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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please title your email “Vet Connection.”