Feeding Bones to your Dog is Risky and Dangerous

Categories: Dog Health Care

Feeding Bones to your Dog is Risky and Dangerous

Charles Hurty, DVM

Grove Veterinary Clinic

At the clinic, I often get asked about the appropriateness of feeding bones to dogs.  For multiple reasons, I am strongly opposed to feeding bones to dogs.  The risks of injury and illness from feeding bones to dogs far outweigh any potential benefits.  Recently, I have seen several canine patients that have become quite sick after they were fed bones.  Illnesses and injuries related to bone chewing that I have seen recently range from broken teeth to intestinal obstructions; I felt it important to communicate how dangerous feeding bones to dogs can be.

Often, you will hear comments about feeding raw bones versus cooked bones.  I feel that both cooked and raw bones are dangerous for dogs.  Cooking bones makes them brittle and more likely to splinter, thus feeding cooked bones to your dog is especially risky and increases the chances of severe internal injury.  That being said, raw bones are also quite dangerous for our canine companions.

I have compiled a list of some of the potential problems associated with giving your dogs bones to chew:

Broken teeth.  Chewing on the bones can damage and fracture teeth.  These tooth fractures are very painful.  Veterinary dentistry is often required to remedy the situation; frequently the fractured tooth or teeth need to extracted.
Mouth or tongue injuries are common.  I recently had to repair a dog’s lacerated tongue and hard palate after he injured himself chewing on a rib bone.
Bones get stuck in the mouth between teeth.  This is a stressful and painful situation for dogs.  This situation can lead to damage of the teeth and gums and lead to nasty infections in the mouth.
Bones get looped around your dog’s lower jaw.  This can be extremely stressful and painful for your dog.  I have seen this multiple times; the typical bone type involved is a larger ham bone.  While chewing on the bone the dog slips his lower canine teeth through the center of the bone, thus trapping it behind the canines and around the lower jaw.  Heavy sedation and sometimes anesthesia is required to be able to remove the bone.
Bones can get trapped in the esophagus.  The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.  This can result in pain and distress for your dog.  Anesthesia and surgery are necessary to remedy this situation.  This is a life-threatening situation, as the esophagus is put at risk for puncture and rupture.
Bones can get stuck in the trachea, or the windpipe.  This can happen, if your dog accidently inhales a piece of bone.  This can result in an immediate respiratory emergency, as your dog will have difficulty breathing.
Bones can also get stuck in the stomach.  Your dog may become quite nauseated and dehydrated.  Surgery may be required to remove the bone.
Bones can get stuck in the intestinal tract, resulting in an obstruction.  This is a life-threatening situation that needs to be addressed immediately.  Your dog will be unable to eat and will vomit and regurgitate anything he tries to consume.   Hospitalization and surgery may be required to get your dog out of this crisis situation.
Bones can cause severe intestinal bleeding and inflammation.  If this type of injury occurs, dehydration can become quite severe.  This can quickly become a life-threatening situation.
Bone fragments can get stuck in the intestines and cause severe constipation.  This is very painful for your dog and treatment will be required.  These bone fragments can be sharp; they can scrape and irritate in the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum.
Bones can also penetrate or poke holes in the intestines and/or stomach.  This results in a severe abdominal infection or peritonitis.  This infection kills dogs; it is extremely difficult for a dog to survive this type of injury and infection.  This is an immediate emergency situation.

As you can see there are many significant reasons to avoid giving your dog bones to chew.  Chewing can be necessary and important activity for dogs; not only is chewing healthy for teeth and gums, but it can also be an enjoyable activity for dogs.  There are many safer alternatives and products available to satisfy a dog’s need for chewing.  I recommend that you discuss safe, non-bone options with your dog’s veterinarian to figure out which product is the most appropriate for your dog.