Bones: To Give... Or Not To Give?

Many of us think that it is natural for dogs to chew on bones, however, giving bones to our dogs can lead to an injury, an expensive veterinary visit, and possibly death. While many dogs enjoy bones and never experience any problem, it remains a fact that bones do pose a threat to our dogs. Bone chewing related injuries are common and will continue to be.

Here are some common complications that can occur with chewing bones, and why feeding them is discouraged by many veterinary professionals.

  1. Broken teeth: This may lead to the need for expensive veterinary dentistry.

  2. Mouth or tongue injuries: Tongue and mouth lacerations can be very bloody and they may require repair under anaesthesia.

  3. Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw: This is a common occurrence with marrow bones, it is both frightening and painful for your dog and it can also be potentially costly to you, as it requires anaesthesia to remove the bone from behind the lower canine teeth. Sometimes the bone can get lodged so tightly that it has to be cut away from the jaw. Having a bone looped around the jaw can cause problems with circulation to the skin in that area, severe swelling, and these poor puppies can suffer significant trauma to their mouth.

  4. Bone gets stuck in oesophagus: The oesophagus is the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach, and bones — especially rawhides — tend to get stuck in here. Chunks or large portions of rawhide are generally chewed off and become very sticky in the mouth and our pets generally just swallow those pieces whole; the problem is that these sticky chunks lodge in the esophagus and then continue to expand. This leads to another anaesthetic procedure, or worse yet, surgery.

  5. Bone gets stuck in the trachea: This is the “windpipe” or “breathing tube” and trouble happens if your dog accidentally inhales a small enough piece of bone. This is an emergency because your dog will have trouble breathing. Get your pet to the veterinarian immediately! An inhaled piece of bone can also cause pneumonia, which is another potentially complicated condition to treat.

  6. Bone gets stuck in stomach: Yes, there are cases where it “went down just fine,” but the bone or fragment of bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. Depending on the bone’s size, your dog may need surgery or endoscopy for removal.

  7. Bone gets stuck in intestines and causes a blockage: Yes, another surgery.

  8. Constipation due to bone fragmentsIt can be heart breaking to witness a pet straining to defecate for hours on end because a large bone fragment is stuck in their rectum and they cannot pass it out!  This may cause severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian. Sedation, enemas, and manual removal are first attempted, but your pet may need surgery to remove it if those measures are unsuccessful.

  9. Severe bleeding from the rectum: This can happen as a result of the sharp bone fragments scraping along the inside of the intestines and causing severe irritation to the lining of the intestines as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require hospitalisation to support them through this time. The bone shards also cause severe discomfort when they are defecated out in their bloody diarrhea.

  10. Peritonitis: This is the worst complication of all and is life-threatening. This is a bacterial infection of the abdomen that is caused when bone fragments “poke holes” through your dog’s stomach or intestines, leaking the intestine contents into the belly. This requires immediate exploratory surgery as peritonitis can kill your dog. Treating many of these types of complications can be very costly.

So, what CAN we give??

“What types of bones are okay to give to our dogs?” 2 perspectives: bones offered as treats, and bones offered as part of a home-cooked diet. From a risk vs. benefit standpoint, the short answer to the question in both perspectives is: “None.”

If you are thinking of bones from the 'treat' perspective, there are countless other chewing options out there that do not pose the risk. Talk with your veterinarian about alternatives to giving bones to your dog as there are many bone-like products made with materials that are safe for dogs to chew on.

Food dispensing chew treats including Kongs, Food Cubes, Tug-a-jug, and Busy Buddy can safely satisfy the chewing component, as well offer the reward of a digestible treat (like a “safe bone”). They are also great at offering mental stimulation especially if you rotate these different toys around. And as a reminder, if you do give a chew product to your dog, always supervise, especially if it’s one your dog hasn’t had before.

From the diet perspective (e.g. a BARF diet), it’s a matter of personal decision, weighing benefits against risks, and just as important, being both mentally and financially prepared for any complications that may arise.

Bottomline, always supervise your dog closely when he is working on a chew product.


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