After yet another Dog Vs Bone – resulting in sick dog – incident in the practice this morning, I feel obliged to write a few words about the feeding of bones. Now, before I start, it’s worth acknowledging that there are a lot of dogs being fed bones and relatively speaking, few of them get sick.
But that doesn’t mean you should be feeding bones willy-nilly without thinking about the potential problems. Nor should you feed them in the belief that they have some magical health benefits that will keep your pet in tip top shape.
What Bones Probably Won’t Do
There are lots of reasons why people believe bones are good for their pet’s health. Here are the common ones.
- They keep teeth clean. This is by far the biggest ‘bone myth’ I’ve heard. I get tired of explaining that “Yes, it is perfectly possible for your pet’s teeth to be rotten because chewing bones doesn’t clean teeth.” In fact, many animals suffer fractured crowns when they chew bones that are way too hard for the enamel of the tooth to withstand.
- They reduce skin allergies. Fans of the raw, meaty bones diet suggest that you’ll see fewer allergies when you keep away from dry foods and feed bones instead. Given that most skin allergies are environmental (fleas, pollens or grasses) in origin this seems far fetched and certainly not borne out in my consult room. Personally I haven’t seen any difference in the numbers of allergy cases seen in pets fed dry, wet or raw foods.
- They help with digestion. Given the number of cases where dogs and cats fed cooked bones suffer sickness, diarrhoea and constipation, I’d say this certainly isn’t true. (I’ve performed more enemas in the past 10 months since arriving in Sydney than in practically the rest of my career.)
What Bones May Well Do
Feeding bones to your pet carrys the following risks:
- Raw bones are covered in bacteria and are frequently buried in the garden and left to rot for a few days – even weeks before being dug up and consumed. A sure way to pick up gastroenteritis.
- Many animal bones are harder than tooth enamel so cause fractures and exposure of the vital pulp of the teeth. This often results in an extremely painful tooth abscess.
- Bones (again these tend to be cooked bones) can get lodged in several places in an animal’s gut. I’ve had to remove them from the roof of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. In short they have the potential to cause problems in every part of your pet’s gut. And although extremely rare, these can be life threatening problems that require surgery to correct.
There is one undeniable plus point to feeding bones, the relief of boredom. Chewing on a bone gives cats and dogs something to do. They can easily whittle away a few hours each week chewing on a bone which keeps them mentally stimulated and less likely to chew on other, less desireable objects in your home – like the sofa!
Bones – Some final thoughts
I’m not as paranoid or ‘anti-bone’ as I once would have been in the UK. The incidence of really serious problems like intestinal obstruction/perforation is clearly a lot lower than we collectively imagine in Britain. (That said, how many animals have to endure the suffering that goes with a perforated bowel before it’s not OK?)
Though personally I don’t recommend it, (and I do accept that there’s not even agreement on this point beween the vets in our practice) if you must feed your pet bones then at least stick to a few simple rules to reduce the chance of problems.
1. Feed fresh and raw bones. Don’t leave then lying around or buried for days rotting or your pet runs the risk of an upset tummy.
2. Make sure the bone isn’t too big or small for your pet.
3. Large knuckle bones should be avoided as dogs with powerful jaws often break teeth on these bones. (labradors, staffies).
4. Never feed cooked bones.
And a final thought, remember that feeding a bone is not a replacement for brushing your pet’s teeth.
That’s my opinion, what do you think? Leave a comment.