Give the dog a bone? Vets warn pet owners not to do it
For generations of pet owners feeding bones to their dogs has seemed as natural and healthy as letting them run free across fields and meadows.
But vets are now warning people not to give their dog a bone, because it could kill them.
The PDSA veterinary charity has issued the warning after its vets and nurses reported seeing dozens of dogs suffering from damage to their digestive tracts and blockages caused by bone splinters or larger pieces.
The advice appears to run counter to many dog owners’ assumption that their pets benefit from chewing on raw or cooked bones as a way of absorbing calcium and other nutrients and cleaning their teeth.
But Rebecca Ashman, a senior vet with the PDSA, Britain’s leading veterinary charity, said: “We don’t recommend bones as treats because unfortunately our vets and nurses regularly see dogs with digestive tract damage and blockages caused by splinters or larger pieces of bone being swallowed and becoming stuck.”
She added: “Surgery is usually needed to remove any blockage and in some cases, the damage is so serious that it can be fatal. Similarly, if they swallow a large piece of rawhide chew this can become stuck and cause serious problems.”
Several pet food firms in the UK market raw bones as being “the perfect addition to a raw or natural diet, adding texture and variety as well as a host of nutritional benefits to a complete and balanced meal” for both cats and dogs.
However, Tesco stopped selling natural bones marketed especially for dogs following a number of fatalities, including the death of a two-year-old miniature schnauzer who fell ill after a ham bone became lodged in his stomach.
Burtie’s owners, James Lancaster and Anna Carey, from Beaminster, Dorset, had given him the ham bone from Tesco, believing it would be a nice treat.
But he quickly became violently ill.
An X-ray showed fragments of bone in his stomach and intestines and despite a four hour operation the vet was forced to put him to sleep on Christmas Day - Burtie’s second birthday.
Miss Carey, a PR consultant, welcomed the advice now handed out by the PDSA.
She said: “I think it is well overdue. Bones can be lethal to animals as they can split and lacerate the stomach. Our experience was dreadful, one that we will never forget. The ham knuckle bone was bought by a friend as a special treat for Burtie as it was Christmas.
“Burtie took it away, as dogs do, and ate almost the whole thing. Of course you wouldn’t think that a potentially lethal product can be packaged up as a dog treat and sold to unsuspecting pet owners.”
Mr Lancaster, an editor, said: “It was an extremely distressing time for us. He was so much part of the family.”
Miss Carey added: “I don’t think people are aware of the dangers involved in giving your dog a bone – particularly cured or cooked ones – and we are fully supportive of the PDSA advice. Everyone says: ‘Give a dog a bone’ little realising what it tragic outcome can be for some dogs. If the PDSA advice stops people from giving their dogs bones it will save the lives of many animals.”
Tesco now only sells artificially made calcium ‘bones’, although these come with the safety warning: “Supervise when feeding as this product may splinter.
Latest figures from the PDSA showed that last year its hospitals treated 59 dogs who swallowed bones, although no figures for injuries or fatalities were available.
The charity’s warning has been echoed by the British Veterinary Association.
Its junior vice president, Gudrun Ravetz, told The Telegraph: “Cooked bones are dangerous to cats and dogs and vets routinely see animals who have consumed them, whether through being fed the cooked bones directly or from finding them whilst scavenging through bins. In many cases the animals will require surgery to remove bone shards, splinters and blockages, but it can also prove fatal.
“We ask owners to never feed their pets cooked bones, and to also dispose of any bones left over from their own meal safely and securely to avoid pets seeking them out again.”
She added: “If owners feed their dog raw bones we would recommend speaking to their veterinary surgeon to understand the risks and to only do so as part of a balanced diet. Handling raw meat and bones can also have risks for human health. We would not advise feeding cats raw bones.”
Louise Lee, of the Blue Cross animal welfare charity, backed the warning, saying: "If large chunks are bitten off chews or bones then they can lodge in the mouth, the bowel, or worst of all, the oesophagus. Bones stuck in the oesophagus are particularly difficult to remove and can kill, as can any blockage."
Vets have also warned of the dangers of giving dogs rawhide chews, made from the skin of an animal.
As well as being produced, in some cases, by using harmful chemicals such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide and even arsenic, rawhide chews can also pose a danger of chocking the animal.