SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 18, 2014

Vet Connection: Is it OK to give a dog a bone?

Vet Connection
Dr. Elizabeth Bradt

---- — We have all seen the cartoons and commercials depicting dogs burying bones and stashing them away for later. Unfortunately, most pet owners are completely unaware of the significant risks and problems that are associated with feeding dogs these treats. The situation has gotten so bad that even the FDA has warned consumers to avoid giving bones to their dogs.

Advocates of raw pet foods and other so-called “natural diets” claim that, given properly, bones are a great way to clean your pet’s teeth and provide an instinctive means of stress relief. Some even state that bones provide important nutrients and should be included in your pet’s daily routine.

So, is it OK to give a dog a bone?

Most veterinarians answer that question with a resounding “NO” for several reasons. One of the most common problems for a dog with regular access to bones is a fractured tooth.

Veterinarians will see unusual patterns of enamel wear, cracks in the teeth and even painful fractures of the canine teeth or large molars and premolars. Even if the fracture doesn’t look serious, the connection of the inside of the tooth with the outside environment can lead to abscesses that show up on the muzzle or under the eye. These conditions will require a veterinary dentist to extract the affected tooth or perform a root canal. Either of these procedures will also cause pain to the owner’s wallet, as root canals can start at between $700 and $1,000, and even extractions are rarely less than $500.

The American Veterinary Dental College’s website (avdc.org) states that dried natural bones are “too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass.”

Another common problem seen with dogs that chew on bones is an obstruction of the digestive tract. These treats can become lodged in the esophagus, the stomach or anywhere along the intestines. Blockages in any of these areas will require emergency surgery and several days of hospitalization. A typical exploratory surgery to remove an obstruction caused by a bone or bone fragments can exceed $2,000 or $3,000. Many times, the pet can be saved if the obstruction is caught early enough. Each day that passes while the pet is obstructed and unattended to, the risks of surgery increase and the chances for a positive outcome decline. That is why veterinarians prefer to see the dog that has been vomiting for one day rather than two or three days or longer.

Cooked bones are especially dangerous, as they have the potential to splinter. The shards can poke through the digestive tract or even lacerate other delicate structures, such as the tongue. A pet who experiences a perforation of the stomach or the intestine may be at risk for a deadly case of peritonitis and an expensive trip to the animal ER.

Beyond these very common dangers, veterinarians will also see pets with bones lodged in their mouth, marrow bone rings encircling the lower jaw or even serious constipation caused by bone fragments. These conditions are not only painful, but just imagine how scary it would be to have a bone fragment lodged in the roof of your mouth.

Proponents of giving bones to dogs downplay these risks, citing the importance of matching the right type of bone to the dog. They state that uncooked bones are much safer, decrease the risk of obstruction and provide more nutrients.

However, veterinarians routinely see the problems listed above with all types of bones. It doesn’t matter if it is a large beef cattle femur or a poultry wishbone; the risks are still there.

With respect to the nutritional argument, bones are composed of minerals that are commonly found in many other foods. Dogs also can’t properly digest uncooked collagen, the main protein component of bones. Your pet can get all the beneficial nutrients in other foods with a much lower chance of problems.

So, before you decide to follow the dubious information provided by these so called “experts,” spend some time talking with your veterinarian about these potential hazards. They have seen the bad cases and can fully explain the very serious risks.

Many safer alternatives to bones exist for dogs, and your veterinary team can help you find the right match for your pet. It’s important that owners always supervise their dogs when giving them any chew item, especially one they have never had before.

Dr. Elizabeth Bradt is a 1986 graduate of Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and the owner of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital in Salem. Email your pet questions to docliz@creaturehealth.com. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”