My Dog Ate A Ham Bone – Should I Be Worried?

Most dog owners are guilty of feeding their dog all kinds of bones. 

But just because your dog loves bones doesn’t mean they should have them. And when your dog wolfs down that big old ham bone you gave him after Thanksgiving, you could have something serious to worry about.

Cooked bones can splinter easily, breaking into hundreds of razor-sharp fragments that your dog can ingest. Considering that your dog ate an entire ham bone, your dog’s life could be at risk. You monitor the dog very carefully and head to the vet at the very first sign of trouble.

However, there are cases where dogs don’t suffer any problems after eating a full ham bone without damage. So how is that possible? And how do you know if your dog requires emergency treatment?

Should You Be Worried If Your Dog Ate A Ham Bone?

Yes, you should be worried if your dog consumed an entire ham bone. The bone fragments can cause severe gastrointestinal issues and might even lead to death in some cases.

The next 24 hours after your dog eats a ham bone are crucial. During this period, you need to be extra vigilant and keep a close eye on any symptoms that might indicate a problem.

Depending on your dog’s size and how much bone they consumed, the risk might be neutral or quite substantial. In any case, we highly recommend getting in touch with your vet if you notice any symptoms or unusual behavior.

What Happens When Dogs Eat Ham Bones

Bones are not that bad for dogs. Chewing on raw ham bones can be quite beneficial for their dental health and digestion. But if you do not supervise your dog with a ham bone, you might soon find it gone.

The sharp canines and incisors of your dog can help them breakdown an entire ham bone in just a few minutes. When they’re chewing on the bone, it breaks into hundreds of fragments that are capable of doing a lot of damage to your dog’s digestive organs.

Some dogs might even swallow a small piece of bone without noticing. And in most cases, this piece is what causes hundreds of dogs to get rushed to the ER each year. 

Here are some of the most common risks associated with eating cooked bones for dogs:

1. Perforation of the gastrointestinal tract

When a dog breaks a cooked bone with its teeth, the bone breaks into tiny, razor-sharp fragments just like glass. As these fragments make their way through the gastrointestinal tract, they can puncture or perforate any organ causing internal bleeding, particularly in the intestines.

Since ham bones are so massive, they can break into thousands of fragments, further increasing the risk of perforation. And while most pieces can make their way out of the gastrointestinal tract, there’s a risk that some might make their way into the windpipe. If that happens, your dog’s breathing can get restricted, and they could suffocate.

2. Intestinal Obstruction

Another hazard of consuming ham bones is intestinal obstruction. While chewing, most dogs accidentally swallow a big chunk of bone. This bone can often get stuck in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines creating a blockage.

Depending on the chunk’s size, the obstruction might be complete or partial and could also cause a perforation. It can also impair blood flow, causing permanent damage to the intestinal tract. 

Since most cases of intestinal obstruction are life-threatening, they require immediate surgery. If left untreated, a dog with complete intestinal obstruction could die in under 3-4 days.

3. Peritonitis

Peritonitis is the inflammation of the lining surrounding the abdominal cavity, which can happen when a foreign object punctures an organ in the abdomen area, such as the stomach or intestines leading to a bacterial infection in the peritoneum.

When a dog consumes a ham bone, the chances of bone fragments causing perforation in the abdomen are high. Most dogs don’t show symptoms of peritonitis and suddenly become ill. It is also worth noting that peritonitis requires immediate surgery, and even then, about 50-70% of dogs don’t make it through.

4. Mouth Wounds

Breaking down a bone requires a lot of strength. During this whole situation, the fragments of the bone can cut the inside of your dog’s mouth while they’re aggressively chewing on it. Some splinters might even get lodged in their gums or tongue and pose a risk of infection.

While this isn’t usually life-threatening, the wounds can bleed and make things worse. You might even have to take your dog to a vet if the fragments slit open a significant portion of their mouth.

Symptoms To Look Out For

Like we mentioned, the 24 hours after your dog eats a ham bone are vital to their survival. During this time, a dog might exhibit very vague symptoms or some significant ones. In any case, you need to be extra alert and be ready to take your dog to the vet.

In this situation, the presence of just one symptom should be enough for you to rush to the veterinarian. Because a ham bone is significantly larger than normal bones, it multiplies the risk of injury.

Here are some symptoms that show that you need to get in touch with your vet right away:

1. Vomiting

Usually, the first symptom to appear after bone ingestion causes a problem is vomiting. Most dogs will naturally try to vomit out any chunk of bone that’s lodged in their stomach or can’t be digested.

Sometimes, the dog will be able to vomit out a few pieces of bone. But in other cases, they might keep on vomiting without expelling any bone fragments. There may be a larger piece of bone lodged in their system that they’retrying to get out.

In any case, you should take your dog to the vet as soon as you can if they start vomiting.

2. Dark-colored stools

Intestinal perforation is a serious threat when a dog consumes a ham bone. If any of the fragments have caused intestinal bleeding, your dog may have very dark-colored stools. 

A tarry or black stool is a clear-cut sign that your dog is bleeding somewhere along the intestinal tract, causing blood to mix with the stool, giving them a dark maroon-ish or black appearance.

Internal bleeding is usually accompanied by lethargy and loss of appetite, but we strongly advise you to go to a vet as soon as you spot even a hint of dark stools.

3. Lethargy

In the case of bone ingestion, lethargy is a clear indication of an infection. Since the bone fragments can puncture any part of your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, bacterial infection can occur quite easily, leading to lethargy.

Internal infections are almost always caused due to perforations in the case of bone ingestion. Since these infections are quite severe and life-threatening, you should probably head to a vet as soon as you can if your dog seems unusually lethargic.

4. Lack of appetite

Another major symptom that can indicate multiple problems is a lack of appetite. It could mean that a piece of bone lodged in their stomach, or it could mean that the bone fragments have lacerated their intestinal tracts.

Lack of appetite could also be due to injuries in the mouth or gums. While lack of appetite will take a couple of hours to appear, if you see that your dog is frantically drinking water, take them to a vet straight away as it could be due to intestinal obstruction.

5. Struggling to defecate

When a bone obstructs the intestinal tract, it will prevent any feces from reaching the rectum. In this case, your dog will feel like defecating and might try, but won’t be able to do so. 

If you notice that your dog is trying hard to defecate but isn’t excreting any feces, the chances are that a piece of bone has lodged inside their intestines and urgently needs removal.

Tips To Help Your Dog Survive Eating A Ham Bone

While the consumption of a full ham bone is a dire situation, some dogs do safely make out of it without any serious damage to their health. 

Here are a few instructions and precautionary measures you can take to help increase your dog’s fighting chances if they consume a ham bone:

1. Feed them bread

You probably must have heard of this old wives’ tale before, but it does work. Feeding your dog bread right after eating the ham bone can help coat the bone fragments and prevent them from doing severe damage to their intestinal tract.

2. Give them pumpkin

Pumpkin has several health benefits to dogs, but perhaps the most notable one is improving digestive health. Pumpkin soothes the stomach, adds bulk to the stools so they can pass through easily, and lowers the large intestines’ pH. 

This is especially helpful in this situation as dogs can suffer from diarrhea and stomach upsets after eating so much bone.

FAQ’s

Can you feed your dog other cooked bones?

No, you should never feed your dog any cooked bones. Because bones become soft after cooking, dogs can easily break them down into sharp fragments that can cause serious internal injuries.

Can dogs chew on ham bones?

Yes, dogs can chew on raw ham bones, but only under constant owner supervision. Make sure you feed the bone after a meal and that it isn’t shorter than their muzzle so that your dog is discouraged from swallowing it whole.

How long is the critical time window after a dog eats a bone?

The critical period after a dog eats a whole ham bone usually lasts around 72 hours. During this time, you need to be extra vigilant about your dog’s activity as this is where usually things go wrong.

Should you feed your dog raw bones?

Raw bones make an excellent treat as they contain many essential nutrients and minerals needed by canines. However, supervision is necessary while they’re chewing on a bone.

Are chewing toy bones better than real bones?

Chewing toys are much safer and have a textured surface that also gently brushes your dog’s teeth. While they do not provide them with the same nutrients, they’re usually considered safer.

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