Veterinarians, Vet Nurses and other vet practice staff are often asked the important question – Should I feed my dog bones? So the team at Vet24 have decided to share some recent cases illustrating the risks involved in feeding bones. Also we interviewed one of our own, qualified veterinarians to answer some of the common boney questions!
Skye is a female, 7 year old, Staffordshire Terrier. She presented to Vet24 after two days of retching and trying to vomit. Skye had received conservative treatment for what appeared to be a gastrointestinal upset but continued to retch and vomit. Skye continued to deteriorate and was showing evidence of significant pain.
Skye received further diagnostics and (under general anaesthetic) x-rays and an endoscopy was performed to examine the oesophagus. A bone was found lodged in the distal oesophagus. Forceps were used to attempt to remove the bone (retrieve from the mouth). However, it was lodged securely and had to be pushed down into the stomach, in order to clear Skye’s oesophagus.
The bone caused some damage to the oesophagus. A feeding tube was placed into Skye’s stomach through her nose to ensure she got all the nutrients required for recovery, together with intravenous fluids. At this time Skye’s prognosis was extremely guarded.
Quite the little fighter, she continued to gain strength. After seven days in hospital Skye went home on a soft moist diet. We look forward to following up with her and hope she makes a full recovery.
Frequently Asked Questions about Bones…Answered by a qualified Vet24 veterinarian…
Should I feed my dog bones? Am I supposed to?
There is considerable conjecture as to whether bones should be given to dogs. Many people give their dogs bones for enrichment and the prevention/treatment of dental disease1. However, unfortunately bones aren’t without possible complications in our furry friends. It is not uncommon for us here at Vet24 to be presented with dogs that have accidently ingested bones causing traumatic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) or even obstruction. Some bones when purchased also have small amounts of meat and fat components still attached, as well as containing very fatty marrow tissue.
These components can also contribute to other acute gastrointestinal disorder such as gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, and colitis. Animals that chew excessively on bones are also prone to developing worn or fractured teeth due to the hard nature of the bones.
What sort of bones are best?
The best kind of bones are those that are:
- Large: The bone should also be so big that your dog is unable to ingest it (such as Kangaroo or Beef thigh bones).
- Uncooked: Cooked bones have a far greater risk of splinter or fracture into smaller sharp portions which, when chewed, can cause trauma to the oral cavity or be ingested.
- Free of meat/fat: If fat or meat remains on the bone it can cause considerable complications. The material could become rancid and harbour bacteria which could cause gastroenteritis. The fatty material when ingested could also contribute to conditions such as pancreatitis which can require significant veterinarian intervention.
How often should I feed bones?
There is no clear, specific frequency with which bones should be administered. When using them as a means of dental hygiene, as with other methods (brushing teeth) or products (dental chews or specific biscuits) an increased frequency has been proven to reduce the build up of dental disease2.
What is the safest way to feed bones?
Its important to stress that bones will always potentially cause problems in dogs. Its important that owners select the best types of bones (See above) to reduce these risks.Another way to make feeding bones safer is to remove them from your animal when unsupervised, reducing the risk of possible ingestion.
Is there a safer alternative to bones?
- There are many alternatives to bones which are not only safe for animals, but also proven to be as effective as bones as preventing dental disease3.
- Regular cleaning of your dog’s teeth with a toothbrush is known to be the most effective means of treating and preventing the development of dental disease2. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to clean our dogs teeth with a tooth brush
- The use of dental chews is known to help reduce the build of plaque and calculus3 without many of the potential complications about bones.
How will I know if my dog is choking on a bone?
This really depends on where the bone gets stuck. When bones are lodged in the oral cavity or the back of the throat they often demonstrate very severe signs of coughing, gagging, and pawing at the mouth.
If a bone gets lodged further down the gastrointestinal tract it can result in a blockage, obstructing the flow of ingesta which can result in clinical signs such as regurgitation, vomiting and abdominal pain.
What should I do if my dog is choking on a bone?If you are ever concerned that your dog is choking on a bone it is imperative to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Immediate and reasonable efforts to try and remove the bone is strongly encourage however owner safety needs to always be considered. An individuals’ ability to remove the bone is greatly dependent on its location, with those bones lodged in the mouth being most amenable to removal be hand.
- Although your dog may never bite, the stress of the sense of choking and the requirement to often place your hands into their mouth can occasionally result in unintentional bites.
- It is essential that a dog’s breathing is not impeded or obstructed by the bone. If this is the case every effort should be made to remove the bone. Whether this occurs at a veterinarian clinic or by owners prior to arrival is very much a case by case scenario.
- Marx FR., Machado GS., Pezzali PG et al. Raw beef bones as chewing items to reduce dental calculus in Beagle dogs. Australian Veterinary Journal 2016; 94 (1-2): 18-23.
- Harvey C., Serfilippi L., Barnvos D. Effect of Frequency of Brushing Teeth on Plaque and Calculus Accumulation, and Gingivitis in Dogs. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry 2015; 32 (1):16-21
- Quest DW. Oral Health Benefits of a Daily Dental Chew in Dogs. Journal Of Veterinary Dentistry 2013; 30 (20: 84-7.
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