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Pet Store Bones Could Kill Your Dog, FDA Warns

Illnesses reported​ included choking, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, blockages in the digestive tract​, and, yes, death.

Ed Cara

Studio Six/Stocksy

One of the best things you can do for your cherished pup this holiday season is to keep them away from anything resembling a bone, whether it comes from your turkey feast or your local pet store.

According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory sent out last week, the agency has received 68 reports of injury or illness involving around 90 dogs that ate products marketed as “bone treats.” The treats, which are real animal bones that have been processed to make them dry and/or given extra flavoring, are suspected of causing choking, vomiting, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, cuts and wounds in the mouth, blockages in the digestive tract, and more. Sadly, at least 15 dogs have reportedly died after eating the processed bones. The agency has also received several complaints of these treats becoming moldy or breaking apart into splinters when chewed. The reports have come from pet owners and vets since 2010.

The warning doesn’t single out any one brand of bone treats as a culprit, but some of the treat descriptions listed in reports sent to the FDA were “Smokey Knuckle Bones,” “Pork Femur Bones,” “Ham Bones,” and “Rib Bones.”

“Giving your dog a bone treat might lead to an unexpected trip to your veterinarian, a possible emergency surgery, or even death for your pet,” Christine Stamper, a veterinarian in the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in the advisory.

Courtesy of the FDA

This warning pertains to store-bought bones, but both vets and the FDA have long sounded the alarm about giving your dog bones or boney scraps from the dinner table. Because bones can be brittle, especially when cooked, they often break apart as the dog chews them. Depending on the size of these bits, they can then get stuck in the throat and cause choking, according to a 2010 advisory. If they make it further down, they can upset a dog’s digestive system or even cause obstructions that require expensive surgery to remove. And if they’re particularly pointy, they can rip your dog’s mouth, throat, and digestive system to shreds, leading to bleeding and infection.

“This can happen to any dog, whether it’s a large dog or a small dog,” John de Jong, a Boston veterinarian with over 30 years of experience and president-elect of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Tonic. “Numerous times, I’ve seen dogs come in with bones stuck across the roof of their mouth, between their molars, and they’re gagging, trying to force it out, drooling heavily. Or I’ve had to take bones and fragments of bones out of dogs’ stomachs and intestines.”

The type of treats the FDA cites, despite being marketed as natural and “tested for safety,” seem to have the same problems as regular bones.

“The bone material itself and its risk of splintering, causing a pet to choke, etc. is the primary safety issue in both types of bones, rather than an ingredient or additive available in commercially processed products,” FDA spokesperson Juli Putnam told Tonic in an email. The illness and injury reports were sent to the FDA from November 2010 to September 2017, Putnam added.

Online, there are plenty of reviews of these products from disgruntled customers, with similar complaints of splintering and injury.

“The bones punctured her intestines,” wrote one Amazon reviewer in 2013 on the product page for ‘Hartz Americas Prime Smokey Dog Bone.’ “She was hospitalized for several days and a month later is still on medications and recovering. She came close to dying. These bones are very dangerous and should not be on the market!”

Other pet owners have tried to sue bone treat manufacturers, with some success. In August, a class action settlement was approved for anyone who bought the product “Real Ham Bone For Dogs,” produced and marketed by Frick’s Meat Products Inc and Dynamic Pet Products LLC respectively, from May 2011 to July 2017 (neither party was required to admit any wrongdoing). The settlement, which would cover refunds as well as medical costs caused by the product (up to $2,500) is still in flux, however, thanks to an appeal filed in September.

The FDA doesn’t screen these products before they come to the market, instead relying on reports from owners and vets as well as factory inspections. Despite the complaints, the FDA hasn’t found violations at the facilities that manufactured any of the reported products that “would indicate safety issues,” Putnam said, and no recalls of a specific product have been issued.

For now, the FDA is simply warning owners to avoid giving their dogs animal bones, processed or not. (They also remind you to keep platters out of dogs’ reach and think twice about throwing bones in a trash can that a dog could get into.) Instead, they should talk with their vet about recommended non-bone, edible treats. The FDA, Putnam relayed, advises that those who decide to throw a bone to their dogs despite the warning should at least make sure to follow the manufacturer's’ instructions properly, including by choosing bone treats “that are appropriate for your dog’s size,” and watching them closely for any symptoms like choking, vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, or cuts in the mouth or on the tonsils. They recommend pet owners always supervise their dog with a chew toy or treat, especially if it’s new.

“There’s a lot of good, safe alternatives out there,” de Jong says, such as chew toys made out of rawhide or nylon. “And it’s not like nutritionally they need the bone. A lot of owners think, ‘Oh, I’m doing my dog a favor,’ but there are so many other kinds of treats that dogs can be just as happy playing with without the risk of trauma.”

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