tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS

Date:   08 May, 2009
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs & rabbits

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Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research
Making veterinary surgery alive
to a veterinary student studying in Australia
using real case studies and pictures

Daniel Sing Zong Zheng
Case written: 08 May, 2009

Does your doggy like its bones?

Bones have been associated with dogs for a very long time. They were in cartoons while we were growing up as well as in pictures and advertisements along the street in our neighbourhood. Do you ever wonder if bones are actually good for your dog? Dogs love their bones. They carry them around, protect them and sometimes even bury them. However, are you are putting your fluffy friend at risk.

Safe bones satisfy your dog’s desire to chew and this chewing action scrapes plaque from their teeth, reduce bad breath (if any) and stimulate their gums. Chewing helps reduce the risk of dental problems such as tooth decay. Certain bones, such as a marrow bone, will provide calcium and other nutrients to supplement the diet. Furthermore, bones relieve your dog’s anxiety, frustration and boredom.

Why are some bones considered unsafe?

Bones have caused the death of many dogs. Commercial dog bones sold in pet shops prove to be potential hazard as well if used inappropriately. This happens because the dog chews on the small bits and swallows the sharp parts of the bone. As such, there is a chance that it will choke on the bone, or that a fragment may become lodged in the alimentary canal and cause obstruction of the gut. Bones can also chip the dog’s teeth and these have their own adverse effects.

Digestive upsets might occur if your pet eats bones that are contaminated with bacteria (esp. E.coli or Salmonella). These pathogens can cause serious infections and illness. In most cases, bone fragments stuck in the dog’s digestive system can be picked up on X-RAY by a veterinarian and then removed surgically. However, this is expensive and painful for the dog. 

How do we reduce the risks?

The key to reducing the risks of injury or pain is to choose a safe bone for your dog. It is essential to know your dog’s chewing behaviour and strength. Supervision during chew time is an option and if you are concerned that the bone your dog is chewing might cause it to choke, take it away immediately.

Symptoms to look out for are not hard to pick up. If your dog becomes ill with a fever, chills, vomiting, bloody stools or reduced bowel movements, it is advised to bring your pet to the veterinarian immediately as these are symptoms of gut perforation or obstruction.


·         Avoid bones that splinter. These include cooked poultry, ribs and steak bones.

·         Select bones that are softer than your dog’s teeth. Knuckle bones found at the ends of leg bones are recommended as they are softer than tooth enamel and have cartilage over the ends, thereby encouraging chewing. Hard (cortical) bones should be avoided.

·         Small bones should be avoided as your dog may swallow them whole, leading to intestinal blockage. Conscientious effort to remove bones that have been broken down to dangerously smaller pieces must be made.

Ref:  Laflamme, DP. 2008. Pet feeding practises of dog or cat owners in the United States and Australia. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 232(5): 687-694

Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
Written: May 9, 2009

Further to the above article's statement "Conscientious effort to remove bones that have been broken down to dangerously smaller pieces must be made", I share some of my interesting clinical experiences with dog-bone cases in my practice in Singapore with dog lovers below:

In Singapore, the following situations have been encountered at Toa Payoh Vets in 2000s

1. Stray Dogs. Employees of factories do feed the industrial dogs with leftover chicken rice with chicken bones. These stray dogs simply love the chicken bones. There are cases where the dog had difficulty passing stools but few would be brought to the veterinarian. I remember one case. The factory owner requested a house-call. "There is nothing that can be done in a house-call," I advised. "Bring the dog to the Surgery as you would waste your money in asking for house-calls. I can refer you to the pet transport man to get the dog to Toa Payoh Vets"  The owner who also paid for stray cats boarded at a place in Pasir Ris, insisted on a house-call. I asked my associate veterinarian to go to the factory. The dog was prostrate from the rectal pain which I diagnosed over the phone. My associate could not resolve the dog's problem obviously. 

The serious man in his late 50s reluctantly brought the dog to the surgery. The rectum was impacted with multiple pieces of chicken bones. Manual pieces were taken out with forceps while the dog was put under general anaesthesia. It took a few days to evacuate the bones from the rectum.

Stray dogs are used to guard the factories in Singapore and are free to roam around during the daytime. Not many stray dogs are not commonly seen nowadays as many have had been rounded up by the authorities and disposed.

2. BBQ bones. Pet dogs are given leftover chicken and pork bones. They simply wolf them down as they seldom get such a wonderful treat. In most Singapore homes presently, the dogs don't get a chance to eat chicken bones as they are mainly fed commercial dry and wet dog food. Small bone particles impact the rectum and the dog can't defaecate. Fresh red blood appeared at the anal area causing grave concern to the owner. The treatment is for the veterinarian to extract them out under sedation or anaesthesia.

3. Open garbage bins in the house or apartment. The pet dog will scavenge the garbage bin where chicken bones are thrown into and help themselves to the forbidden bones. When he gets bloody diarrhoea, he needs veterinary treatment.     

4. Opportunism. Do opportunistic dogs exist? Yes. I had this case whereby the owner accidentally dropped her chicken thigh bone onto the floor. Her pet dog quickly swallowed it. He started to vomit white forth a few times.  The only option was surgery to cut open the stomach and pull out the long bone stuck in the cardia.


tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)1785. Vomited over 40 ml white saliva and yellow gastric juice, twice, onto the consultation table. The dog kept vomiting white yellow frothy saliva. She was in great distress. Surgery was the only option. Death would be the outcome if there were delays in this old Maltese suffering from heart, mouth and reproductive diseases (pyometra).  tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)1786.  I doubt that the bone, stuck at the gastro-esophageal sphincter would pass into the stomach and be digested by gastric juices as the owner had hoped. The larger end near the base of the heart was stuck inside the oesophagus.
Maltese- Chicken wing bone had been taken out. Stomach stitched. Toa Payoh Vets Maltese. Chicken wing (humurus bone) stuck in the gastroesophageal sphincter region. Toa Payoh Vets
tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)1787. The gastro-esophageal sphincter stops the bone from getting into the stomach as it was too big at one end (femoral end). The chicken thigh was stuck here (inside the oesphagus) and there (inside the stomach).  tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)1788.  As part of the mentoring of younger people, I asked my veterinary assistant Aung who is very passionate about veterinary medicine and surgery: "What to do now?" when he saw that half of the bone was stuck in the cardiac region of the stomach and part of it inside the gullet.       
tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)1789. Mr Aung shook his head. The femoral end of the bone inside the oesophagus was 4x bigger than the tibial end which we could see. The diagphragm prevented any access to the oesophagus from the abdominal region. So, should the vet incise the oesophagus where the big end of the bone was located and pulled it out from this approach instead of via the stomach? That mean thoracic surgery and this was much harder than abdominal surgery. Just for a bone removal. It was one of those situations no vet would want to encounter.

Yet, here, I had to provide the solution and I had approached the bone from the abdominal region to get it out from the stomach. The bone was stuck as the larger end was in the gullet. What to do now? Mr Aung could not give me any suggestion. Neither had I encountered such a case of a bone stuck in both the oesophagus and stomach before.   

I used the forceps to grip the bone firmly. With one upward tug, I pulled it out from the oesophagus into the stomach and out of the abdomen. No bleeding and no ill effects on this dog. Mr Aung was surprised by this action.

The dog had no problems and lived a normal life after this surgery. The lady owner in her late 40s was very happy and grateful. "Let me know if you need to collect debts," she said to me. I thanked her and her partner for the offer.    

5. Chew Bones - Rawhide bones with bacteria. Some rawhide bones are unsuitable for the pet dog. Some large hardy ones are just too contaminated with bacteria as they are chewed by the dog for several weeks. I suspected this was the cause of bloody diarrhoea in a pet dog recently. Another case I managed to get from the Google site with the search words "chicken bones + dogs + Toa Payoh Vets"  is recorded below in my blog in January 2008 and reproduced below:


Blog written in January 2008
127. The Golden Retriever puppy vomited and purged over 10X

"For the past 2 weeks, she was all right. Then on Sunday, she vomited all her food and passed blood in her stools. Later there was no blood but she kept purging more than 10 times. Now she would not eat."

The puppy's stomach and intestine were full of gas.

"No new food or treat were given" the owner was insistent when I asked him many times over the half an hour. "The puppy goes to my office and there is nothing in the room. All my employees know that they don't feed him any chicken rice or any chicken. During exercise in the field, I observe her and she did not eat grass or soil."

Yet the puppy had this serious vomiting and diarrhoea. She was wagging her tail while standing on the examination table. Temperature was 38.8 deg C which was not very high fever.

I asked the owner again, "Any new product you purchased on Saturday or Friday?"

He shook his head. He was so sure that the puppy had gone to the Pasir Ris to play and swim. She had her 3 vaccinations done. Parvoviral infection was unlikely but could not be ruled out.

"Did you introduce new food or something to her?"

Finally, after more than 30 minutes, the owner recalled that the pet people had recommended the rawhide doggy bone. This was because the puppy ate all the previous dog treats.

"The raw hide doggy bone is more lasting and not chewed to pieces," the owner said. "That was on Saturday. The puppy chewed it in the afternoon on Sunday. It was durable, as the seller recommended.

The Golden Retriever had vomiting and diarrhoea a few hours later and on Sunday. He brought her to the vet on Monday morning.

So, the most likely cause of this acute gastroenteritis was the rawhide bone. It took so long to get this info!

I hope all these clinical cases will be of great interest to dog lovers.

Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research

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