My Dog Ate Fishbones

Photo by Kate Ter Haar on Flickr

With all the talk of how fantastic powerful omega oils are for our health and the health of our dogs, it is easy to see the attraction of feeding them to our dogs.

And from a dog’s point of view, fish is very attractive.

For a start it has a very, very strong odour. 

And why not scavenge the bones? No one is looking and they won’t be missed will they?

But in this article I want to look what you should do if your dog eats fish bones and whether there is a safe way to prepare them for your dog..

[1] Are fish bones bad for dogs? Why?

Fish bones are bad for dogs for three main reasons

  1. They might get stuck and lead to choking 
  2. They might get stuck and lead to a blockage
  3. The fish bones might cut or perforate an organ

[1] Choking

Fish bones are fiddly and spindly little things and you might have experienced getting one caught in your throat before. 

I know that my (ex) wife once got a fish bone stuck in her throat and no matter what she did (cough, drink water or have her back slapped) the darn thing just wouldn’t budge and I ended up having to take her to A&E or the Emergency Room. 

So imagine the risk a fish bone to a dog is when they are a lot less discriminating with their eating than my ex wife was!

And so, the first risk that fish bones pose to our dogs is that they are a choking hazard. 

Once they get stuck, they can be a real challenge to move. 

No amount of coughing or retching by your dog might dislodge those pesky bones.

You might try inducing vomiting with your dog but that comes with its own set of dangers.

One such danger is that the bones are dislodged from one position but just get stuck in another.

But, here are some instructions if you want to give it a go.  

Another technique that you might try is the Heimlich Maneuver and yes it can be done on a dog!

Your best and safest option is to get your dog to the vets if they have a prolonged coughing fit. 

[2] Blockage

If your dog doesn’t have a choking fit, your dog isn’t out of the woods yet. 

The bones could still get stuck in their stomach or intestine.

If this happens, you will need to visit your vet.

There are four symptoms to look out for:

  1. bloody stools, 
  2. diarrhea, 
  3. vomiting of partially digested food or 
  4. constipation.

Remember that you might not see these symptoms until 24 hours later.

A word about fish heads

The general focus of this article is on fish bones but at this point, I want to talk about fish heads.

It might be that some people don’t give their dogs fish bones but they do give their dogs a fish head once in a while as a treat. 

Especially if you buy fish from a local fishmonger or market.

No doubt when you are readying them for the grill, your dog will be standing very close intoxicated by the smells.

So is there any harm in giving them a fish head?

Well, there could be.

A fish head is just a hard mass of bone, cartilage and brain.

And if your dog gets over excited and doesn’t chew it properly before it is swallowed, the head can become a choking hazard or blocking hazard.  

[3] Perforated organ

These hazards are beginning to pile up, aren’t they?

The final threat that I want to discuss is when a fish bone might scratch or perforate one of your dog’s organs.

And this can lead to a life threatening condition called peritonitis, which is an inflammation of the abdomen. 

Now, it is important to say at the outset that it is very unlikely that your dog will die of peritonitis from eating fish bones.

But because there is a possibility, I’m going to briefly discuss it. 

And it really can be life threatening. A dog with peritonitis has a 50%- 70% chance of dying

The cause of peritonitis is “more commonly from a perforation of an internal organ” (bluepearlvet.com)

Symptoms

There are several symptoms of peritonitis in dogs.

These include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Unwillingness to lie down (because their stomach is sore.)

But the trouble is that your dog might eat fish bones and be absolutely fine, you just never know.

[4] Are cooked fish bones better than raw fish bones?

My initial thought about this issue was that cooked fish bones are safer than raw ones because they will be softer.

But I don’t think that cooking them first will make them softer.

In fact, like larger animal bones such as rib bones from pigs or cows, cooking fish bones probably makes them harder and more dangerous.

This is because cooked bones are more likely to fracture or splinter when they are chewed by dogs. 

[5] Are there safer alternatives to feeding dog fish bones?

Fish bones can be very nutritious. 

They are known to contain high levels of vitamin A omega 3, iron, zinc and calcium. 

And they are an excellent source of calcium because of how easily animals can absorb the calcium from fish bones. 

This study shows how beneficial it is to young men and this study looks at the benefits to pigs.

But here are three other calcium alternatives for dogs:

  1. Ground bone
  2. Dark leafy greens
  3. Yoghurt

[7] What is the safest way of preparing fish for my dogs?

Amongst all the doom and gloom it is important to say that dogs can still eat fish.

And the best way to cook fish for your dog is to either gently steam it or grill it.

When you are doing this, don’t use any seasoning or oil on it.

Once it is cooked you can then “pull” all the meat away from the skeleton.

 Make sure that you discard the fish head as well because once swallowed it could get stuck in any number of places- almost like a cork!

An alternative to cooking your own fish is to give your dog canned fish, such as chunks of tuna. 

Buy tins of tuna that are in brine and not oil or tomato sauce.

And remember to only feed fish to your dog occasionally because it is quite high in calories. 

How to use fish bones with your dog

There will be some of you out there who will struggle to not give fish bones to their dog.

These people are either in the “I fed fish bones to my dog my whole life” camp or the “I don’t like the thought of waste” camp.

I can sympathise with both positions.

And if you hate the idea of waste, why don’t you feed fish bones and heads to your dog in a different way.

And make a fish broth with them.

That way you get the best of both worlds.

Here is a very simple fish bone broth recipe. 

Make sure that when it comes to straining the broth, you use a very fine cloth or a strainer with very, very small holes in order to catch all of the melted fish bones!

My dog ate fish bones, what should I do?

If you give your dog fish bones or they scavenge fish bones, the main thing to remember is that your dog will properly be OK.

It is unlikely that the fish bones would choke your dog, cause a blockage somewhere in their system or scratch an internal organ.

But fish bones and fish heads have the potential to cause all three of those problems for your dog.

Problems that will probably need to be resolved, at great expense, by your vet.

So after all is said and done, is feeding fish bones to your dog worth the risk?!