Bones as Treats

Posted on by David Dilmore, DVM

As a veterinarian, every time I hear a pet owner talk about giving bones to their dogs as treats, I cringe. Many owners feel that their pet absolutely needs the knuckle bone or ham bone to chew on. I always think of the times that I have seen bones cause problems in dogs that require surgery or other emergency treatment. In my 13 years as a veterinarian, I have seen more pets come to see me from chewing bones than any other treat or toy combined.

The most common issue that I have seen with bones has been injury to the mouth or teeth. Bones are very hard and tend to splinter when chewed. When they splinter, they can become very sharp and cause injury to the gums, tongue and cheek. In one case, a bone fragment got stuck in the cheek and was so deep that I ended up having to cut from the outside to remove the fragment. The other main injury that I have seen is broken teeth. The way that some dogs chew on bones causes fractures to the carnassial and or canine teeth. The carnassials are the large teeth near the back of the mouth, and the canines are the large teeth in the front of the mouth. When this occurs, it causes pain and discomfort to the pet. If left untreated, it can lead to infections in the mouth. The only treatment for fractured teeth is either a root canal or extraction. Both of these treatments require general anesthesia and are expensive.

The other big concern is that the dog will ingest the bone. Again, as they chew the bone it tends to splinter and the splinters can be very sharp. These splinters can cause irritation to the intestinal tract if they are swallowed and can even perforate the GI tract, which can be life threatening. In some cases, I’ve seen dogs swallow large pieces of the bone or even swallow some bones whole. When large pieces are swallowed, it can lead to a blockage of the intestinal system. This can also be life threatening. When the pet has a GI blockage or the bone fragments have penetrated the GI tract, the only treatment is emergency surgery.

There are safer alternatives to bones that your pet can chew on. The chew treat that I use for my own pet and highly recommend are Greenies. Greenies are designed to be chewed and swallowed. The main concern with any treat that is designed to be chewed is to make sure that your pet actually does chew it and not swallow it whole.

The toys that I use and recommend are the hard rubber variety such as Kongs. These toys are designed to stand up to the constant chewing and can take a lot of abuse. A stuffed toy lasts about 15 minutes in my house. The hard rubber toys that my dog prefers can last years. With any toy, make sure that it is large enough that your pet cannot swallow it whole. Also, if the toy becomes damaged, make sure to take it away from your pet so that they cannot swallow any pieces of the toy.

About David Dilmore, DVM

David Dilmore graduated from Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. Dr Dilmore joined Banfield in 2004. He and his wife Heather have one dog, a 14 year old Australian Shepard named Gus. View all posts by David Dilmore, DVM →

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