Many of us know we should never feed a dog chicken bones. We have also likely heard that store-bought bones cause fractured teeth, constipation, and bowel obstructions. Some of us have heard that feeding bones to dogs is just a bad idea in general. These warnings are given without specifying which bones are the greatest offenders. We agree that feeding some types of bones can be problematic. But we feed our dogs raw meaty bones and advise most of our members to do the same.
The crushing action of chewing bone and cartilage cleans and massages a dog’s teeth and gums, reducing the build up of tartar. This has been a known benefit for decades, and was highlighted in 1923 (Gray) that most dental problems in dogs are a result of eating soft domestic foods, rather than natural diets of rabbits and other prey, bones and all. The benefits are also extensively covered by Londsdale (1992, 2001), who cited Dr. Coles, President of the Australian Veterinary Dentist Society, in 1997 saying “…chewing bones twice a week helps to prevent dental disease…”
Few today need convincing of the importance of healthy teeth and gums for Pets, same as humans. Still, without knowing which bones are safe, it may be damaging more than helping.
Chewing the Wrong Bones Could Be Harming Your Pet
First, size and quantity are important. How many, and how large are the bones you’re giving Fido? Dogs have only a small reservoir of stomach acid reserved for digesting their next meal. So, for instance, if a dog is given a bucket of chicken wings it will no doubt devour them all, distending the stomach and diluting the acids. Meaning not all of the chicken wing will be broken down properly. This increases the likelihood of undigested bone material passing through to the intestines, causing an impaction.
Second, we should be aware of the breed and personality of the dog receiving the bone. A dog’s anatomy gives them wide, hardened oesophagi enabling the eating of bones, but vigilance still needs to be exercised. Pets that consume a processed diet most of their lives will have a less keratinised, or softer oesophagus, making it harder to handle bones well. Flat-faced breeds are also expected to have a harder time breaking down most bones. Then there are greedy dogs who may gulp their bones without much chewing at all. Ones who exhibit that behavior should be given large raw beef bones, so only chewing, not gulping, is possible. A good rule of thumb to follow is: bigger the dog, bigger the bone.
But the most important key to safely indulging your Pet, is choosing bones that are raw and fresh. Not the cooked, heat dried or desiccated ones you buy in Pet shops. Cooked bones are leached of collagen, fat and minerals. Also, once cooked or processed, a flexible bone in fresh form becomes a very hard, brittle mass that splinters when chewed. Tests show these shards do not properly digest and are likely to pass into the intestines, leading to an impaction.
It’s those left-over lamb bones from Sunday dinner cracking teeth, leaving undigested splinters, and are most often the type of bone that vets see doing the most damage!
A Real World Example
Our most recent case of undigested bone requiring surgery, involved bits of hooves found in the dog’s digestive tract. The photo shows what was pulled from a Newfoundland who recently came to us for a spay. She did not exhibit any signs or symptoms of a problem at the time of surgery, but after the spay, a necessary gastropexy was performed, which found several pieces of bone in the stomach. Our Doctor felt they would not pass on their own, and needed to be removed before further blockage occured. Luckily, the Doctor recovered all rogue shards, and our Newfoundland friend will recover just fine.
It is not guaranteed to go so well for all, so please stay vigilant when feeding bones to your Pet.
To prevent issues with your own Pet, be sure to give fresh, uncooked meaty bones, and never leave your dog unattended while chewing. Be sure to monitor the size of the pieces. If they become small enough to swallow, take them away to avoid any potential health hazards.
If you suspect something is wrong with your Pet, call Hannah’s 24 hour hotline or schedule an appointment immediately.