By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
You've probably heard people say that feeding bones is natural and healthy for dogs (for a report on the nutritional value of bones, read this), and that feeding bones promotes clean teeth and aids the nutritional status of the animal. Well, mushrooms are natural, too, and certain kinds will kill a dog if eaten. Pine trees are alive with vital cellular nutrients of all kinds, but does that imply that we should grind up pine trees and feed them to our pets in order to provide their "vital nutrients" to our pets?
Are Bones Good for Dogs?
After enjoying a nice dinner and noticing the dog eyeing up the bones that were left behind, many people often wonder, "Can dogs eat steak or beef bones?" While it may seem like a nice treat for your pup, it is my belief that feeding any type of bones to dogs is not a viable option (yes, even raw bones). Many experienced and knowledgeable veterinarians feel the same. Of course, there are some veterinarians who encourage the feeding of raw, whole bones, but you must decide for yourself what really makes sense for your pet.
Here are just a few examples where a dog has been very seriously harmed by ingesting bones ...YES, EVEN RAW BONES!
Below are X-rays of case presented to Dr. Ray Goodroad in Rhinelander, Wisconsin in December, 1998. (Click on the images to enlarge them in a new window.) This hound of about 75 pounds was found by his owner feeding on a dead deer carcass. The dog became very lethargic, attempted unsuccessfully to vomit and pass stool, and was dehydrated. This dog was feeding naturally on raw bones, and yet, these were the results.
Now take a look at these two X-rays. They are of a dog that was straining to pass stool, was weak and dehydrated when presented to the veterinarian. The dog, Dr. Goodroad would learn, had a history of raiding the neighbor's garbage cans.
Both of these dogs required four days in the hospital, anesthesia and sedation, repeated enemas, i.v. fluid, therapy, antibiotics, and additional X-rays. If this treatment approach wasn't successful, major surgery would have been necessary to save the dogs from an agonizing death.
Now, for those of you who state with confidence that "Wolves in the wild eat bones all the time; so it must be OK for dogs to do the same", I would ask you this ... How many times have you even seen a healthy wolf? How can you state with authority that wolves are NOT occasionally harmed by a bone splinter?
I can tell you this: If a wolf unluckily happens to become disabled by intestinal bone fragments such as the dogs in these examples were, the wolf's cousins would dispatch the sick wolf in moments "...and unto dust thou shalt return." Hardly anyone ever sees even a healthy wolf, how much more unlikely would it be to happen upon a sick wolf when being a "sick wolf" is equivalent to a swift death sentence! We don't get many opportunity to do autopsies on dead wolves.
Hard "round" bones are no different. As well as creating the chance for major problems, such as death, gnawing on bones often results in the cracking of the tips of the fourth premolars. These cracked teeth can lead to root infections and suborbital abscesses that require tooth reconstruction or extraction. I have seen these cases frequently in practice.
Can Dogs Digest Bones?
It's important to be practical when it comes to feeding bones. Their nutritional benefits to your dog are derived from the soft tissues attached to the bone such as meat, cartilage, fat and connective tissue ... not from the bones themselves.
Bone is composed of minerals that are common in many ordinary foods. 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 that is supposed to be coming from the actual "bone" really coming from? It comes from the meat, cartilage, fat and connective tissue that happens to be along for the ride.
Just for fun, though, lets assume there are great benefits to be derived from feeding bones, but with that benefit comes the slight chance that drastic major surgery may be needed to save your dog's life as a result of feeding those bones. WHY DO IT??!! Very nutritious foods are available --some even have ground bone as part of the recipe and the ground bone poses no threat.
Image: jojo nicdao / via Flickr