Ask Your Vet: Are Bones Healthy for Dogs? By Stefanie Wong, DVM

Wolves and coyotes in the wild eat bones, so it is a common thought that our pet dogs can eat bones as well. Thankfully, most owners are aware of the dangers of cooked bones, especially chicken bones for example. The cooking process makes these bones more brittle, and when chewed they often splinter into multiple sharp fragments that can cause damage as they are going down the hatch. However, it’s important to know that all bones – cooked or raw, regardless of what type of animal it comes from – can present real dangers to your pet. 

Due to the number of complications that come with bone chewing and ingestion, the FDA has  issued a statement recommending against it. At Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center, we have seen many dogs with complications resulting from bones. Here are things you need to consider before handing your dog a bone: 

Broken teeth: Bones are often too hard for your pet’s teeth. This can lead to cracked or fractured teeth, which in turns predisposes the development of tooth root infections and ultimately, a dental procedure requiring tooth removal or extraction.

Oral injury: Especially if feeding cooked bones that splinter, these razor sharp edges can cut or scrape the tongue, gums, or insides of the mouth, causing excessive bleeding and the need for stitches.

They get stuck:

  • In the trachea (windpipe that travels down to the lungs): This is a life-threatening emergency as your pet may not be able to breathe.

  • In the esophagus (tube that travels from the mouth to the stomach): Often repeated gagging will be seen as your pet tries to (often unsuccessfully) bring it up themselves - this often requires us to manually retrieve it – either using endoscopy or surgery under general anesthesia.

  • In the stomach: If it’s large enough, it may make it down the esophagus but get stuck in the stomach. This requires either endoscopy or surgery under general anesthesia.

  • In the intestines: This can cause a blockage or obstruction, which requires surgery. If it has caused significant damage to the intestine, the damaged intestine may need to be removed as well, which in itself requires a larger scale surgery called a resection and anastomosis. This procedure requires the removal of sections of the damaged intestine followed by the rejoining of remaining intestine.


Constipation: The bones make it through the intestine but pile up and get stuck in the colon. Your pet will often strain to defecate but fail to produce anything. This is extremely uncomfortable and painful for them, and the toxins from the stool sitting in the colon for too long can often cause them to feel sick. This often requires a procedure where we reach up and remove all the bone pieces bit by bit, called a manual evacuation under general anesthesia

Perforation and peritonitis: If the bone fragments happen to pierce through or tear the intestines, this causes what we call an intestinal perforation. The bacteria that sit within the intestine leak out into the belly and can cause a life-threatening disease called peritonitis, which if untreated will be fatal.

It is always important to weigh the benefits versus the risks of any situation. With bones, the risks definitely outweigh the benefits. There are many safer alternatives that your pet can chew on to their heart’s content. For example, I often recommend rawhides, bully sticks or hard rubber toys like Kongs instead of bones. Dental diets like Hill’s t/d are another option if you are looking for something to help keep your pet’s teeth clean.

Tags: bones, ask your vet, dogs

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