The myth that dogs can and should eat bones is still popular worldwide. Sadly, it is time for this myth to be debunked – dogs should not eat bones, and bones pose a health risk. Therefore, it is normal for pet owners to wonder what happens if a dog eats a bone.
Also, how long does it take for a dog to digest a bone? Depending on the type of bone and the dog’s overall health, it may take anywhere between eight hours and several days for the bone digesting process to be completed.
In this article, we will talk about bones for dogs – the potential issues, the safety of different types of bones, and when it is time to call the vet. We will also explain the bone digestion process in dogs.
DOGS AND BONES – THE STORY’S ORIGIN
Whenever a vet says dogs must not eat bones, dog owners respond, “but my dog loves them.” Yes, this part is true – dogs love bones. However, it is also true that bones are a high-risk snack option for dogs.
The accent here is put on two things – high risk and snack. The main issue with bones is that they are prone to splintering and can cause a myriad of potentially life-threatening issues in dogs. As for the snack part, bones, although juicy and tasty, do not offer any real value nutrients. In other words, dogs cannot thrive on bones.
However, the popularity of bones is still present, and it all started many years ago when wild dogs roamed freely. At this point, the bone-eating behavior was a simple survival mechanism, and dogs used to feed on bones when other nutrient sources were not available.
DO BONES BREAK DOWN IN A DOG’S STOMACH?
In theory, yes, bones can break down in the dog’s stomach. However, this is not a dog-specific skill. Many animals like hyenas, bears, tortoises, vultures, and even rabbits are capable of digesting bones. In fact, even humans have strong enough stomach acids to dissolve bones.
The tendency to eat bones and the ability to digest them is widespread in the animal kingdom and has a specific scientific term – osteophagia or osteophagy.
However, this does not mean that the bone is going to break down completely. Depending on the type of bone and the time it spends in the stomach, parts of the bone can still find their way into the intestines and cause trouble.
What is more, the fact that bones break down in the stomach does not eliminate the possibility of them causing problems on the way down to the stomach. To be more precise, bones are the top cause of esophageal injuries and esophageal foreign bodies in dogs.
Bottom line, just because dogs can break down and partially or wholly digest bones does not mean that bones should be offered.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR A DOG TO PASS A BONE?
Dog have unusually short digestive tracts – the shortest of all mammals. In practical terms, this means dogs tend to digest food and pass the unnecessary waste in short times. The average digestion time in dogs is around eight hours.
Obviously, the digestion process is less than eight hours in small dog breeds because their GI tracts are shorter. In large and giant breed dogs, it can take more than eight hours because their digestive systems are longer.
These average eight hours refer to normal digestion processes when dealing with everyday food. Bones are much sturdier than regular dog food and can take longer before they are passed. In cases they cause an issue or get stuck, bones can spend up to several days in the intestines.
CAN A DOG DIGEST AN ENTIRE BONE?
Yes, it is possible for a dog to digest an entire bone. However, the likelihood of this scenario actually happening depends on many factors. Factor number one is the dog’s overall gastrointestinal health. For example, dogs with inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea are unlikely to digest bones completely.
The next determining factor is the type of bone. Different types of bones have different strengths, and some are easier to digest than others. For example, chicken bones are more porous and readily digested than large beef bones.
Another digestibility factor is the number of eaten bones. If a large dog consumes one smaller bone, there is a big chance of total digestion. On the other hand, if a smaller dog eats a sizeable amount of bones, it will probably go through the GI tract undigested and cause constipation.
NOT ALL BONES ARE MADE THE SAME
We can talk about bones and dogs all day, but in the end, it all comes down to the same conclusion – that not all dogs are the same. In other terms, some bones are less dangerous and more likely to pass through the dog’s digestive tract without causing harm.
Before we go through the different types of bones, we should note that the general rule of thumb is that raw bones are safer than cooked ones. This is because cooking makes them softer and more brittle or, in other words, more likely to splinter.
Here is a short overview of the different types of bones and their friendliness for dogs:
- Lamb bones – cooked lamb bones are off the menu, but raw lamb bones (tail bones, lamb ribs, and flaps) are relatively large, heavy, sturdy, and suitable for smaller dogs with keen chewing habits.
- Pork bones – regardless of the serving method (raw or cooked), pork bones are soft and likely to splinter and break. Therefore, pork bones can only be offered to small dogs with low chewing powers.
- Chicken bones – cooked chicken bones are the most significant health hazards and must be avoided. Raw chicken bones can be given to puppies during their teething phase, but the playtime needs to be closely supervised.
- Beef bones – beef bones are sizeable, rigid, and hard to destruct, especially in their raw form. Therefore, beef bones are considered to be reasonably safe for large dogs with strong jaws and tenacious chewing habits.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF MY DOG SWALLOWED A BONE?
If your dog accidentally swallowed a bone or you purposely fed it without knowing the potential risks, the best thing you can do is stay calm and carefully monitor the situation. You can rush your dog to the vet’s office, but there is no way of predicting whether your dog will pass the bone naturally or experience health issues as the bone travels through the digestive system.
Generally speaking, here are some telltale signs indicating the bone’s passage is causing troubles:
- Accented pacing – your dog is likely to act nervously and be restless and agitated
- Pawing at the mouth – this usually occurs when a bone fragment gets stuck in the mouth or throat, and the dog is instinctively trying to get it removed; this can be accompanied by head tilting
- Empty chewing – your dog might be copying the chewing motions without having an actual thing to chew
- Excessive drooling – the presence of a foreign body will stimulate the GI tract to secrete saliva leading to increased drooling; as a result, coughing and gagging are also possible
- Whining and cowering – the overall situation is usually distressing and likely to make your dog complain, act scared, or even shake
- Vomiting – a dog with digestive upset or obstruction is likely to vomit, and the content of the vomit can vary until reaching the point when the dog vomits foam
- Diarrhea or constipation – depending on the issue the bone caused, the dog can experience either diarrhea or constipation; sometimes, one symptom will follow the other
- Lack of appetite – this is a somewhat expected sign when there is something unusual going on in the digestive tract, although some dogs can have a normal appetite in the early stages
- Lethargy – as the problem develops and starts causing pain, the dog will become lethargic and lose interest in normal everyday activities.
These are all things you can expect once the bone is swallowed and has successfully reached the digestive system. Sadly, a bone can cause problems while still in the mouth. Simply put, dogs are notorious for their voracious appetites and tend to gulp down their food.
Therefore, a small bone fragment or the entire bone can accidentally enter the wrong pipe and, instead of traveling down the esophagus, enters the airways. In such cases, the bone is more than likely to cause choking.
Choking is a life-threatening situation and requires immediate attention. There is no time to call the vet if your dog is choking. Instead, you need to be proactive and perform the Heimlich maneuver. You can find many educational videos explaining the Heimlich maneuver in dogs step by step.
SUMMING UP: DOGS AND BONE DIGESTION
All in all, although wild dogs ate bones without problems, modern dogs have evolved differently and are no longer suited for such risky snacks. Plus, wild dogs started feeding on bones as a surviving skill to compensate for the lack of more appropriate food choices.
Luckily, modern dogs do not need to eat bones. The pet market offers an array of different dog food brands. Alternatively, you can always put the apron on and prepare homemade meals for your dog.
As for the dog’s natural chewing instincts, there are safer options too. Namely, just visit the nearest pet store and purchase high-quality and indestructible chew toys for your pup. Your dog’s inclination will be satisfied, and you will have ease of mind knowing your dog is chewing on something safe.
Can a bone make my dog sick?
Yes, in theory, bones can make your dog sick with issues varying from mild gastrointestinal upsets to life-threatening GI tract obstructions and perforations. Whether your dog will be suffering after eating bones depends on many factors, including your dog’s size and diet as well as the bone’s type and size. To stay on the safe side, just assume bones are dangerous and keep them off the menu.
Can a dog’s stomach dissolve a bone?
Whether or not the dog’s stomach can dissolve a bone depends on the dog itself as well as on the type of bone. For example, chicken bones are usually easier to digest than beef or pork bones. However, the general rule of thumb is that the stomach acid is strong enough to dissolve hard materials, including bones. Nonetheless, this does not eliminate the risk of the bone causing damage before reaching the stomach.
Can dogs poop out bones?
Yes, it is possible for a dog to poop out a bone. This is because if the bone manages to reach the large intestine without causing issues, it will likely be passed via the poop. In fact, by the time the bone reaches this terminal part of the digestive tract, it will already be partially digested and absorbed. Pooping out the bone leftovers is the best-case scenario for dogs that eat bones.
Will my dog be okay after eating chicken bones?
There is no straightforward answer to this question. Some dogs eat chicken bones frequently without developing issues, while others can experience life-threatening complications after a single bone-eating episode. This has nothing to do with building up a tolerance. Simply put, the dogs that ate bones harm-free were lucky they got away.
Can I feed my dog bones every day?
Absolutely no – you must not feed your dog bones every day. In fact, you should avoid giving your dog bones altogether. In addition to being health hazards, bones do not have any nutritional value. In simpler terms, even if your dog does not develop issues from the bones, long-term bone consummation leads to nutritional deficiencies. Plus, too many bones too often are likely to cause constipation.
What is the best bone for a dog to chew on?
If looking into natural options, we recommend using elk antlers. Elk antlers are sturdy and tend to last longer than most bones. However, like any other bone, they can crack and splinter, especially if offered to an aggressive chewer. Therefore, you might want to skip the natural part and stick to commercially available chew toys for your pup.