Zee Mahmood, a veterinary technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.
Sometimes, our pets get in serious trouble after a seemingly innocent event. Bee was given a piece of chicken by his unsuspecting guardian. Soon, the cute, 3-year old Shih Tzu stopped eating. Then he started drooling excessively and vomiting. Bee’s family vet took X-rays that showed a large bone stuck in Bee's esophagus! Apparently, Bee’s guardian had been unaware that the chicken contained any bones at all.
The esophagus is the tube between the throat and the stomach, passing through the entire length of the chest. It has the ability to propel food and water down to the stomach for digestion. Bee's vomiting, drooling and not eating were typical signs of something stuck in the esophagus (an esophageal foreign body). Other signs can include:
- Regurgitation of food or water
- Pawing at the face
This problem can happen to any dog (or cat) breed, but it is more common in small dogs, especially Terriers.
Click here to learn more about esophageal foreign bodies.
Removing Bee’s bone
Because the bone looked very sharp, removing it with an endoscope (a small device that can fit down the esophagus) was not a good option, as there was a risk of causing damage to the esophagus as the bone pulled out. Therefore, open chest surgery (thoracotomy) was the best option. This is a very delicate surgery, which is typically performed by a board-certified surgeon.
Bee went under anesthesia and into surgery. There were no bones to “crack.” We went between two ribs, exactly where the foreign body was seen on the X-rays. An incision was made into the side of esophagus, and a large chicken bone, along with smaller splinters, was removed. The bone turned out to be the shoulder blade of a chicken!
At the end of the surgery, a temporary plastic tube was placed through the skin into the chest cavity to help evacuate the air that was let in when the chest was opened. The surgery was a success and Bee recovered smoothly from anesthesia.
Bee after surgery
Our patient was kept on antibiotics and pain medications before, during and after the procedure, along with an antacid to minimize heartburn. No food was given for 24 hours, after which a liquid diet (canned food mixed with water) was prescribed for 3 weeks in order to minimize trauma to the healing esophagus. Post-surgical instructions also included strict confinement and leash walks only, along with a plastic cone for 3 weeks while Bee was healing.
The morning after surgery, Bee's chest tube was removed without any problems. The next evening, he happily started to eat his liquid food on his own. He went home about 48 hours after surgery.
Three weeks later, the skin staples were removed and Bee’s diet was slowly changed from gruel to his regular food. His activity was slowly increased, and he made a full recovery. Thanks to the quick thinking of his guardian and the veterinary team, Bee's life was saved.
Bee was very lucky. The sharp bone could have done a lot more damage. It could have cut into the esophagus, which could have led to a serious infection around the lungs and heart. This is the reason why it is so important to bring a pet with signs like vomiting and not eating to your family vet or the emergency clinic as soon as possible. You also want to be very careful about what you feed your dog and always check with your veterinarian before giving him anything new.
Questions to ask your vet if your pet is vomiting:
- Why is my pet vomiting?
- How do we treat it?
- When should I get worried if the signs continue?
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
What We Need to Understand as Responsible Dog Owners
Humans and dogs are considered as mammals in Kingdom Animalia. Although dogs can eat whatever humans can consume (except our favorite chocolate desserts) dogs have different needs in terms of diet compared to humans.
Understanding the basics of our dog’s digestive system/digestive tract can also give us clues on what food and drink we can offer these lovely pets.
As an omnivore, a dog’s stomach is considerably more acidic than humans. This is certainly a positive trait addressing the fact that these pets can chew, swallow, or take whatever they want. This also explains why your flip-flops are the chunky favorites they love to chew. Although our dogs, categorically speaking, can break down bones in their stomach, not all bones have the same nature or structures.
Bones Are Created Differently
We are not here to deprive our dogs of their all-time favorite meal by merely declaring that our hairy mongrels can take some recreational bones.
Yup, the operative statement here is ‘some bones’, and the number one item on the list of ‘no-noes’ for dogs are chicken bones. Although generally speaking chickens are not flying most of the time, their bone structures have almost the same design as their high-flying relatives.
These lightweight bones tend to break easily and can take irregular and sharp forms that can negatively impact the digestive system of our dogs. Since our dogs are acting upon their instincts their powerful jaws let them swallow and take everything without being conscious that it can hurt them.
Following this premise, if we are still keen on feeding our dogs with these beef bones we have to consider some categories of what ‘bones’ we can offer them. In acknowledging the facts behind the question ”
how long does it take for a dog to pass a raw bone” allows us to understand their health hazards.
First, as pet owners, we have to know our dogs’ behavior when it comes to chewing their food. Another thing to consider is the dental condition of our canine friends’ teeth and the overall health and size of our dogs. Lastly, we have to be conscious of the measurement and type of bones we are going to feed our pets.
Uh-Oh, You Fed Your Dog a Bone, Now What?
First thing’s first: Don’t panic. Your dog may digest and pass the bone without trouble. The key is to watch for signs of trouble and act accordingly – particularly if the symptoms appear acute.
If your dog exhibits any of the following signs, contact your veterinarian immediately and follow the advice given. These may indicate that your dog is choking, which can be a medical emergency:
- Extreme stress or panic
- Rubbing their face or neck on the ground or other objects
- Increased salivation
- Repeated attempts to vomit
Most of these signs would occur shortly after your dog eats a bone. However, it is also important to watch for signs of trouble further along the digestive tract. These include:
- Repeated vomiting
- Intestinal upset
- Lack of stool production
- Bloody stools
While an intestinal obstruction may not be as acute as a choking problem (as choking can block your pup’s airway), it is still a medical emergency that requires urgent care.
In fact, the longer the blockage is allowed to persist, the more intestinal tissue will become necrotic, thanks to insufficient blood flow. These damaged portions of your dog’s intestines will then need to be removed surgically.
So, be sure to contact your veterinarian at once, and proceed as instructed.
It is always wise to familiarize yourself with the canine version of the Heimlich maneuver and other potentially life-saving techniques, which may prove invaluable in such circumstances.
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So, while your dog may digest bones, it is far from guaranteed that she will. Accordingly, it is wiser to err on the side of caution and abstain from offering them. Offer your pup a safer alternative instead!
Some of the chewable treats and toys you can consider include:
- Bully Sticks – Made from real beef (just don’t ask what part of the animal they come from), bully sticks are widely considered safe, and most dogs love them. Just be sure to purchase your bully sticks from reputable sources.
- Indestructible Toys – Just because your dog likes to chew doesn’t mean you have to let him actually eat anything. Most dogs are just as happy chomping on a good, durable chew toy as they are a bone.
- Treat-Dispensing Toys – Treat-dispensing dog toys hold treats or flavored pastes that not only give your dog something to chew, they give him a delicious incentive to do so.
We’d love to hear your questions and experiences with dogs that have eaten bones in the comments below!
What Do I Do If My Dog Swallows a Rawhide Bone?
After a dog swallows a rawhide bone, the dog should be closely monitored for signs of choking or intestinal blockage. If these symptoms appear, the dog needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Rawhide bones are designed to be eaten, so the material itself is not dangerous to dogs unless it is contaminated. According to WebMD, large pieces of rawhide can get stuck in the throat or intestines, causing a blockage. Symptoms of intestinal blockage include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, pain and gagging or frequent swallowing. To help prevent dogs from swallowing a rawhide bone, the owner can take the bone away when it gets small enough to be swallowed whole. It is also important to give the dog a safe spot to chew the bone away from other dogs.