Many pet owners associate giving food to your pet with showing them love; however, many items that caregivers may want to feed their pets may cause more harm than good.
I have written several columns on an illness called Pancreatitis, a malady that is often triggered by feeding food items that are spicy and/or high in fat. Symptoms include decreased appetite, decreased energy, vomiting, and diarrhea. This problem commonly takes place during the holiday season. A bland diet, medications including antibiotics and acid blockers, and intravenous fluid are the cornerstones of therapy.
In today’s column I want to focus on a separate medical issue that also stems from caregivers feeding non-dog food items to their pets, namely bones.
Historically our society has woven dogs and bones together. Food bowls, toys, treats, canine clothing, etc often have the emblem or caricature of a bone. There is a children’s song that makes reference to “Give the dog a bone”; and there is even a contemporary commercial for insurance that shows a dog worried about protecting his bone. The toxic dog food scare that happened a few years ago, and a desire to feed more naturally/organically, has led to a trend of feeding raw food. As a result, it is understandable that pet owners might believe that dogs can easily consume bones; and that this practice might be “healthy” for them.
Unfortunately, the consumption of bones can be damaging to canines in several ways, and can even result in death. Bones are often brittle, and can form sharp points when they are chewed. This is especially true of chicken bones; and also true of cooked bones. The dagger-like edges can cause trauma wounds both in the mouth, and throughout the intestine. The grinding action of chewing on tough bones can cause dental wearing, and even fracturing of teeth.
Bones or fragments can also become lodged in different locations. This can happen in the roof of the mouth. In this area it is more of a nuisance than anything, and is typically easy to remove. Segments can get caught in the throat region, leading to choking. This can become life threatening very quickly, and trigger a multitude of additional problems. A scope or other instruments can be used to retrieve the pieces, typically under anesthesia. Bone fragments can also become trapped in different areas of the intestine. Here they can not only cause local puncture trauma; but can also lead to an obstruction and possible dying off of tissue due to hampering of the blood flow. Typically a surgical repair is needed to resolve this malady, and intestinal tissue may need to be removed.
Constipation is also a frequent consequence of bone consumption. This can be very painful. It is often treated with intravenous fluids, pain medication, lubricants, and other therapies. Sedation may be required to manually extract material from the intestine. If left untreated, constipation can also result in a digestive obstruction.
According to Dr. Kathy Allen, a veterinarian at our local emergency clinic, “issues related to the ingestion of bones are one of the most common problems that she treats at the emergency clinic during the holiday season. Not only are these problems painful for the dog; but treatment is often expensive. All of this can be avoided if owners just stop feeding bones to their pets. Animals are not walking garbage disposals.”
There are several steps that you can take to protect your dog. Don’t feed chicken bones to your canine companion. Don’t feed cooked bones to your buddy. Large beef bones can lead to wearing or fracturing of teeth because of how tough they are. Marrow rich bones, although advocated by many, can still result in dental issues and blockages, as can any raw bone. These products can also be sources of pathogens such as Salmonella. I don’t recommend feeding real bones in any form.
Manufactured and synthetic products may also not necessarily be safe. Rawhides can cause intestinal blockages, especially when large whole pieces are swallowed. They can also trigger digestive upset in some dogs. The same is true for Pig Ears. For these items I recommend monitoring your buddy during the consumption process. If you find him/her swallowing large pieces, then this is not a good treat for your companion. Synthetic bones that claim to be fully digestible can still trigger issues in your buddy, especially if a lot of large pieces are swallowed. Synthetic dental bones, including Greenies, can also lead to digestive problems. Make sure you are feeding the correct size product for your buddy’s weight, and do not break up these items into smaller pieces. If your dog chews these items well, and takes a long time to consume them, then most likely there will not be issues. Some patients do have digestive upset with these products. Keep in mind that any item that is consumed by swallowing large pieces can lead to a blockage because it may sit in your pet’s digestive tract for a long period of time. I recommend to supervise your buddy during consumption of any item, especially if you have never given it to your dog before. Once your pet has eaten a new treat, evaluate how he/she handles digesting these items over the next few days. Monitor for signs of diarrhea, poor appetite, gas, and tenderness over the next several days. By following these suggestions, you will avoid a lot of potential health risks and discomfort for your cherished companion. Keep in mind that any new treat can trigger digestive upset. Any new product, including a change in diet, should be introduced slowly to minimize the chances of this problem.