FDA to Fido: Dog Bones Not Safe

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Updated: 10/13 9:47 pm

April 27, 2010 -- Pet owners commonly give their dogs bones as a reward, but the FDA says in a new consumer warning that it’s not good for dogs to chew on bones because they can cause serious injury or even death.

“Some people think it’s safe to give dogs large bones, like those from a ham or a roast,” Carmela Stamper, DVM, a veterinarian in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, says in an FDA Consumer Update. “Bones are unsafe no matter what their size. Giving your dog a bone may make your pet a candidate for a trip to your veterinarian’s office later, possible emergency surgery, or even death.”

Stamper says pet owners should throw away bones from meals and make sure dogs can’t sniff out and find discarded bones. She suggests putting bones in the trash immediately, or out of the dog’s reach until you have a chance to dispose of them safely.

And when you’re walking Fido around the neighborhood, pay attention to what the dog sniffs and “steer him away from any objects lying in the grass.”

The new warning lists 10 reasons why it’s a bad idea to give bones to your dogs:

  1. Broken Teeth. Bones can break teeth, requiring expensive veterinary dentistry.
  2. Mouth or tongue injuries. Bones can break and become sharp, causing bloody, messy injuries also requiring treatment by a vet.
  3. Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog, and potentially costly because a veterinarian’s help is usually required.
  4. Bone gets stuck in esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. If a bone gets stuck here, your dog may gag and drool. Removal of the bone can be difficult, requiring endoscopic equipment or a complicated surgery. If the bone is not removed promptly, the esophagus may rupture and cause a life-threatening infection in the chest cavity.
  5. Bone gets stuck in windpipe. This happens if your dog accidentally inhales a small piece of bone and can be an emergency if your pet has trouble breathing. When this happens, the FDA says, get the dog to the vet immediately.
  6. Bone gets stuck in stomach. The bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. When this happens, invasive surgery or an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy may be required. An endoscopy is a procedure in which a veterinarian uses a long, flexible tube with a built-in camera to find the bone and then remove it with special grabbing tools.
  7. Bone gets stuck in intestines. This causes an intestinal blockage, requiring prompt surgery.
  8. Constipation due to bone fragments. Dogs may have a hard time passing bone fragments, because they are sharp and can scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move toward the outside world. This can cause severe pain and may require a trip to the vet.
  9. Severe bleeding from the rectum. When this happens, it’s not only messy but dangerous for your pet, which will need to see a veterinarian.
  10. Peritonitis. This is a hard-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen, caused by bone fragments poking holes in the dog’s stomach or intestines. Aggressive and expensive care is needed to manage this problem. Left untreated, peritonitis is fatal.

Stamper says dog owners should talk to their veterinarians about alternatives to dog bones. Many bone-like products are made with materials that are safe for dogs to chew, she says.

“Always supervise your dog with any chew product, especially one your dog hasn’t had before,” Stamper says. “And always, if your dog ‘just isn’t acting right,’ call your veterinarian right away.”

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