suggest that I give him a titanium crown, but I ran out of money and I don’t think he really needs it anyway.
    He’s never liked bones. When he was a pup I never gave him them. When I tried, my older female, Dax, decided that I had really meant to give them to her, and she’d just walk over and take them. Now, I try to give them to him and he looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. He’ll sniff it and ignore it, or walk away.
    What’s his favorite thing to chew? A tennis ball. He’ll just hold it in his mouth and chomp on it, back and forth. Then when he’s really excited he’ll hold it down with his feet and tear the fuzz (gloppy, spitty fuzz) off it with his front teeth.
    Oh, yeah. Maybe you want to know why he required oral surgery and a root canal if I never gave him bones? Green Beans. He had a can of green beans. Emphasis on the word “can”.

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