Shana Bohac is a local veterinarian who writes a column about animal issues.

Shana Bohac

Shana Bohac

The holiday season brings family, good food and fun. It also poses health hazards for your fur babies. Many owners treat their pets by feeding them table scraps, bones or leftovers. Not only can human food be toxic to our pets, but feeding bones can cause serious health problems.

Some problems that arise from feeding bones can start from the beginning of the gastrointestinal tract. Mouth and tongue injuries are very common. We will see patients who have severely cut the sides of their mouths or their tongues so badly that they are unable to eat their regular food. Sometimes a fragment of the bone can lodge in just the right place causing the dog to be unable to close his/her mouth all the way.

It is sometimes not obvious to the owner, and the dog can have this foreign object stuck there for weeks or months, eventually causing infection with damage to the teeth and gum line that can be irreparable. The bone can be harder than the dog’s teeth and actually cause the tooth to chip or fracture. This is just as painful for your dog as it would be for you if you had a tooth crack.

Fragments can also get stuck in the esophagus, windpipe, stomach and intestines. Just like in the mouth, these fragments can cause major lacerations and even punctures to the intestinal wall.

Damage to the esophagus and windpipe can cause trouble eating, breathing and a hacking cough, among other problems. If irritation is the cause of the cough, a simple cough suppressant and antibiotics can help. Other times surgery is the only option to remove the bones from the gastrointestinal tract.

Finally, bones are not digested easily, therefore they usually pass through in the same condition they were swallowed. These fragments can scrape the colon and/or anus on the way out causing constipation and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Setting aside all the mechanical damage that bones can do to a dog, think about the nutritional aspect. The small amount of meat (usually majority fat) left on a bone is not enough to provide a good amount of nutrients for your pet.

But, it can be just enough to cause stomach upset, pancreatitis, and/or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (bleeding from the intestinal tract caused from inflammation). Sometimes these can easily be corrected with antibiotics and medication to sooth and coat the intestinal lining. Other times, these problems can become extreme where severe dehydration sets in and hospitalization with intravenous fluids is a necessity.

Dr. Shana Bohac is a veterinarian and the owner of Navarro Small Animal Clinic.

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