Pet column: Should you give a dog a bone?
Tribune Opinion Columnist
This week we had a request for help from a family whose 10-month-old German Shepard got his muzzle stuck in a knuckle bone purchased from a pet store. He had eaten out the center of the bone and the bone became lodged onto his jaw. After the owner tried for an hour to remove the bone it became apparent that an emergency vet appointment was need. The bone had broken his tooth and was causing extreme pain. Alpine Animal Hospital was nice enough to squeeze them in right away and was able to remove the bone with a minor surgery. At the end of the day the pup was OK, but it certainly was a stressful day for both dog and owner.
This incident made me think about the whole subject — “Should you give your dog a bone?” Rather than flat out saying “no,” I figured I would give you all the facts so you can make an educated decision on this subject.
First the obvious reason for no bones is exactly what happened to this pup. Also, other kinds of bones can splinter and cause internal injuries that are even more serious and can result in death. If your dog suddenly becomes extremely ill with a fever, chills, vomiting, bloody stool, bloody diarrhea, or no bowel movements, then you need to take the dog to the veterinarian immediately. All of these are symptoms of a gut perforation or gut obstruction.
You might think that if you buy a bone at a pet store it is safe. Yet pre-packaged bones you find in most retail outlets are often oven-baked, which can cause even more splintering. These bones might also have other preservatives or ingredients that are undesirable.
If you are going to give your dog a bone get it from a butcher. Make sure it is the correct size for your breed — small breads should never get bones; large-breed dogs such as Labradors, Dobermans, German shepherds, etc., need a large enough bone so they will not chew and swallow it quickly. Bones should be larger than the length of the muzzle so it is impossible to swallow whole. A beef-shank bone is a good example of a size-appropriate bone for larger breeds. Never boil bones prior to giving them to your dog; this can cause the bones to become brittle and splinter more readily, however raw bones can also splinter.
Dogs should never be allowed to chew on a bone excessively and for long periods of time. You should only give your dog a bone after a full meal. You don’t want a starving dog to start chewing a bone; it can cause them to ingest too much of the bone causing constipation. This could result in serious obstructions. Only let your dog chew on a bone for 10-15 minutes before taking it away. Don’t let your dog chew on a bone unattended.
Also make sure you properly store the bone; after your dog is done wash the bone and store in a container in the fridge, then throw it away after three to four days. Here is a little trick to ease the issue of taking a bone away from a pup who isn’t ready to give it up yet — replace the bone with something else (like a couple of pieces of mozzarella cheese) when you take it away. This will also help reduce the likelihood of behavioral issues, like resource guarding of the bones.
Another reason people say they give dogs bones is nutritional value. Here are the facts: From Miller’s “Anatomy Of The Dog,” 2nd Edition, W. B. Saunders Co., page 112: “Bone is about one-third organic and two-thirds inorganic material. The inorganic matrix of bone has a microcrystalline structure composed principally of calcium phosphate.” In other words bone is composed of minerals that are common in many ordinary foods (just buy your dog good-quality food, look at ingredients and make sure protein is first on the ingredient list). The scant protein matrix in bone is mainly collagen, and dogs can’t digest and assimilate collagen. So where’s all that great nutritional benefit? Most of the nutritional value comes from the meat, cartilage, fat and connective tissue that happens to be along for the ride.
Yes, dogs do need to chew for “chewing exercise,” but bones are not necessary. We strongly suggest a hard rawhide bone that softens if ingested. To decrease the likelihood a dog will swallow and become impacted with a piece of a chew item, select one of the many items that are especially made for big, strong jaws, from super large Nylabones to extra-large Kongs, and consumable chews such as rawhides and bully sticks so they will not chew and swallow it quickly.
Hopeful Henry is a column managed by Niki Congero, executive director of Lake Tahoe Humane Society & S.P.C.A. Submit questions or letters via e-mail to AskHenry@LakeTahoeHumaneSociety.org or by mail to P.O. Box PET South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158. For more information, visit http://www.Facebook.com/LakeTahoeHumaneSocietySPCA, http://www.Facebook.com/Hopeful.Henry or http://www.twitter.com/LtHumaneSociety.