On a Tuesday a few weeks ago a 12 year old Westie dog , Mia, was presented at the surgery, not because of a bad skin as is often the case but because she could not keep her food down for longer than a few minutes. The owner thought that she might have stolen some bones from the roast on the previous Sunday. We suspected that this was not just a mild gastritis and x-rayed her immediately (we don’t have a waiting list) and could see an unusual object in her oesophagus, just before the entrance into the stomach.
The problem with this location is that in order to remove a foreign body we would probably have to approach through the chest which is much more dangerous than through the abdomen and any surgery to the oesophagus might cause scarring and stricture later which could make swallowing very difficult. We explained this to the owner and offered her a referral to a specialist centre but she opted to let us have a go.
Mia was anaesthetised and we used an endoscope to visualise what turned out to be a piece of bone wedged in the oesophagus.
We decided to push the bone through to the stomach and remove it from the stomach after opening the abdomen. A scarey procedure but it worked! The oesophageal was badly ulcerated by the bone but Mia is now back to normal and able to eat solid food again.
Even when dogs chew bones quite finely we occasionally get the bone matter impacted into a ball that can cause a blockage. One of my not so favourite jobs is removing this from the rear end either digitally ( I do wear gloves) or by giving an enema and breaking the matter down slowly. I have on occasion been surprised by the speed with which the blockage can be alleviated and not been able to get out of the way quick enough! Oh, the joys of being a vet.
Another problem we have encountered is Salmonella infection, usually caused by feeding raw chicken bones. Raw diets are getting very popular and as a result the manufacturers are doing more tests to prevent this problem, so hopefully this will be less of a issue in the future. But I would still advise against feeding raw chicken bought off the shelf at the moment.
We have a number of dogs in our practice that are fed proprietary brand raw diets and I have to admit that they usually have amazingly glossy coats and seem to be in excellent health, so I wouldn’t want to put you off raw diets completely.
There are a few positive reasons to give bones to dogs. They can help with keeping teeth clean. We have, however, also seen a number of fractured teeth caused by chewing bones. They can help to give more structure to the faeces and reduce anal gland problems. And the biggest reason of all to give bones is that most dogs go crazy for them!
There are some great alternatives to bones. Dentastix can be useful unless your dog eats it in 2 seconds like Casey, our lab.
Hide-chews can keep dogs occupied for a while. Take care with the last remnants, they can sometimes cause a bit of choking and are very slimey, so difficult to remove. There are also bones made of a nylon like substance which some dogs enjoy. Not to forget the joys of pigs’ ears and various smelly hooves and horns.
No simple answer to whether to feed or not to feed bones, but, on a personal note: our dogs will remain deprived of the joys of chewing any kind of bone.