Written by Dr. Cariann Turbeville

In a word – no. It’s not a good idea.

It may seem perfectly normal to throw your dog a bone. It seems so natural, right? Dogs love to chew – and their strong jaw muscles need it. But the truth is, bones pose dangers to your dog. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions against “bone treats” as well as actual bones from your kitchen. The main reason is that bones shatter and splinter when crunched, and this may produce razor-sharp fragments that can cut your dog’s sensitive mouth, tongue and tonsils, and cause serious throat obstructions and digestive injuries including intestinal blockage when swallowed.

Keep this in mind when you’re disposing of kitchen scraps. Be sure to prevent your pet from digging through your trash can in search of juicy, oily aromatic bones which are tempting, but may be harmful.

Can dogs eat chicken bones?

Vets consider chicken bones the most dangerous bones for dogs to gnaw. Chicken bones, like the bones of all birds, are especially brittle because they are hollow. In wild birds, hollow bones make flight possible. Granted, most chickens never get airborne, but their bones remain extremely brittle. Biting into a cooked chicken bone produces lots of little sharp bone shards that can slice into your pet’s sensitive gums and palate, and could cause your dog to choke when swallowed.

Chicken bones and small dogs

Small dogs are at particular risk when munching chicken bones. Because their teeth are smaller, a chicken bone may cause a small dog’s tooth to break. In any breed, splinters of bone may get stuck between a dog’s teeth, and removal of these splinters may require sedation and a professional procedure by your veterinarian to remove the splintered pieces of bone.

In addition to painful oral injuries, crunching a chicken bone may literally threaten the life of your small dog if the bone shatters and your dog inhales a small fragment. This fragment can block your small dog’s airway, making it difficult or impossible for your pet to breathe.

Finally, undigested chicken bones can become impacted in your dog’s intestines. This blockage could make it difficult or impossible for your dog to eliminate waste normally. It is common for veterinarians to need to surgically remove cooked bones from dogs’ intestines.

What if the chicken bone is raw? Is it safe for dogs to eat?

Cooked chicken bones are dangerous because cooking causes bones to harden. And some dog owners misinterpret this bit of wisdom as a green light to serve their canine raw chicken bones. Sorry, it’s still not a good idea! The reason is that raw chicken bones, although more flexible and less likely to shatter, typically contain bacteria which may make your pet quite ill. Salmonella and E.coli are often found in raw chicken meat, bones, and freeze-dried raw products and either can result in severe diarrhea and vomiting. Many types of antibiotic resistant bacteria are on the rise in grocery and pet store raw meat products.

Consult with Airvet about whether or not there are any chicken treats that might be more suitable for your dog’s craving for chicken.

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Can dogs eat ham bones?

As a dog owner, of course you understand your pet’s need for protein. But although the leftovers of a holiday ham may seem like a yummy treat for man’s best friend, vets recommend supplying protein in safer forms than bones.

As with all bones, ham bones can become fragile and break into small pieces that can cut your dog’s mouth, and pierce the esophagus, throat and/or intestine when swallowed. Cooking makes the marrow of a ham hock or pork shank bone more fragile, adding to the risk.

Chewing on pork bones puts your dog at risk for peritonitis. Peritonitis is the inflammation of the membrane that lines the inside of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Typically, this is the result of an injury, and swallowing a sharp splinter of bone is a prime example. If a sharp object penetrates the intestine, the contents of the intestine can spill out into your dog’s abdominal cavity. The partly digested food carries bacteria and toxins which may trigger massive inflammation and could lead to death.

There are many better options available to satisfy your dog’s need to chew and promote their dental health at the same time. You can consult with Airvet about the many canine dental chews on the market.

Can dogs eat steak bones?

Unless you’re vegan, you probably enjoy ripping into a T-Bone, medium rare. And since dogs are not naturally vegan, you may reason that your canine pet would enjoy the same, especially if the leftovers have a few bites of meat and fat remaining.

Please don’t. The same reasoning applies to beef bones as applies to other bones. Cooked bones are fragile, and shatter into extremely sharp, pointed fragments that can cut soft tissue and lodge in your pet’s digestive tract. Raw bones, while sturdier, are often laden with bacteria including campylobacter that can cause serious digestive upset.

Steak bones in particular pose a risk to your dog’s teeth, because bovine bones are large and very tough. If you’re serious about your dog deserving beef protein, check with Airvet about the safety of feeding your pet cooked steak – without the bone.

Considering the recent popularity of the B.A.R.F. (“Bones and Raw Food” or “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food”) diet, some pet parents are thinking of their dogs as being more similar to their wolf ancestors. And after all, if your dog’s canine ancestors ate bones, hooves, antlers and every scrap of their kill, why not your dog?

And while that might be true, your dog is not a wild animal. The anatomy of dogs, along with their nutritional needs, has changed radically over millennia of domestication. And dogs have come a long way since then. Also, drug resistant bacteria didn’t exist until the last century. Our best advice for your best friend is to keep bones off of your dog’s menu. It is the smart choice to help her live a long, happy and healthy life.

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