Safety tips for feeding bones to dogs

Bones are a symbol and treat often associated with dogs. However, dog owners should be aware it is not always safe to feed bones to their dogs. Dr. Sonja Olson, an emergency veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, explains how to determine when it is safe to feed a bones to your dog:

Not all dogs and bones are created equal. Size, medical conditions and dental health of your dog are factors to consider when choosing whether or not to introduce bones to your dog’s diet. A dog’s stomach has the ability to digest small amounts of bone material, however, some dogs do not process bones as well as others. If you own a toy breed or a dog with a sensitive stomach, you may want to be cautious about feeding him a bone. The best way to determine whether or not to introduce bones to your dog is to ask your primary veterinarian for advice.

If you decide to feed a bone to your dog, you must choose a bone that will not splinter. Avoid small, fragile bones, such as chicken bones, which are likely to split when your dog chews on them, creating potential for internal perforation and trauma to the mouth. One of the most dangerous bones that you could feed your dog is a cooked chicken bone, as this particular bone becomes even more brittle during the cooking process. A thick, sturdy bone like a ham or rib bone is less likely to splinter, and therefore, a better choice for your dog.

It is also important to consider if a bone has been exposed to bacterial infection. You should avoid raw bones or bones with uncooked meat on them, as the risk of bacterial growth is higher.  If you suspect your bone might have been exposed to bacterial infection, boil or otherwise cook the bone before giving it to your dog.

If your dog eats an unsafe bone, call your emergency veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian will likely ask you questions about your dog and the bone he consumed, then determine whether or not a trip to the veterinary hospital is recommended. If your dog eats a bone, do NOT encourage vomiting. The violence of vomiting could cause the bone to choke your dog or pierce your dog’s tissue or organs. Also, do not give your dog any medication that could alter the stomach’s acidity level, such as Pepto Bismol. If you notice signs of trauma to your dog’s mouth, choking, gastrointestinal distress or the bone lodged over your dog’s jaw, your dog is experiencing a medical emergency and needs immediate veterinary care.

If you decide not to feed bones to your dog, there are alternative products that offer similar benefits. Nylabones and other chew toys made from compressed digestible materials are fun, tasty treats for your dog to gnaw on with less risk. With both bones and bone alternatives, it is important to know where they are in your home and throw them away immediately if they begin to splinter.

If you choose rawhide as an alternative to bones, choosing the right shape is key. Linear or rolled raw hide is less likely to harm your dog as opposed to “bone-shaped” rawhide treats with large knobs. Your dog could accidentally swallow the knobs, leading to digestive complications. Some dogs do not process rawhide well, so consult with your veterinarian before offering these products to your dog.

With all bones, it is important to be mindful that dental trauma is always a possibility. While stronger bones such as pig bones and nylabones are safer for your dogs than others, excessive chewing on any type of bone can cause jaw fractures and broken teeth. It is essential to limit your dog’s time spent chewing on bones and monitor his dental condition and strength.

In conclusion, choosing whether or not to feed a bone to your dog is a decision that should be made carefully after a discussion with a veterinary professional.

“No one knows your dog better than you and your primary veterinarian,” says Dr. Olson. “If you are unsure about feeding a bone to your dog, I recommend talking with your primary veterinarian.”