When I was growing up, we always gave our dogs bones. I thought it was OK. I recently read that bones are not safe. What’s the real story about bones and dogs?
It is a myth that dogs need to chew bones. While dogs want to chew, and most would love to chew on bones, bones are dangerous and they can cause serious injuries. Here are the top reasons that bones are bad for dogs (with thanks to the U.S. Food Drug Administration www.fda.gov/consumer):
Bones are very hard and can be brittle, making it easy for a dog to break one of its large chewing teeth. A broken tooth is painful, and whether the tooth is extracted or saved with a root canal, this is an expensive outcome.
Injuries to the mouth and tongue
The broken edges of bones can be razor sharp. Likewise, dogs can break off sharp shards that can pierce the tongue, the cheek, or the soft palate on the roof of the mouth.
Bones can get looped around the lower jaw
Round bones can get stuck around the lower jaw behind the lower canine teeth. This is certainly a very scary experience for the dog, and most dogs need to be sedated or anaesthetized in order to cut it off.
Dogs can choke
Pieces of bone can lodge in the esophagus on the way down to the stomach. Sharp shards can penetrate the soft tissues at the back of the throat or pierce the esophagus. It is also possible for a piece of bone to get into the trachea (windpipe), interfering with your dog’s ability to breathe. Choking is an emergency!
Bones can get stuck in the stomach
If the bone fragment is large enough, it may not be able to pass out of the stomach, requiring either abdominal surgery or endoscopy to remove it. If the piece of bone is sharp, it can penetrate the stomach wall causing the stomach contents to leak into the abdomen. The result is peritonitis - - an infection in the abdomen that can be fatal even if treated.
Bones can cause a blockage in either the small intestine or the colon
Bone fragments can become lodged in the small intestines, causing a blockage, and requiring surgery to remove them. They can penetrate the intestinal wall and cause peritonitis. Bone fragments may travel far enough down the GI tract to get to the large bowel/colon. Once there, they can collect and cause severe constipation. This is extremely painful for the dog as the bone fragments scrape the lining of the colon and rectum. Enemas and manipulation are generally required to evacuate the large bowel. The trauma to the colon may cause significant bleeding from the rectum.
Contamination with pathogens on raw bones
There are several significant pathogens with which raw meat and bones can be contaminated - - E. coli, Salmonella species, and Listeria. These are pathogens that may or may not make a dog sick, but that certainly pose a significant health risk to the humans in the household. Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals are the most vulnerable, and these organisms can be life-threatening. Is there anything safe that I can give my dog to chew? There are many great chewing products available for dogs. If you want to offer rawhide, choose one made from U.S. cattle hides, give the thickest hides you can find, and choose ones that are too large for your dog to swallow. No knots on the ends, please. The knots can be pulled off and swallowed, resulting in a trip to the veterinarian for surgery. There are also dental health chews that may be offered. Be sure to look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval. This seal assures you that the product has been evaluated for its ability to contribute to a dog’s oral health. Dogs were built to chew - - that’s a fact. Our job as pet parents is to provide them with chewing options that do not put them in jeopardy. Happy Chewing!