Turkey Bones Spell Trouble for Pets
by Dr. Bobbie Mammato
It's the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas and the phone at the clinic rings all day with calls from concerned pet owners: "My dog has diarrhea," "My dog has diarrhea with blood," "My dog is vomiting," or "My dog isn't eating." These all-too common scenarios share one cause. A few days earlier, someone threw turkey bones away in a garbage can that wasn't tightly shut, or some well-intentioned dog lover decided to feed the bones to the dog.

Bones can scrape, puncture, or block

Turkey bones—whether they have meat on them or not—are dangerous, and should never be given to dogs. Any sharp point on a bone can scrape and cut your dog's gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus down to the rectum, causing damage on its way in or out. A sharp bone can even cause a perforation in your dog's tract. Bones may also get stuck in part of the tract and cause a blockage that does not allow food to pass.

If a blockage has occurred, your pet will vomit most of what he eats or drinks (if he is eating and drinking at all); he will act depressed and lose weight if enough time is allowed to pass. A blockage that is left untreated can lead to perforation or tissue death of part of the gastrointestinal tract. Shock and, eventually, death may result if a blockage is left untreated

Even if a bone doesn't result in a blockage, it can still cause an internal abrasion or perforation of part of the gastrointestinal tract. If your pet has an abrasion, he may vomit (possibly with blood) and may have diarrhea (also possibly mixed with blood) and a decreased appetite.

If a perforation has occurred, your pet will be extremely ill—lethargic, reluctant to get up, unable to get comfortable, and surly about being touched in the belly. Also, he will probably not eat and may have a fever. This condition can lead to shock and even death if untreated

If you know your pet has gotten into bones, call your vet as soon as possible. If your pet is not vomiting, the vet may have you feed a high-fiber diet and monitor your pet for 24 hours to see if any symptoms occur. Or he may have you come into the clinic so he can X-ray your pet's belly to see exactly where the bones are. The vet is likely repeat the X-ray at some time later to make sure the bones are moving

Surgical removal

If your pet has a blockage, he will need surgery. Bones that are caught in the esophagus may be removed with an endoscope (a flexible, fiber-optic scope that allows for surgery without an incision) under general anesthesia. If the esophagus is damaged, your vet may have to surgically repair it. Bones in the stomach can sometimes be removed by endoscopy; more commonly they are removed through traditional surgery by making an incision in the stomach. Bones in the small intestine are always removed surgically.

If bones haven't gotten stuck by the time they reach the large intestine, they probably won't. But this doesn't mean that they won't cause a perforation. Bones that have made the trip all the way down the gastrointestinal tract sometimes get stuck at the rectum. These usually have to be removed with your dog under anesthesia, and the tissue has to be checked for injury and tears.

Dogs who need treatment for bone ingestion are generally quite ill, often dehydrated, by the time they get to surgery. They require intravenous fluid therapy during surgery and good monitoring afterward.


As you can see, turkey bones and pets definitely don't mix. So have a good Thanksgiving and Christmas and keep your pets safe either by taking your meat bones directly to the outside garbage, or by making sure your kitchen garbage container has a tight lid. It also helps to let holiday guests know you don't feed your dog anything from the table—least of all bones.


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