can i give my dog a ham bone?

by lizzie & isaiah on January 12, 2012 · 20 comments

For years, my mom has given our family dog, Wishbone, ham bones after the holidays. Actually, wait. Every year, my mom cooks the most delicious, fall-apart ham for Christmas. After a few days of leftovers, she makes pea soup. It sounds pretty disgusting and I avoided trying it every year until last year. It’s actually the most delectable, hammy, vegetable-y soup/paste.

To make pea soup, she cooks the peas for hours in with the remaining ham and bone. When the meat falls off, she takes out the cooked, then boiled bone and gives it to the dog.

It’s the coup de grâce of puppy Christmas.

This year, she cut the bone in half and gave both pieces to us: one for Abby and one for Vinny.

Wishbone weighs 30 pounds. It has always taken him hours just to get the marrow out of the bone and he leaves it alone when he’s finished.

Vinny weighs almost 70 pounds.

Needless to say, the night ended with us scouring the house for the bone he had already eaten. Then we worried and yelled and blamed Vinny for not knowing better.

Then we Googled it. 

Can I tell you that if you’re ever modestly worried about your pets to never Google “can I [insert unmentionable crime against your pet here]?”

The stories all read the same:

  • I woke up to my dog, dead in a pool of his blood, after feeding him a ham bone.
  • I watched my dog choke to death.
  • My dog needed $2,000 worth of surgery to get it removed.

We found my mom and asked her what to do. We all agreed we needed to go to the puppy emergency room.

Emergency hours for pet hospitals are double the cost around here.

We were looking at spending $200 just to get him seen. 

I called first, to ask if we needed to bring him in. The first woman berated me for giving him ham at all, meat, at that! How could I? Don’t I know dogs can’t process meat? Then she told me if we didn’t get him there within a half an hour, he would likely die.


Dogs are carnivores. That chick was clearly bunk.

The second animal hospital said, “You might want to like, bring him, and stuff, because, like, maybe he, like, is choking, you know, and we just can’t, like, see it.”


The third hospital said, “Don’t worry about it. If he gags, coughs a lot or throws up, come in.”


But clearly, Vinny is our boo. We talk baby-talk to that boy. We snuggle for hours. We have a nightly group hug, and I’m not joking. We have cut date nights short to go back home to the pup.

If anything happened, we wouldn’t forgive ourselves.

We lost a kitten once to a disease he contracted at birth and it was devastating. There was no way we were going through that again.

So we got ready to leave and prepped ourselves for losing more than half of my monthly paycheck on retrieving a ham bone from his insides.

Just before we left, we searched online once more and found You have to pay $30 if you’re pleased with the advice and we were. Instead of asking whoever answers the phone at the front desk of the animal hospital, we were able to talk to a real vet.

She told us it was safer to bring him in, but that he would probably be fine (in many more, doctor-ly words).

Once we calmed down, we found dozens of stories of people scared into bringing their dogs in after a similar mistake. Nothing was wrong, the dog was fine and they were out $400 – $1500 for the exam, x-rays and surgery.

The whole night, Vinny was a cheery, playful puppy. The next day, he was the same.

We hovered over his poo looking for shards of bone or blood like idiots.

He was and is fine.

Have you ever gone completely hysterical over nothing with your pets? Why do the pet hospitals exploit your panic for profit? We lost sleep, we could have lost financial security for the month and WTF WE WERE FREAKED OUT.

Don’t you think there should be some kind of hippocratic oath for veterinarians and the folks who make their appointments? Is there?

My rule? If you wear scrubs to work, you’re held to a higher standard. If in the human medical world, you induced hysteria by saying OMG you probably have cancer! How could you ever be out in the sun?! Don’t you know that’s terrible for you? If you don’t start this treatment, like ASAP, you’ll probably die — they would be dis-scrubbed. Or something.

In total, we learned one valuable lesson: no bones for dogs unless they’re raw and never chicken. I think we knew that before, but we didn’t really know it until it was 3 o’clock in the morning and we were shaking Vinny, squeezing his stomach and playing with the idea of inducing vomit in our little, lovey puppy.

Look at that face, though. Would you panic if it was in danger?

His new nickname: Vinny “The Hambone” Maldonado. 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice January 12, 2012 at 8:13 am

My dog Soqueta once ate an unknown plant (at like age 3 months) and spent the next twelve hours vomiting (which happened to be night). She’d vomit, drink all the water she could find, lick the walls (which is what really freaked me out), and repeat. I thought she was dying and called my now husband at 3am to come over and help because I was so terrified. I’m pretty sure I would have gone to an emergency vet but things here aren’t that organized. I’m sure you could find a vet in the middle of the night somewhere but they don’t have those overnight hospitals and I couldn’t find anything on the internet so we stayed home. She was fine the next day and is now a healthy 3 year old. And she still eats horrible things and spends hours vomiting and licking the walls. But now I just know it’s her way of doing things. The brat.


lizzie & isaiah January 12, 2012 at 10:16 am

Haha – I’m with you. I’d like to think that Vinny wouldn’t swallow a ham bone without chewing it, but I’ve honestly seen him do worse…he’s like…really into cat poo – and I’m pretty sure if you can digest another animal’s waste, you can handle meat.


David November 28, 2012 at 10:24 am

I was told that dogs that eat poo, as you put it, are eating their own food to fast and need to be given the food in stages 1/4 of the total at a time. Worked for my dog. Good luck. I saw this because mine ate a cooked ham bone and began throwing up. I will not do that again.


TheQueerBird January 12, 2012 at 8:16 am

Ugh, that sounds awful. I’m so glad he’s okay!

A few things, though, as someone who worked in small animal medicine for 10 years: yes, it is super expensive. Most places, though, are not actually exploiting your panic. Sadly, it’s really expensive to provide medical care because that’s what it costs. There’s no insurance or all the fancy stuff that actual human hospitals have, and the people who work there don’t get paid nearly enough for what they do. That said, it sounds like you talked to some pretty crappy people on the phone. And honestly, some vets are better than others. One place I worked was full of bitter, catty women, and they took all of their bitterness out on clients (“I can’t believe you gave your dog MEAT. You suck as an owner.”). Other places were super nice and understanding, but that can also wear on you with all the truly stupid pet owners out there (“Hi, I’m calling because my cat’s foot is swollen. Yeah, the foot is as big as his head. It’s been like that for a week. No, he’s been limping for longer than that. Can I just give him an aspirin or something?” Seriously. Not exaggerating.).

There is totes an oath for the vets, but often reception staff is just some high schooler who thought she would get to play with puppies and is now sadly disappointed and bitter, too. It’s definitely not a great system…


lizzie & isaiah January 12, 2012 at 10:19 am

I definitely understand, Bird. I’m pretty sure if I got a job where I thought I’d be playing with animals all day and then, in reality, it was just sick and dying animals, I’d be pretty bitter and angry too.

I don’t think it’s too expensive to treat animals – I get that part of it. The emergency room hours are just DOUBLE what’s acceptable costs for animals. But I was the first one here to say, “Well, what’s the motivation to work NIGHTS if it’s not worth it?”

Thanks for the perspective.


TheQueerBird January 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

I should add to this that one of our dogs was in a dog-dog collision at the park last week, and was limping the next day. I COULD have taken her to the vet on day 1… but instead I was like, “Here are some drugs, we’ll go if you’re limping on Day 3.” We didn’t do any walks for a few days, and between that and the drus, it was just a waiting game. I probably would have been mad if a client had waited that long, but guess what? On Day 3 she was fine. Sometimes you (/your dog) just have to walk it off.


nikki January 12, 2012 at 9:30 am

aw poor family! better to be safe than sorry!

(I’m actually the opposite though… unless the dog appears to be dying, I will cure him with snuggles and pats)


lizzie & isaiah January 12, 2012 at 10:20 am

I think we’re leaning toward that direction too, Nikki, it didn’t help at all to panic and honestly – is surgery really any less risky than the chance he won’t digest the bone?


Heather January 12, 2012 at 10:20 am

Look at that grin!

I go a little nutso over my dog as well. Probably more than a little nutso. She’s also a hoover vacuum and will eat any type of trash or other disgusting things and seems to pull through okay. But, I would also max out my credit card in vet bills if it meant I had to.


lizzie & isaiah January 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

RIGHT! He grins all day and smiles all the time as well – he’s scratching his neck there, which always make him happy. :)

Oh noooo! Vinny loves trash too…

We JUST, no joke, JUST finished paying off the insane vet bills from trying to save our kitten, Ninja. It was really expensive with exams, x-rays, surgerIES and burial. It was tough and we’re trying to avoid doing that again, ha.


craftosaurus January 12, 2012 at 10:34 am

Oh, that picture! That face!

For what it’s worth, the rule of thumb that my vet recommends is this: raw bones are a-ok (and actually help clean a puppy’s teeth!), while cooked bones are too brittle and *may* cause a problem.

Thankfully this didn’t happen with Cecil, but it’s pretty amusing: our neighbor had a golden retriever that swallowed a LEASH. Heh.


lizzie & isaiah January 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Ha! Thanks! He was scratching his neck and that makes him SO SO happy.


kathleen January 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Wow, we are pretty in tune with one another’s blogs this week! I’m in the midst of a related vet scenario, mostly in the sense that we’re trying to figure out the cost-benefit of a surgical procedure for Little Man, our cat. (So, nothing dog- or bone-related here.) My dad is the skeptic who wants to make sure we’re not lining the vet’s pockets, while I trust my vet completely and am on board for all of it, and Jon has been flip-flopping (but is mostly on board after further discussion). I feel guilty even thinking about not doing some of the recommended treatment — what, because he’s a cat I cheap out? His feelings would be so hurt if he knew, and I’d feel like a bad cat-mom.

On a more related note, I feel like I was that crazy person who took Otto in for just about anything for about the first 8 months to a year that we had him. I’d never had a dog before, what did I know? We’ve since started to observe and assess before running off to the vet and it’s gone pretty well for us. Along those lines, one Sunday morning a few years back Little Man was limping around the house and not walking on one of his legs at all, so we took him to the emergency weekend vet. Once we got him into the examination room he literally limped for two steps and then started walking as normal. $150 down the drain. He totally tricked us! Bad kitty.


lizzie & isaiah January 16, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I know!! We’re crazy in sync!
Oh man…I know what you mean. We feel comforted that we tried everything for Ninja…but we ate a healthy-sized, four-digit bill for a YEAR or so after because of it. We did everything we could because he was EIGHT months old. I think the fact that you’re thinking about it this long is good – you just need to make sure whatever you decide, you BOTH agree on…and one of you isn’t all “WTF WHY DID YOU PUSH ME TO DO THAT” afterward, you know? At least, that’s what we did.


Annie in LA January 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm

We once set a chicken drumstick bone down for our cat, thinking she would like to lick it. She ATE the entire bone within a few seconds before I even realized what she was doing.

I was about to freak out, luckily my husband talked me down and said she’d probably be fine. She was. I’m still not sure how in the world that thing made it through her little digestive system without any problems.

(Also, that has to be one of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen.)


lizzie & isaiah January 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm


The weird thing is…people forget that dogs and cats don’t have OUR digestive systems. They have TOUGH stomachs that are made to break down meat and bone and gristle and fat.

Our stomachs are fragile and weak in comparison, I think.


Alyssa January 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Hey lady, don’t forget, Jethro was a vet tech for nearly ten years and can answer some questions on what might happen if you go to the vet and if you should go. I’m SO grateful for him when it comes to Magsters, he’s super great about calming me down when I’m like, “OH NOS!!! SHE ATE THE PLANT AND IS GONNA DIE!!!” and he’s like, “No, she tore it up because she’s bored and a little shit. Look up the plant online, but I don’t think it’s poisonous. She’ll probably just poop. Your turn to take her out.”

I also want to point out that you probably talked office people rather than real vets, right? Nothing against them, but Jethro likes to complain about them; they tend to pretend they know more than they do or not caring enough to give you real answers. They should have let you talk to a tech or just said what Matt would have said, “I can’t answer that, but if you’re really worried you should bring him in.”


lizzie & isaiah January 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm

OMG I DID NOT KNOW THAT. I WILL DEFINITELY TAKE YOU UP ON THAT NEXT TIME. That’s exactly what I was thinking too…I knew we hadn’t talked to a single vet and most of them were just bored looking for something to do and a new “sale” – fucked up to think about it that way – in the wee hours of the morning.


Jo February 2, 2012 at 11:36 am

OH MAN. That stinks.


calipeach December 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm

This is great. You have made me feel better. Although, I am officially on poop watch right now. I landed on this site because I just did the exact same thing with our two dogs. I never give them bones but I too am making split pea soup with our left over Christmas ham and the bone looked like my babies would enjoy it soooooo much. One of my dogs was a stray and my mom sneaks him bones. I freak out and he is always fine. Yet, I never ever give bones to my pure bred dog who is also a senior dog. So, this Christmas they hit the jackpot. Then, I realized they were actually eating the bone and enjoying the marrow. Which, it is my understanding that marrow is a good treat for them. Of course, the bones were immediately confiscated and the I panicked and called the vet. We have a pretty good family vet. We were told to go on poop watch and call if we saw any signs of distress. So, prayerfully all will be fine and they will have gotten their last great ham bone. Thanks again for the reassurance and hope that all can be well after such a foolish mistake.


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