When It Comes to Chew Bones I’m a Big Meanie

By Kim Everson, DVM

Normally I enjoy being proved right. Who doesn’t? But this time that smug feeling is tempered by guilt and worry because I did something wrong!

The veterinary dental specialists at the UW Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital drilled it into me (no pun intended) that dogs should not be given real bones as a treat. Many people recognize the danger small bones or cooked bones pose to dogs since they can cause choking or perforation of the GI tract from splinters and shards. As a result my clients proudly inform me that they only offer their canine friends large meaty bones as a chew toy. I then have to play the role of the mean old veterinarian and tell them it’s a bad idea.

Why? What many people do not know is that bone-chewing causes a lot of dental grief for dogs. In fact, as a vet I’ve encountered far more damage in my patients’ mouths as the result of chewing on real bones and imitation nylon bones than choking or gastrointestinal trauma!

Here’s the American Veterinary Dental College‘s take on the issue. (The AVDC is the pet equivalent of the American Dental Association for humans.):

Dogs are carnivores – they chew on bones in the wild. However, AVDC does not recommend cow hooves, dried natural bones or hard nylon products because they are too hard and do not mimic the effect of a dog tearing meat off a carcass. These hard products are associated with broken teeth or damaged gums.

So, why am I feeling so guilty? Take a look:


Remember in my last post how my dogs have been chewing on scavenged deer legs lately? Well, EdGrrr, my heretofore seemingly indestructible yellow lab, has now fractured his upper right canine tooth doing just the thing I warn my clients against. Ugh…a canine tooth! From chewing on a spindly deer forelimb?!? Unbelievable. So that huge beef femur you just picked up from the butcher for Rover is definitely off limits.

A broken tooth is painful and leads to nasty infections. Tooth root abscesses are common sequelae to chipped and fractured teeth. Treatment for a fractured tooth depends on many factors, but includes root canal or extraction with pain medications and antibiotics. Needless to say, a fractured tooth is a very expensive problem to have and is best avoided. Drat!

For those of you who just threw that pig knuckle in the garbage can, you may be wondering what is an acceptable alternative for the dog who needs to chew? A great resource is the Veterinary Oral Health Council. This organization works with accredited veterinary dentists and relies on testing and research to determine which treats, toys and foods are tooth-friendly. If possible, choose chew toys carrying the VOHC seal of approval.

And now I’m going back outside to pick up the remaining deer parts in an effort to prevent additional injury in my wild and crazy farm dogs.

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