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essential nutrition advice for your pet.

Dogs and Bones: A Dangerous Combination

Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Dogs and Bones: A Dangerous Combination

March 23, 2012 / (15) comments

Dogs have been chewing on bones for thousands of years. This is what nature intended, right? Well maybe, but it’s an activity that is not without its risks.


As a veterinarian, I’ve seen the ill-effects of feeding dogs bones more times than I can count. The risks are significant enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even gotten involved by posting the following "10 reasons why it’s a bad idea to give your dog a bone" on their Consumer Updates website.


  1. Broken teeth. This may call for expensive veterinary dentistry.
  2. Mouth or tongue injuries. These can be very bloody and messy and may require a trip to see your veterinarian.
  3. Bone gets looped around your dog’s lower jaw. This can be frightening or painful for your dog and potentially costly to you, as it usually means a trip to see your veterinarian.
  4. Bone gets stuck in esophagus, the tube that food travels through to reach the stomach. Your dog may gag, trying to bring the bone back up, and will need to see your veterinarian.
  5. Bone gets stuck in windpipe. This may happen if your dog accidentally inhales a small enough piece of bone. This is an emergency because your dog will have trouble breathing. Get your pet to your veterinarian immediately!
  6. Bone gets stuck in stomach. It went down just fine, but the bone may be too big to pass out of the stomach and into the intestines. Depending on the bone’s size, your dog may need surgery or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy — a procedure in which your veterinarian uses a long tube with a built-in camera and grabbing tools — to try to remove the bone from the stomach.
  7. Bone gets stuck in intestines. This will cause a blockage and it may be time for surgery.
  8. Constipation due to bone fragments. Your dog may have a hard time passing the bone fragments because they’re very sharp and they scrape the inside of the large intestine or rectum as they move along. This causes severe pain and may require a visit to your veterinarian.
  9. Severe bleeding from the rectum. This is very messy and can be dangerous. It’s time for a trip to see your veterinarian.
  10. Peritonitis. This nasty, difficult-to-treat bacterial infection of the abdomen is caused when bone fragments poke holes in your dog’s stomach or intestines. Your dog needs an emergency visit to your veterinarian as peritonitis can kill your dog.


I look at feeding bones in the same way I do letting dogs run loose. Is it natural? Yes. Do dogs like it? Yes. Are there some potential benefits? Yes … until misfortune strikes. There are many ways to safely satisfy your dog’s desire to chew (e.g., toys made out of twisted rope fibers or dense rubber), to promote dental hygiene (e.g., daily tooth brushing or dental diets), and to provide your dog with the high-quality foods and balanced nutrition he needs to stay healthy.



Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: Patrice Scheiner / via Shutterstock

Comments  15

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  • Splinters
    03/23/2012 10:56am

    I've heard that some bones that might splinter, like chicken bones, and puncture something.

  • 03/25/2012 01:05pm

    Cooked bones will splinter. Raw bones will not.

  • Chew Toys
    03/23/2012 03:00pm

    I agree that bones are not a good idea. Other than those twisted string rope toys (Which I have heard are not good either as the strings can get caught in almost as many places as the bone chips)and the dense rubber toys, which my dog does not like, what are acceptable chew toys?

    How about an article on great chew toys?

  • 03/23/2012 11:06pm

    Good idea - look for it soon.

  • Please clarify
    03/23/2012 04:29pm

    As someone who fed raw for years, I wonder if you are talking about cooked bones (which is what most well-meaning but uninformed owners feed)?
    I fed raw for years and my dogs regularly ate raw chicken, beef, turkey and pork bones. Never had an issue, but raw bones are a very different item then cooked ones.

  • 03/23/2012 11:09pm

    I can't recommend either. Cooked bones are more likely to splinter, but raw animal products have their own set of problems.

  • 03/25/2012 01:08pm

    So does kibble. Dogs have choked on commercial kibble. Life is not 100% safe and mishap free. If you would do a little research on raw feeding you would find that it is by far a healthier way to raise a carnivore. An increasing number of vets are lending support to this.

  • 03/24/2012 05:56am

    go to youtube and search Dr Becker thats with Mercola.com. She talks about bones and raw diets as well. Love her..shes awesome.

  • 03/25/2012 03:28am

    My dogs and cats have consumed raw bones as part of a species appropriate raw meat diet for years and have not experienced any of these symptoms thanks to some hard working and patient folks on the RawFeeding Yahoo and Facebook groups who taught me what a real SARF diet was. Unprocessed, uncooked, uncut, appropriately sized, well muscled bones have served my animals well for many years.

  • Raw Bones are fine
    03/25/2012 01:06pm

    I've fed raw meat, bones, and organs to my dogs for several years now and they have never been healthier. We've never had a mishap with bones. As for splintered or broken teeth, raw feeders know to avoid the large weight bearing bones of cattle or deer.
    I have friends who have raw fed their dogs for 15 to 20 years with no mishaps. Their animals are beautiful and healthy. Many of us are tired of seeing misinformation about bone continue to be spread by "authority" figures.
    Get with the program.

  • 08/13/2013 05:35am

    The FDA posted these FACTS about bones. I'm sure the vetrinarian who expanded on this article, did for pet owners such as myself; who are very particular and safe about what their dog eats. If something is even remotly dangerous and I can prevent it, I will. If you don't like it... Don't read it.

  • 11/01/2012 11:46am

    I'd like to know where people get off claiming that raw bones don't splinter. On this VERY website, we have an article entitled, "Raw Bones: Do They Really Crack Open?" complete with pictures of a raw beef bone that had pressure applied until it splinted into pieces.

    Feel free, anyone, to put any other raw bone under pressure and it too will splinter. That's why animals and people are able to have broken bones. Their bones aren't cooked, yet they splinter and break under enough force.

    Some common sense and a dose of reality, please.

  • Twisted rope bones
    04/19/2013 03:12pm

    It kind of scares me that I saw twisted rope toys offered as an alternative to bones on this site. Those toys are dangerous as well, as I found out the other day. One of my dogs was chewing on one of those and he chewed off one end, and before I could get it away from him, he swallowed it. 2 days after he swallowed it, he started throwing up. I called my vet and she said that the bone might be stuck somewhere in his intestines and that I might have to take him in for x-rays and surgery. Luckily for me, he wound up vomiting again right before I was getting ready to take him in, and the rope bone was mixed in with the vomit. They say that you should supervise your dog with those, but that isn't foolproof. My dog literally chewed twice and swallowed the chunk before I could get the words "Drop it!" out of my mouth. I watched him swallow it. After this experience, I think rope bones shouldn't even be sold, much less recommended on a site like this as a "safe alternative".

  • Other chewing option?
    10/17/2014 05:20pm

    I'm curious to know what you think about bully sticks as long as dogs are monitored while chewing. Another issue I've had with raw bones is causing pancreatitis because the marrow is much too rich for my dog.

  • 10/18/2014 01:53am

    Check out this post on bully sticks.