After discussing onion toxicity and while on the topic of barbecues, I thought I would discuss another problem that we sometimes see with BBQs. Our dogs love the leftovers and nothing better than chewing the meat and fat off a cooked chop bone or the big eye bone from a large steak. Yum!
But what happens when the bone is the wrong shape or is accidentally swallowed? While my recent bone complication was not due to a tiny chop bone, it highlights how much care we need to take when selecting appropriate bones for our dogs to chew on.
Oscar’s Mum didn’t think anything of giving him a big chunky bone to chew on, which normally would probably not cause any problems. However, this time he managed too get it caught over his lower canine teeth and became quite distressed as he struggled to remove it. He was promptly brought in to see us and with a little sedation on board, I was able to manipulate the bone and gently remove it off off his lower jaw. He recovered well without any serious injuries to his jaw, and went home a little groggier but I am sure much happier!
In some cases, dogs can get the whole ring wedged over the lower jaw, requiring some heavy duty bone cutters to remove the offending item.
Other issues we see with bones can be a little more life threatening. When a whole bone is swallowed, it may get caught in the oesophagus, unable to pass through to the stomach. Once wedged, there is a risk that the pressure of the bone will block the blood flow to the local area of oesophagus, damaging the tissue and causing it to perforate. An injured oesophagus can be prone to other complications such as stricture where scarring causes a narrowing of the pipe. More seriously though if the oesophagus does perforate, a nasty and life threatening infection of the chest cavity may develop requiring intensive hospital management with a guarded outcome.
If the bone makes it to the stomach, a cooked bone is unlikely to be digested as the cooking process changes the structure of bone making it less prone to the action of stomach acids. The bone may then cause a blockage of the stomach outflow into the intestine, or travel down the intestinal tract until it can pass no further, causing an intestinal obstruction. Again, pressure and loss of blood flow damage the intestinal wall and can perforate the bowel, leading to a septic abdomen. The resulting complications of intestinal obstruction may be very difficult to treat successfully.
Treating animals with obstructions can be very successful if caught early. In the oesophagus, removal of the bone may be achieved via endoscopy under anaesthetic. If there has been no significant damage to the oesophagus, the patient often recovers uneventfully though may go home with some medications to help prevent further acid damage to already irritated tissue. If the bone can not be safely withdrawn from the oesophagus, sometimes it can be pushed through into the stomach from where it can be retrieved through surgery. Surgery in the abdomen is a lot less complicated then surgery in the chest (to retrieve the bone from the oesophagus), and recovery tends to be less painful.
If the bone is in the small intestine, it may be removed via surgery and may require only an incision into the intestine. If the bone has been present for some time and there is evidence of damage to the blood flow, a section of the intestine may need to be removed with the bone. Then healthy intestine can be attached to healthy intestine for a more optimal recovery.
Where your dog has had a good chew of the bone before devouring bone pieces, even if the bone can pass through, it may congeal into hard faecal balls in the colon. This can happen with too much raw bone as well. The result may be a painful constipation which then may require an anaesthetic for an enema to help break down and remove the bony chunks.
So is it worth giving our dogs bones then? Bones can be very beneficial for canine dental management, but think of the dog in the wild. They don’t eat cooked bones and they often spend more time gnawing on larger meatier bones. Our domestic friends have lost the ability to be selective in their choice of bones, so it is up to us to be careful about what we offer them and to keep an eye on them while they eat. If your dog is suspected to have swallowed a whole bone or a large section of bone, it is important to seek veterinary attention urgently, especially if your pet is distressed. Bones can be bad news!