Dear Doctor: Give the poor dog a bone – but not a raw one

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Q. I know you’re not supposed to give your dog raw food because it can contain live bacteria that can make your pet sick, and cooking will kill all the harmful germs. But what about a raw bone?

Peter Lovell

Mobile, Alabama

Dear Mr. Lovell,

A. We cannot stress enough what a bad idea it would be to give your pet a raw bone to chew. A raw bone from which all the meat has been scraped, even by a butcher with an especially sharp knife, may still contain colonies of bacteria that could make your pet sick — not to mention you. People and dogs are both prone to illness from bacteria in meat that include Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli. Signs of illness include nausea and vomiting and, in some cases, even dehydration — or worse. Why take that risk?

Along with harmful bacteria, there are two other downsides to giving your dog bones, even if they’re cooked first. One is that they can fracture a dog’s teeth. Our general rule of thumb: if you can’t press your fingernail into something, you should not give it to your pet to chew.

Second, many dogs try to swallow bones. And large bones can get caught in the lower esophagus, just above where food enters the stomach. An obstruction in that spot can be life-threatening.

A great alternative to bones for dogs are food toys like Kongs. Such toys satisfy a dog’s urge to chew without posing any dangers, and because they require dogs to work to extract food, they can keep a pet entertained for quite a while.

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