The Risks of Giving your Dog a Bone
Eating bones may cause problems in dogs of all sizes such as; constipation, esophageal choke, intestinal obstruction, bacterial infection, and broken teeth.
“Knick knack paddy whack give a dog a bone...”
“Knick knack paddy whack give a dog a bone...” So goes an English nursery rhyme form the late 1800’s or early 1900’s1. After one of my cousins, Steve, read and commented on my article on keeping your pet safe for the 4th of July, his comment and question was, “Good article Bill. Explain the bones thing. Aren't larger dogs adapted to eating the bones?"
Well Steve, larger dogs may in fact be able to handle chewing bones better than smaller dogs. Their intestinal tracts are larger and may therefore be able to pass lager pieces of bone and with stronger jaws they can chew bones into smaller sections. However, even if larger dogs are better able to chew and pass bones they are still not safe.
Eating bones may cause these general problems in dogs of all sizes; constipation, esophageal choke, intestinal obstruction, bacterial infection, and broken teeth.
We have had multiple patients treated out our clinic (both large and small dogs) for constipation because they had chewed rib bones to the point that it forms cement like substance in the colon. These incidents required radiographs for diagnosis. Treatment involves hospitalization, IV fluids and multiple enemas until the material passes.
No matter what size your dog is it can also choke on a chunk of bone. I treated a patient a few years ago with a ham bone that was logged in its esophagus at about the level of its heart. The bone was so tightly wedged that I was unable to remove it with our endoscope. I therefore pushed it into the stomach and surgically removed it via gastronomy.
Not long ago I received a frantic page from an owner who had given her dog a marrow bone while she was driving home from taking a “mental health day” on the beautiful Oregon coast. Somehow he had gotten the bone around his lower jaw just behind the canines. He was frantically pawing at his mouth obviously in great distress. I sedated him and was able to cut and remove the bone in sections with a wire saw. Needless to say, everyone’s mental health was strained before it was all over.
In addition to possibly causing your dog to choke, bones may cause an intestinal obstruction which usually requires surgery. Please see my article about intestinal foreign objects for a more in-depth coverage.
Bones may also be contaminated with Salmonella or other bacteria which is a potential health risk for both dogs and their human guardians. As recently as July 2, 2011 the Food and Drug Administration issued a recall of Merrick Pet Care “Beef Filet Squares for Dogs” pet treats that were contaminated with Salmonella2. These bacteria can cause anything from non-symptomatic disease to, diarrhea with or without blood, vomiting, and systemic infections that can result in death especially in old, young, or immune challenged patients.
Even though enamel is the hardest substance in the body, teeth are frequently broken by chewing on bones. These fractures cause pain and if the pulp cavity is open will serve as an entry point for bacteria to enter the blood stream and can seed other organs with bacteria.
The bottom line is that there is no completely safe bone or chew toy for that matter3. I do believe that manufactured chew toys are generally safer than natural bones and so I suggest avoiding natural bones altogether. Be a good canine parent by keeping track of your pets. Purchase appropriately sized chew toys of appropriate density, but be vigilant as you can never be too sure.