Clear Confusion on Dog Bone Eating

A time honored tradition is to “give a dog a bone.” More recently, there have been some stipulations as to what type of bone is healthy for your dog as some may even be lethal. 

“Some people think it’s safe to give dogs large bones, like those from a ham or a roast,” says Dr. Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Bones are unsafe no matter what their size. Giving your dog a bone may make your pet a candidate for a trip to your veterinarian’s office later, possible emergency surgery, or even death.”

This warning is familiar to some but how do we reconcile this with the traditional beliefs we have held to?

The missing link here is that there is a big distinction between a cooked bone and a raw bone. In the wild, a dog has no problem eating the entire animal, bones and all, as raw bones are very easily digested. The cooking process, however, makes bones more brittle, increasing the likelihood they might splinter and cause internal injury to your dog. Cooking can also remove the nutrition contained in bones.

In their April 20, 2010 Consumer Update, the FDA lists the following risks associated with giving your dog a cooked bone to chew:

  1. Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
  2. Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
  3. Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog and potentially costly to you, as it usually means a trip to see your veterinarian.
  4. Bone gets stuck in esophagus, the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. Your dog may gag, trying to bring the bone back up, and will need to see your veterinarian.
  5. Bone gets stuck in windpipe. This may happen if your dog accidentally inhales a small enough piece of bone. This is an emergency because your dog will have trouble breathing. Get your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
  6. Bone gets stuck in stomach. It went down just fine, but the bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. Depending on the bone’s size, your dog may need surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, a procedure in which your veterinarian uses a long tube with a built-in camera and grabbing tools to try to remove the stuck bone from the stomach.
  7. Bone gets stuck in intestines and causes a blockage. It may be time for surgery.
  8. Constipation due to bone fragments. Your dog may have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian. Bones also contain a lot of calcium, which is very firming to the stool.
  9. Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
  10. Peritonitis. This nasty, difficult-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian because peritonitis can kill your dog.

Those are some serious warnings! While this advice is accurate and should be headed concerning cooked bones, raw bones are another story. Raw bones can be both safe and healthy providing you follow some simple guidelines. Canines in their natural habitat eat prey, including the meat, bones and stomach contents. In fact, your pup has a biological requirement for the nutrients found in bone marrow and the bones themselves. Chewing raw bones is a great treat to dogs for the yummy taste, the mental stimulation, and also because all that gnawing is great exercise for the muscles of the jaw.

The health risks listed above for cooked bones can also apply to recreational raw bones if your dog has unrestricted, unsupervised access to them. The following are do’s and don’ts for feeding recreational raw bones:

  • Do supervise your dog closely while he’s working on a bone. That way you can react immediately if your pup happens to choke, or if you notice any blood on the bone or around your dog’s mouth from over aggressive gnawing. You’ll also know when your dog has chewed down to the hard brittle part of a knuckle bone, making splinters more likely. When the bone has been gnawed down in size throw it out. Do not allow your dog to chew it down to a small chunk he can swallow.
  • Do separate dogs in a multi-dog household before feeding bones. Dogs can get quite territorial about bones and some dogs will fight over them.
  • Do feed fresh raw bones in your dog’s crate, or on a towel or other surface you can clean, or outside as long as you can supervise him. Fresh raw bones become a gooey, greasy mess until your dog has gnawed them clean, so make sure to protect your flooring and furniture.
  • Don’t give them to a dog that has had restorative dental work/crowns.
  • Don’t give them to your dog if she has a predisposition to pancreatitis. Raw bone marrow is very rich and can cause diarrhea and a flare-up of pancreatitis. Instead, you can feed a “low fat” version by thawing the bone and scooping out the marrow to reduce the fat content.
  • Don’t give a recreational bone to a dog that’s likely to try to swallow it whole or bite it in two and eat it in huge chunks
  • Don’t feed small bones that can be swallowed whole or pose a choking risk, or bones that have been cut, such as a leg bone. Cut bones are more likely to splinter.
  • Don’t feed pork bones or rib bones. They’re more likely to splinter than other types of bones.

Do give your dog a bone following the guidelines above. Chewing is a very important part of maintaining healthy teeth, gums, and digestion is dogs and keeping the jaw muscle strong.

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