Dogs have been chewing on bones for thousands of years. This is what nature intended, right? Well maybe, but it’s an activity that is not without its risks.
As a veterinarian, I’ve seen the ill-effects of feeding dogs bones more times than I can count. The risks are significant enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even gotten involved by posting the following "10 reasons why it’s a bad idea to give your dog a bone" on their Consumer Updates website.
- Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
- Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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 bone from the stomach.
- Bone gets stuck in intestines. This will cause a blockage and it may be time for surgery.
- 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.
- Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
- 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 as peritonitis can kill your dog.
I look at feeding bones in the same way I do letting dogs run loose. Is it natural? Yes. Do dogs like it? Yes. Are there some potential benefits? Yes … until misfortune strikes. There are many ways to safely satisfy your dog’s desire to chew (e.g., toys made out of twisted rope fibers or dense rubber), to promote dental hygiene (e.g., daily tooth brushing or dental diets), and to provide your dog with the high-quality foods and balanced nutrition he needs to stay healthy.
Dr. Jennifer Coates