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The Truth About Bones- Memphis Pet Health

Posted 01.28.15 by Kim Swift

As veterinarians we get asked this question all the time: is it safe for my dog to chew on bones? Google this topic and you will find endless debates, examples, and opinions on the matter. What you ultimately decide is best for your pet is up to you, but we are hoping to give you a veterinarian’s perspective to help you understand the potential risks involved with this.

A lot of people argue that dogs are supposed to chew on bones. Some say it’s because it links them back to their wild nature, others that it can help keep their teeth clean. A lot use it as a form of entertainment for their pet. While some of these arguments are valid, the adverse effects of bones are also true.

The Medical Risks of bones:

  • Fractured teeth
  • Choking
  • Intestinal obstruction or perforation
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea and rectal bleeding
  • Infections
  • Death

Sadly in the veterinary world we regularly see dogs that have gotten sick from eating a bone, presenting with various complaints of the above. Some it is very straightforward – medicine to help them feel better and we are fine. Others do better but only after a very costly emergency surgery. Sadly, others end up paying the ultimate cost for what was by all means a very good intent from the owner.

Why Does This Happen?

1. They are hard. What about cooked bones? Sadly they are no better. When a dog chews on a bone it puts a lot of pressure on the teeth. It is common for us to find a broken tooth simply from chewing on a bone. If the fracture is bad enough then the tooth has to be removed, otherwise it can allow infection to occur and can be very painful for your pet.

2. Splintering. Some bones are more notorious for doing this than others; however all bones are capable of splintering into small pieces. If a piece comes off that is very sharp it can cut their gums, irritate the lining of their GI tract, or even potentially poke through the intestines causing severe abdominal infection that can be very real and life-threatening.

3. Swallowing too big of a piece. This is probably the most common complication that we experience that warrants a visit to the veterinarian. The first thing to worry is if the bone gets stuck in the esophagus causing them to choke. This is always very serious and definitely scary. If the piece does make it to the stomach there is a chance that the stomach acids will digest it. If it doesn’t digest all the way, it will try to move its way through the intestines to go out. If the piece is too big it can get stuck in the intestines and cause a blockage. This is always considered an emergency and oftentimes means surgery for your veterinarian to retrieve the piece that is stuck.

dog bones

Signs of this include vomiting, lethargy, inappetance, and sometimes diarrhea. If your pet is expressing any of these signs, especially if they have recently eaten a bone, please get them to your veterinarian.

Types of Bones

There are hundreds of types of bones out there. Some are considered safer than others; however, we have seen almost all types cause an issue for dogs at one point or another. Therefore, whenever you are giving something to your dog be it a bone, a toy, etc. always supervise them with it before ever leaving them alone. If you notice they tend to be the kind to try to bite off a big piece and swallow it, they may not be allowed to have them at all. If they simply chew on it some and treat it responsibly they may be fine to have it. If you aren’t sure err on the side of caution and don’t leave them unsupervised. The size of the bone also doesn’t always indicate if it will be safe or not.

Bones known to cause problems: chicken bones, knuckle bones, bully stick, rib bones, ham bones, hock bones.

Bones that are typically okay: nylabones, pig ears, rawhides*

*A special note on rawhides: these tend to be very dog dependent. Most dogs do just fine with them. Again always supervise them with these particular treats. They can come off in big chunks which can cause a problem. If you have a dog that like to devour things, rawhides may not be a good option for them.

Have a Conversation with Your Veterinarian

Overall any bone can be dangerous. If you want one that is 100% safe, you will not find one. There is always a risk involved. If you don’t want to risk anything, it is better not to give you dogs bones altogether. Please call your veterinarian if you have any additional questions or wish to discuss this further. There are a lot of toys out there that can be used as an alternative form of entertainment for your pet that are much safer.


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