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No Bones About It

08/03/2008

Recently I used the endoscope to pull a bone out of a dog’s esophagus, something I do about once a month. As usual in these cases, the dog’s esophagus (the tube running from the mouth down to the stomach) had suffered severe damage from the pressure and abrasion of the bone that had been lodged there. I placed a stomach tube through the dog’s side for him to be fed through for the next few weeks while his esophagus healed. Because of the marked ulceration of the lining of his esophagus, the dog is at risk of “stricture”—a scar that extending across the esophagus and causing it to close off.

Of course, despite the worrisome condition of his esophagus, this dog was one of the lucky ones—not all bones can be removed with the endoscope; some must be removed surgically, and the esophagus does not always heal well. And in some cases, the bone causes a “perforation” (tear) in the esophagus, which is a grave and life-threatening situation. 

I wish that more people knew how often bones eaten by dogs get stuck in their esophagus, stomach, or intestine, necessitating endoscopy or surgery. I guess people think that it is “natural” for dogs to eat bones—well, if that’s true then we should be eating bones too, since both dogs and humans are omnivores! It’s true that the ancestors of our dogs may have been forced to eat bones—that’s all that was available to them! They didn’t have any gourmet dog food around. That doesn’t mean it’s safe to give a dog bones, any more than it would be safe for us to swallow bones or raw meat. 

If you take a look at dogs these days, you’ll see even more why giving them bones isn’t such a great idea. Even if a wolf could get away with eating a bone, that certainly doesn’t mean that a Pekinese, pug, Jack Russell, or beagle can do it! Most of our dogs have a much smaller esophagus than a wolf, and teeth that are a lot less strong as well. Without doubt I take a lot more bones out of small and medium-sized dogs than big ones—I guess in most dog breeds the saying is really true that their eyes (and mouth!) are bigger than their stomach. 

So please do your dog a favor—don’t give her bones, or let her grab bones out of the trash. If you ever suspect your dog may have swallowed a bone that is caught (your dog may gag, seem to be choking, vomit, or regurgitate), get to the vet right away for an X-ray. The longer the bone stays in there, the more serious the damage can be.

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