You can knick knack paddywhack, but if you give a dog a bone, you might find yourself rolling off to the emergency clinic instead of following the old man home. Though you may think that a dog and a bone go hand in hand, it’s not always a safe idea.

I am often asked about the safety of giving bones to dogs, as we all know that dogs love to chew on, hide and play with bones of all sorts. Whether it’s a leftover rib, ham bone or a leg from your Thanksgiving turkey, my answer is always the same – cooked animal bones are not safe for your dog!

Bones can cause a variety of medical emergencies including:

Broken teeth: This is very common. Dogs love chewing on bones, but some bones are so hard that they often cause fractures of the molars and, more commonly, premolars. Broken teeth, as you can imagine, are very painful and will require dental surgery or extraction to resolve.

Oral injuries: Broken bone bits are sharp and often cause lacerations or punctures to the mouth or tongue. Depending on the severity, surgery may be required to repair the damage, but whatever the case, count on these injuries to be quite messy. The mouth is home to many blood vessels, so injuries here tend to bleed profusely.

Cut sections of long bones meant for chewing can become lodged around your dog’s lower jaw, settling in behind the lower canine teeth. Believe it or not, I’ve seen this happen more than once. For one unfortunate patient, it was an even worse because one of his front limbs had been amputated. Every time he tried to paw at his mouth to get the bone loose, he would fall right on his face. All of the cases that I have seen have required anesthesia to free the pet of the lodged bone.

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Esophageal obstruction: Bones that are hastily scarfed down can get lodged in the esophagus and are unable to move down into the stomach. Esophageal obstructions will not allow other food or liquid to pass into the stomach. This problem will likely need endoscopic removal and often require referral to a larger veterinary center.

Gastrointestinal obstructions: Just as larger bones can get stuck in the esophagus, they can also get stuck in the stomach or intestines. When a foreign body is stuck in the stomach, you may not know for quite some time, but if it is lodged in the intestines, the consequences can be life-threatening. Endoscopic retrieval of the bone from the stomach or invasive abdominal surgery will be needed if either of these things occur.

Intestinal perforations: Remember those sharp bone edges that I said could cause mouth injuries? They can also perforate through the intestines, causing potentially fatal infection in the abdomen. While having Petplan pet insurance can help with the medical costs for emergency surgery if these accidents occur, you're better off not taking the risk in the first place.

I know that you don’t want your pet to experience any of these medical problems, so keep bones safely out of her reach, no matter how much she begs. Don’t forget about discarded bones in the trash – make sure your trash can is “paw-proof.” Do give your dog something to chew on, though. Play it safe and offer a Veterinary Oral Health Council-accepted product, or ask your veterinarian for other suggestions the next time you visit.

Mar 21, 2012
Pet Health

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