Bone of contention Print
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 22 May 2018 09:58
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

You have just finished a lovely T-bone steak and your dog is looking longingly at the tasty remains of your meal. How do you resist those eyes? It is only one bone. What harm can it do?

I would strongly recommend that you consider the following: Bones can cause teeth fractures; wear away teeth; cause lacerations to the mouth and tongue; cause dogs to choke when they get caught in the wind pipe or throat; get stuck in all parts of the intestine; cause constipation; and bleeding in the rectum. Bones lying around can spread gastrointestinal disease for children.

While I fully accept that over 90% of the time bones don’t cause any problems, you must understand that you are risking costly complications.

A common argument is that dogs in the wild eat bones. The counter-argument is that dogs in the wild die on average at six years old. Your dog will hopefully live to 14 years and will need its teeth to be functioning for a much longer time.

You may be surprised to know that dogs’ teeth are not too dissimilar to ours. Dogs have two sets of teeth: The baby teeth, which are all replaced by six months old with adult teeth, which are not replaced for the duration of the dog’s life. 

Bones are as hard as stone but still shatter into very sharp glass-like shards, which our ancestors used to make tools for hunting and killing animals. A major problem with bones is that they cause micro-fractures in the teeth and cause teeth to wear down. This is often evident with the flattening of the teeth’s ridges in a dog which is regularly fed bones. At best bones may clean the teeth a little; at worst they fracture molars and canines.

One of the most common causes of dental extractions is fractures related to chewing bones. The major bone fractures occur in the molars, as dogs try to gnaw their way to marrow. The resultant fractures are painful when they extend to the pulp cavity.

Bones can get stuck at almost any point throughout the gastrointestinal tract – from mouth to rectum.

The acid in the stomach will dissolve bone fragments. If, however, a large-ish piece of bone passes through into the intestine, no further digestion occurs and this same size bone has to move through the various parts of the intestine, through the valve to the colon and out via the rectum.

Bone can get stuck in the oesophagus. This occurs most commonly in smaller breeds where the bones are also actually small and are swallowed whole, but then get stuck before they reach the stomach.

We can try to push these bones through to the stomach, but in many cases they have been there for a while and the oesophagus is damaged and there is a risk it may tear. Surgery into the chest is specialised and expensive and complications are high.

Intestinal obstruction usually presents with vomiting, inappetance and abdominal discomfort. If it is only partial, these symptoms can come and go for a while. Veterinary and usually surgical intervention is generally required. Every time you perform surgery involving opening the intestinal tract, there is a risk of peritonitis and the longer the obstruction has been there the more compromised the intestinal tract becomes.

Obstruction of the colon can be because of an actual piece of bone wedged in or because of finely chewed up bone fragments, which become “cemented” into the colon, forming a solid plug. Colon surgery is to be avoided due to poor healing, so these dogs will usually require days of IV fluids, stool softeners and enemas to clear out the blockage.

For some reason we think that bones and their marrows lying around for weeks won’t cause harm, but it is a great place for harmful bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella to multiply. Obviously of less concern to your dog, but what about your two-year-old that loves to put anything into his mouth?

Bone meal may offer some calcium and phosphate, but a lot of that is very hard to absorb through the intestines. Commercial diets usually have more than sufficient of this in their formulations.

If you still want to give your dog a bone, feed raw bones and not cooked bones, as they shatter less.