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Dogs and Chewing by Frank Utchen, DVM

Chew on this. 

Some dogs seem to chew on everything: shoes, wood, stairs—you name it. This is one of the normal ways dogs investigate their environment, keep their jaw muscles strong, and to some degree help remove dental tartar. 

However, every year we seen numerous dogs (and cats) who have swallowed something indigestible and life-threatening, so I encourage you to monitor your pets’ chewing behavior carefully. 

Just a few of the problems we see each year: 

Bones. Although most dogs love to chew on bones, there are two main problems I see from this. First, as expected, some dogs will get a bone stuck in their throat or elsewhere in their digestive tract. A bone stuck in the throat or the intestines is excruciatingly painful and constitutes and emergency. A bone caught in a dog’s throat can often be easily removed after a dog is placed under general anesthesia, but a bone lodged in the intestines requires major abdominal surgery to remove, and is life-threatening and can cost several thousand dollars depending on the severity of damage to the intestines and other complications. 

Second, every year I see dogs who have cracked and broken teeth from chewing on bones. These dogs always have abscesses in the jaw bone surround the roots of the broken tooth. The only way to get rid of the infection is to either extract these teeth or perform a root canal on them. Either one involves general anesthesia and significant expense. Consequently, I do not recommend dogs be given hard bone to chew on. 

Squeaky toys. Although rubber toys that squeak when a dog bites them are generally safe, I have seen two dogs in the past few years who chew up the toy completely and swallowed the metal squeaker inside, which subsequently became lodged in the intestines and require surgery to remove. One of these dogs had to have a section of severely damaged intestine removed. 

String, ribbon, etc. Sadly, I have seen several dogs die from having swallowed string, ribbon, dental floss, etc. These are collectively referred to as “linear foreign bodies.” Once a dog begins chewing on something like this and swallows the beginning of a long strand, it can be impossible for them to spit it out. As a result, they keep swallowing and swallowing until the entire ribbon-like object has been swallowed. This can become tangled in the intestines, causing severe damage over a long length of the intestinal tract, which can be fatal even when surgery is performed to remove it. I have seen this happen with video tape, leather belts, loose strands of fibers from rugs, shoelaces, panty hose, plastic “grass” used for filling Easter baskets, and virtually any other long, linear material. 

Corn cobs. Just this week we saw a severely ill dog who was continually vomiting as a result of having a piece of corn cob stuck in the intestines. We performed emergency surgery to remove it, and so far the dog is recovering well. Sadly, I have also seen pieces of corn cobs cause such severe intestinal damage that post-operative healing was impaired, with resultant rupture of the intestines and death occurring a few days after surgery. 

Gorilla Glue. This is a particularly strong and expansile glue that some dogs find tasty. After chewing on the bottle and swallowing some glue, it expands to fill the entirety of their stomach and then hardens. The surgery is very much like removing a bowling ball from their stomach.  

And that’s just giving you a brief taste of the kinds of things dogs chew on and develop serious complications from. Virtually anything can become a problem if swallowed (e.g. , socks, rocks, peach pits, gardening gloves, stuffing from pillows, coins, buttons) although every year I am amazed at some of the stories clients tell me about their dogs and the things they have swallowed that were eventually passed without complication, like the dog that chewed up and swallowed a complete terra cotta planter pot and managed to pass it (with some difficulty).  

But I recommend you do not take chances. Monitor your dog’s activity closely. Offer rubber or digestible treats. And when in doubt about giving your dog something to chew on, err on the side of caution. 

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