No BONES About It: Facts Behind Dogs & Bones
Updated: Sept 2023
Question: Is there any truth to the belief that dogs need to chew bones?
Answer: It may seem very hard for some to accept, but it is a myth that dogs need to chew bones! While dogs want to chew bones and just about anything else they can get into their mouths, bones (both raw and cooked) can be dangerous and can cause serious injuries.
You know that bones are bad news when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issues their top reasons why bones are not all they are cracked up to be!
Here are eight reasons for the hazards of giving a dog a bone! Raw or cooked - all bones should be a no-go in your home!
1. Contamination with pathogens on raw bones
Raw meat and bones can be contaminated with numerous pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella species, and Listeria. Depending on the dog's health status, these pathogens may or may not make a dog sick but pose a significant health risk to the humans in the household. Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised individuals are the most vulnerable, and these organisms can be life-threatening.
2. Dogs can choke
Pieces of bone can lodge in the esophagus along the way down to the stomach. Sharp bone shards can penetrate the soft tissues at the back of the throat or pierce the esophagus. It is also possible for a piece of bone to get into the trachea (windpipe), interfering with your dog's ability to breathe. Choking is an emergency!
3. Broken teeth
Bones are very hard and can be brittle, making it easy for a dog to break one of its large chewing teeth. A broken tooth is painful and must be treated. This is an expensive outcome whether the tooth is extracted or saved with a root canal.
4. Injuries to the mouth and tongue
The broken edges of bones can be razor sharp. Dogs can break off sharp shards of bone, which can pierce the tongue, the cheek, or the soft palate on the roof of the mouth.
5. Bones can get looped around the lower jaw
Round bones can get stuck around the lower jaw, behind the lower canine teeth. This is a terrifying experience for the dog, and most dogs need to be sedated or anesthetized to cut the bone off.
6. Injuries to the stomach and intestinal lining
Just as sharp bone fragments can damage the mouth, they can also damage the walls of the stomach and intestines. In some cases, bone fragments may completely penetrate the walls of the stomach or intestine, allowing food and intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen. This causes peritonitis - an abdominal infection that can be fatal, even if treated aggressively.
7. Bones can get stuck in the stomach
If the bone fragment is large, it may be unable to pass out of the stomach. However, bone fragments that remain trapped in the gut can lead to chronic vomiting and stomach irritation. These retained bone fragments must be removed with abdominal surgery or endoscopy.
8. Bones can cause a blockage in the small intestine or colon
Bone fragments can become lodged in the small intestines, causing a complete intestinal blockage. This is an emergency and requires surgical removal of the obstruction. If bone fragments travel down the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and reach the large bowel/colon, they may collect and cause constipation. This is painful for the dog, as the bone fragments scrape the lining of the colon and rectum and lead to significant trauma. Enemas and manipulation may be required to evacuate the large bowel.
"Yeah, but what about rawhide chews?"
You guessed it. The myths behind rawhide chews being good for our dogs beg the same scrutiny. There are two big reasons rawhide is bad for dogs: the chemical processing produces dangerous toxins and the risk of choking or intestinal blockage. Watch for a future blog post on this, but in the meantime, check out these healthy and chewy tips, below.
Virchew tips for keeping your chewing doggo happy and healthy!
Add a small amount of coconut oil or peanut butter to your dog's chew toy by covering the surface as yummy encouragement! (IMPORTANT: Buy pure peanut butter without xylitol: beware - another name for xylitol is "Birch Sugar" or other artificial sweeteners and sugar)
Depending on the level of chewing that your doggo engages in, you cannot go wrong with a strong rubber chew toy. Just make sure that the size of the toy is appropriate for your dog — the better toys come with a handy “size guide” on their packaging or on their website. Giving your dog a toy that's too small could lead to choking or intestinal obstructions, while too large could lead to excessive strain and damage to their jaw and chewing muscles. Over time, this can lead to arthritic-type issues.
Some rubber toys have hollowed-out areas where you can hide treats or stuff with your dog’s favourite food or pure peanut butter. This can provide some much-needed mental stimulation for your dog and extend the time they spend playing with their toy, especially if you freeze the food-stuffed toy before giving it to them.
If you're looking for a new chew toy for your pooch, we highly recommend West Paw chew toys. While you're on their site, check out their newest chew toy, the Toppl. West Paw is a very high quality company that uses only recycled, safe, BPA-free materials to create their toys and accessories. (No, we do not sell West Paw products at this time - we just love to recommend their incredible toys and products!)
We hope you learned some great, new facts about bones and dogs. We sure did when we dug deeper into the research. Happy, safe chewing!