Can Dogs Eat Rib Bones? To Chew or Not to Chew

Published December 1, 2021
Black Labrador dog eying a rib bone at BBQ

Considering some bones may be fine to offer your canine companion under supervision, you may wonder if dogs can eat rib bones. The answer is no, rib bones are not safe for dogs. It's critical for dog owners to understand the risks associated with this bone type and how to proceed if your dog gets a hold of one.

Can dogs eat rib bones infographic

Rib Bones Are Not a Safe Treat for Dogs

Whether raw or cooked, pork or beef, rib bones are not a safe treat for dogs. Given their shape and size, these bones serve as a choking hazard. Cooked rib bones can also splinter into sharp shards, which can damage your dog's mouth, throat, or intestines. Even served raw, these bones are not harmless. Consider the many potential risks involved with rib bones.

Dog with broken teeth
  • Broken teeth. It's very common for dogs to fracture their teeth while chewing on bones. When this happens, the tooth often splits all the way down to the pulp or nerve, creating a painful problem and leaving your pup susceptible to infection. Fractured teeth typically require expensive dental surgery.
  • Oral injury. Cooked rib bones are brittle and may splinter when a dog chews on them. These sharp pieces can easily pierce your dog's gums, tongue, soft palate, and throat. Surgery with sedation or full anesthesia may be required to treat these painful wounds.
  • Harmful bacteria. Although raw bones are less likely to splinter, they still carry risk. Harmful bacteria can breed on raw bones, making your dog or humans in your household sick. Common contaminants include salmonella, Escherichia coli -- known as E. coli, a kind of bacteria -- and listeria, to name a few.
  • Pancreatitis. Fatty foods, like the gristle and fat left on rib bones, can cause inflammation of the pancreas organ called pancreatitis. This is an extremely uncomfortable condition in dogs that can be fatal if left untreated. Signs include no appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.
  • Esophageal obstruction. Bone fragments or the entire rib bone can easily become lodged in the esophagus, serving as a dangerous choking hazard. Bones are reportedly the most common object to become lodged in a dog's esophagus.
  • Intestinal blockage. Even if a dog is able to successfully swallow a bone or bone fragment, it can still have difficulty moving through the intestinal tract. Bones commonly create a blockage within the stomach or intestinal tract. This obstruction prevents anything from passing through a dog's digestive tract and is fatal if left untreated. Most cases require surgery to remove the bone.

What to Do if Your Dog Ate Rib Bones

If you discover that your dog has swiped a rib bone from your plate, retrieve it right away. Even while being supervised, dogs can unintentionally gulp down a bone. Next, check their mouth for any bleeding or wounds.

If you know or worry that your dog swallowed a rib bone, check for any immediate signs of discomfort. If they are choking, gagging, pawing at their throat, or appear to be in distress, head to your veterinary hospital immediately.

If they are not in distress, it's still wise to contact your veterinarian for guidance. Monitor your dog for any concerning signs for the next 72 hours.

Symptoms to Watch for

After chewing on or ingesting a rib bone, monitor your dog for these concerning signs.

  • Bloody saliva or oral bleeding
  • Difficulty eating
  • Low energy
  • Decreased or no appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Regurgitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Constipation

When to Go to the Vet

It's important to seek veterinary attention at the earliest onset of these signs or symptoms. The sooner your dog is treated for an oral injury, bacterial infection, pancreatitis, or intestinal obstruction, the better their chance of recovery. Any symptoms that do not resolve or worsen after 24 hours warrant an urgent care visit.

Alternative Options to Bones

When considering alternatives to bones, it's important to find options that are both safe for dog's teeth and cannot be swallowed. The Veterinary Oral Health Council has a list of approved products that are actually beneficial for canine teeth while still allowing them to practice chewing. You could also elect for a tough Kong or Nylabone toy.

Brown dog standing on a garden path with a rubber bone in its mouth

For those dog owners who would still like to offer bones to their pup, it's important to select one that is large enough to prevent choking or swallowing. Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, recommends that owners pick a bone "approximately the size of your dog's head." Many experts also suggest selecting large raw bones over cooked bones, as these are less likely to splinter. Check with your personal veterinarian to see if they have any specific recommendations for your pup.

Can Dogs Have Rib Bones?

Rib bones are not an ideal treat or chew toy for dogs. Unfortunately, enthusiastic chewers may unintentionally swallow a bone while enjoying themselves. Resist those intense puppy dog eyes and instead give your pup a bite of a dog-friendly vegetable from your plate or a safe chew toy.

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Can Dogs Eat Rib Bones? To Chew or Not to Chew