Dear Lisa: I am a new dog owner. We have a male Maltese, about a year old, and we've had him about 10 months now. We were at a great dinner the other night, and we brought home a lot of leftovers, including a T-Bone steak. For the first time, we let him have the T-Bone (bits of meat and fat still on it!). He was in heaven! He chewed and nibbled on this for hours. Then, we noticed that a small piece broke off, so we took the bone away. (It wasn't easy, let me tell you!) My husband and I got into a discussion about the safety of beef bones. Is there a danger if small pieces of bone are swallowed? --Down to the Bone in Detroit
There are two schools of thought about whether or not dogs should be allowed to eat bones. One school says they always ate them in the wild and that there is no harm in eating them, provided they are raw. Another school says you should never give dogs any bones cooked, raw or otherwise as they cause more potential harm than good.
Raw Meaty Bones
Many people who feed their dogs a raw diet, sometimes called BARF (Bones and Raw Food) claim bones with meat and some fat left on them are safe for dogs because they are easily digestible and will not splinter like cooked bones. Some of the popular types of bones fed on the raw diet are beef tails or necks from poultry and are usually available from your local butcher. One disadvantage about raw bones is that they can carry bacteria like salmonella or e-coli and can spoil in a few days if not eaten.
Avoid any bones that are already cut into smaller pieces as they pose a more immediate choking hazard. Be aware that any bone may cause a digestive upset in a dog.
Cooked, brittle bones are more likely to splinter which may cause fractured teeth and possible perforation of the intestine or throat either on the way down or on the way back up if the dog vomits. Veterinarians also report dogs eating bones run the risk of needing surgery to remove obstructions in the intestines.
Any bone should only be given under supervision so you can monitor if the bone is breaking into dangerously small pieces. If this happens you can ask the dog for the rest of the bone (because you've already taught him the "give" command -- right?). Finding an alternative to a potentially hazardous situation is always in you and your dog's best interest rather than leaving it to chance.
If you have a question, send it to Lisa at AskLisa@AKC.org and she may select it for a future column. Due to the high volume of questions she cannot offer individual responses.