Should you give a dog a bone? British vets say no
For generations of pet owners, feeding bones to their dogs has seemed as natural and healthy as letting them run free across fields and meadows.
But vets are now warning people not to give their dog a bone, because it could kill them.
British and Australian vets diverge on whether to give dogs raw bones.
The British veterinary charity PDSA has issued the warning after its vets and nurses reported seeing dozens of dogs suffering from damage to their digestive tracts and blockages caused by bone splinters or larger pieces.
The advice appears to run counter to many dog owners' assumption that their pets benefit from chewing on raw or cooked bones as a way of absorbing calcium and other nutrients and cleaning their teeth.
Rebecca Ashman, a senior vet with the PDSA, Britain's leading veterinary charity, said: "We don't recommend bones as treats because unfortunately our vets and nurses regularly see dogs with digestive tract damage and blockages caused by splinters or larger pieces of bone being swallowed and becoming stuck."
She added: "Surgery is usually needed to remove any blockage and, in some cases, the damage is so serious that it can be fatal. Similarly, if they swallow a large piece of rawhide chew this can become stuck and cause serious problems."
However, the president of the Australian Veterinary Association, Robert Johnson, said raw bones were acceptable so long as they were part of a "complete, varied diet".
"Make sure the bone is in fact raw," Dr Johnson said. "Definitely don't feed dogs cooked bones."
British supermarket chain Tesco stopped selling natural bones marketed especially for dogs following a number of fatalities, including the death of a two-year-old miniature schnauzer Burtie, who fell ill after a ham bone became lodged in his stomach.
Burtie's owners, James Lancaster and Anna Carey, from Beaminster, Dorset, had bought the bone from Tesco, believing it would be a nice treat.
But the dog quickly became violently ill.
An X-ray showed fragments of bone in his stomach and intestines and, despite a four-hour operation, the vet was forced to put him to sleep on Christmas Day - Burtie's second birthday.
Ms Carey welcomed the advice now handed out by the PDSA.
"Of course you wouldn't think that a potentially lethal product can be packaged up as a dog treat and sold to unsuspecting pet owners," she said.
Latest figures from the PDSA showed that, last year, its hospitals treated 59 dogs who swallowed bones, although no figures for injuries or fatalities were available.
The charity's warning has been echoed by the British Veterinary Association.
"We ask owners to never feed their pets cooked bones, and to also dispose of any bones left over from their own meal safely and securely to avoid pets seeking them out again," the association's junior vice-president, Gudrun Ravetz, said.
"If owners feed their dog raw bones we would recommend speaking to their veterinary surgeon to understand the risks and to only do so as part of a balanced diet.
"Handling raw meat and bones can also have risks for human health. We would not advise feeding cats raw bones."
Vets have also warned of the dangers of giving dogs rawhide chews, made from the skin of an animal.
As well as being produced, in some cases, by using harmful chemicals such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide and even arsenic, rawhide chews can also pose a danger of choking the animal.