The Food and Drug Administration issue a warning about feeding bones to dogs recently. Just like feeding milk to cats (which also isn’t a very good idea), giving bones to dogs is a cultural cliché that we learn about as children. Bones are often the symbol for all things canine. Unfortunately, the idea that they are a fun and healthy part of the domestic dog’s diet is a myth. Eating bones can result in all sorts of medical problems, some minor and some serious. The FDA warning lists some of the more important:
- Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
- Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog and potentially costly to you, as it usually means a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets stuck in esophagus, the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. Your dog may gag, trying to bring the bone back up, and will need to see your veterinarian.
- Bone gets stuck in windpipe. This may happen 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 your veterinarian immediately!
- Bone gets stuck in stomach. It went down just fine, but the 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 upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, a procedure in which your veterinarian uses a long tube with a built-in camera and grabbing tools to try to remove the stuck bone from the stomach.
- Bone gets stuck in intestines and causes a blockage. It may be time for surgery.
- Constipation due to bone fragments. Your dog may have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian.
- Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
- Peritonitis. This nasty, difficult-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian because peritonitis can kill your dog.
Now, I can already hear the BARF and other raw diet and bone folks rattling off anecdotes about all the dogs they have fed bones who lived perfectly happy, healthy lives. That this proves nothing shouldn’t need saying, but of course it does. Plenty of people who smoke never get lung cancer, and some people who do get it never smoked. Does that mean smoking doesn’t increase your risk of getting cancer? Of course not. 90% of lung cancers are associated with smoking cigarettes, so the fact that lots of people get lucky doesn’t mean it’s a risk worth taking.
The same is true for dogs eating bones. Sure, many of them will get away with it. But why take the risk? As I’ve explained before, the idea that domestic dogs are functionally the same as wolves from the point of view of nutrition and should eat whatever wild wolves eat is a fairy tale (see HERE and HERE). There is no evidence that bones are a necessary part of a healthy diet for dogs, and in fact plenty of evidence they are not. Even true wild canine predators, such as wolves, live longer and are healthier when fed commercial diets in captivity. Sure, chewing bones can be a source of pleasure for dogs, but there are plenty of other materials safer for recreational chewing, and given the risks of feeding bones the potential benefits simply aren’t enough to justify the practice.