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Should I feed my dog bones?
By Dr. Francesca Matthews
Ask any of the veterinarians at the Veterinary Centre and they will tell you that they have treated many cases that have been presented as a direct result of eating bones.
I remember arriving at work one morning to find owners rushing in with a dead dog. It had choked to death over the weekend and they wanted me to look at it to determine if the bone could have been removed if they had reached us in time. The owners had fed the dog a raw leg bone but, rather than the whole bone it was a chunk about 10-15cm in length. The poor dog had decided to swallow it and it had lodged firmly in the back of the throat. Even if we had been present at the time the dog choked, it would have been highly unlikely we could have saved it. Heimlich manoeuvres or even pliers would have failed to remove this firmly lodged bone.
Cases of constipation, oesophagel (food pipe) or bowel performation and blockage, cases of bones stuck in various locations in the mouth are much more common but these all involve significant surgery and are not always with guaranteed outcomes.
Why do people feed bones?
There is a belief that bones have a nutritive value. They do provide sources of calcium and phosphorus for example, however the fact is that these can be sourced from other components of the diet which are less risky. Some research I did regarding nutritional value in bones found that the reason that people who are rehabilitating wolves for the wild feed raw bones is mostly to improve jaw strength in preparation for returning to the wild not for nutritive value. So if wolves don't need them, our domestic pets don't either. We also have to remember that our domestic dog is not a wolf and they have evolved significantly away from that over the years of breeding and manipulation by man.
Bones are also fed because people believe that it is part of normal dog behaviour to chew. Dogs certainly seem to enjoy chewing on bones and they have the benefit of reducing frustration or bordem. They do chew a lot in the first year when they are teething too. However, ready alternatives are available for chewing that can have this function but don't carry the same risks.
Another reason is that they keep the dogs teeth clean. While they can certainly help with this there are definite alternatives to risky bones that can assist with teeth maintenance.
What are the problems that bones cause?
Examples of alternatives to feeding bones
Which combination of these is most suitable for your dog, depends a lot on your dog, its breed/size and their situation. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best options for them.
Examples for chewing and dental care - consult your veterinarian to decide the best options for your cat or dog
Still want to feed bones?
If the answer is yes, then the following may help reduce the risks that they pose, but remember it will never fully remove the risk and you need to be prepared for the consequences if you decide to continue feeding bones.
*note that these bones should have been frozen for at least 72 hours prior to use and then thawed thoroughly. This is to reduce the risk of tapeworm.
Remember - following these rules above will not prevent all problems, but will significantly reduce your chances of a problem.
Always consult your veterinarian about your dog (or any other pets) health and nutrition requirements.