The US Food and Drug Administration has just released a consumer health advisory stating that bones are unsafe for dogs. Dr. Carmela Stamper of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine explains that, no matter how big or small the dog or the bone, they are generally considered unsafe for dogs.
Most pet owners are aware that chicken bones can splinter and cause trouble when chewed, but it’s still a common belief that large bones are safe. Cooked or raw, ham bones, steak bones, and other large bones can pose a bevy of risks to your dog. The consumer advisory lists these ten:
- Broken teeth – extremely common in dogs fed bones. Dental fractures are not only painful, but they put the teeth at risk for tooth root abscesses and loss. The large upper fourth premolar—one of the dog’s most important cutting and chewing teeth—is the most likely victim.
- Mouth and tongue injuries – painful, bloody, and terribly messy around the house.
- Oral foreign bodies – bones can get stuck around or between teeth and jaws. I can’t tell you how many cases of marrow bones getting looped around the lower canine teeth and chin I saw when I was in emergency practice. At best, they’re very frightening for both dog and owner. At worst, they can cause significant trauma. Even a an simple case will easily cost a couple hundred dollars to resolve after the dog is sedated, the bone is cut and removed, and any wounds are treated!
- Esophageal foreign bodies – bones stuck in the tube connecting the mouth and stomach are very dangerous. Endoscopy or surgery are typically needed to remove them, and they can result in a number of complications.
- Choking – enough said!
- Stomach foreign bodies – if the bone is swallowed completely and can’t leave the stomach, surgery or endoscopy may be necessary to remove it.
- Intestinal foreign bodies – just one more place a bone or piece of bone can get stuck–and another reason to roll a dog into surgery!
- Constipation – constipation is pretty rare in general, but this is the most common culprit. Even tiny pieces of bone hurt as they pass through the intestines. When large amounts of crushed bone are involved, they often become very dry (like nearly-cured concrete!) and difficult to pass without veterinary intervention. NEVER give human enemas to pets, particularly cats and small dogs. They contain sodium phosphate, which can cause severe metabolic disturbances and even death!
- Rectal bleeding – messy and potentially dangerous.
- Peritonitis – a life-threatening infection that results when the digestive tract is perforated and contents leak into the body.
So, what do we recommend instead of bones? For the health of your dogs’ teeth, they should only be allowed to chew objects that you can make a dent in with your thumbnail. Another good test is to take your pet’s chew toy and ask your spouse to whack you on the knee with it; if it hurts, it’s probably hard enough to fracture your dog’s teeth, too! We are huge fans of Kong toys and similar durable rubber chews, but the chewing habits of individual dogs should be used to choose appropriate chew toys. In any case, chew toys that dogs can destroy should only be offered under direct supervision to avoid accidental swallowing of bits and pieces that can cause problems of their own.