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Many dogs have a brush with bowel obstructions, which sometimes lead to perforated bowel and peritonitis, which is when the contents of the intestine leak into the abdomen due to the perforation. This is often caused by trying to eat something inedible, like a toy, a collar, or string. For us, this just happened because of a fragment of a raw bone – something not nearly as common, given that raw bones are digestible and dogs (including ours) eat them all the time without issue. Well, until now. This is the story of Mort’s perforated bowel, peritonitis, and intestinal resection as the result of eating a tiny bone fragment off of a large raw femur. I thought I would share our journey in case it helps others notice warning signs, make decisions about what their dogs eat (our minds have obviously been changed), and these posts generally serve as a reminder to me down the road too.

Note: I am not a veterinarian, and blogs from any source are never an alternative to in-person evaluation and care of a professional. Please let this serve as information to be aware of prior to an emergency, but never as an alternative to contacting your vet in the event of one. If you are dealing with a suspected obstruction or perforated bowel, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

Please also note: I am not against a raw diet, and will continue to feed raw grind to our dogs (just not bones). We understand that this problem we encountered is rare when feeding raw bones. We are sharing it so you can be aware of this potential problem, and the early symptoms our dog experienced so you can catch it early. There are many benefits to feeding raw bones.

One last warning – there are some photos of a stitched up belly below. If you are sensitive to this, please be aware it is near the end of the post.

Early symptoms of the bowel obstruction

Before we had an x-ray taken, we did not know what the cause of Mort’s upset was. Mort seemed to have a bit of an achy belly, which he usually tells us by stretching his legs or doing a “downward dog” or “playbow” position. This has happened before when he got a bit too much sand off the beach from a tossed ball, but felt fine not too long afterwards.

This time he puked a bit of bark from our evening walk along with a lot of water. Mort loves to carry sticks, and he sometimes breaks them in half and tears them apart. He doesn’t eat them, but I thought he may have ingested some bits of crumbly bark from being on his tongue that had upset his tummy. Apart from that, I didn’t see him get into anything unusual so I thought that must be it.

Mort is an extremely active dog, and gets into things all the time. He’s been known to try chewing inappropriate things, and then he tries to eat them if he gets bored. We’re always watching him, crating him when we’re not home, and everything he might want to chew is put away unless he’s supervised, and actively playing with the object. So mishaps are known to happen, and he’s been through several “close evaluations” on the possible road to the vet. His stomach ache and nausea meant we were now in another such close evaluation, and my gut told me to watch him very closely this time.

We took him for a walk to evaluate him a bit further (he vomited one more time prior to the walk). He was at the end of the leash, acting pretty much “normal”, and apart from a couple leg stretches and a heightened interest in eating grass, not terribly unusual. We thought he may have puked up what was upsetting his tummy, but I still wasn’t calmed. I didn’t really like what I saw – there wasn’t “enough” in his puke to indicate it was stomach contents like it had been before and I was worried about an obstruction from perhaps a larger piece of bark he may have swallowed. Because it was midnight and approaching bedtime, we set the alarm for every two hours to check on him. Just before the first alarm at 2am, Mort puked again and seemed to be in some element of pain now. He was acting a bit more unusual. And that’s when we headed to the vets.

X-rays at the vet revealed raw bone fragments

Mort the dog at the emergency vets waiting for some pain meds.

Mort at the vets at 3am, waiting for pain meds before we left.

The vet we go to for emergencies is Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos. It’s an open veterinary clinic, which is the best concept ever. Essentially, I get to go wherever Mort does and apart from surgery can watch everything that happens. The ICU has visiting hours between 9am and 10pm. In my opinion, every veterinary clinic should have or at least work towards a policy like this. My anxiety is reduced as a result, and I truly believe the pets anxiety is reduced as well. This emergency vet is about 20 minutes away, and we were on their doorstep at a little after 2am. After a checkover, Mort was in for x-rays, and in his painful state luckily didn’t put up too much of a fight this time. The x-rays revealed two small fragments of raw bone, and gas bubbles.

This result was not necessarily unusual, nor was it particularly unexpected. Mort has eaten a prey model raw diet for about two years (raw grind with bones), until a couple months ago when I switched him to a grind and large “non-consumable” raw bones to clean his teeth. Mort ate his raw bones too quickly at times, and we were having issues with him swallowing them correctly (one episode landing him at that same vets – he managed to puke it up before surgery was needed). So we switched him to huge femurs and knuckle bones – things he couldn’t eat, but would still clean his teeth. So the fragments weren’t much of a surprise, as the large bones had meat, ligaments, and small bits attached that could be consumed. The fragments in the x-ray were simply pieces of these, and they should normally be digestible. They are in most dogs, have been in our dogs for years.

Our hope is that the offending fragment would pass through and digest, as they normally do. We were praying for poop.

Mort got fluids, pain medication, and antacid while at the vets, and we were sent back home with instructions to try feeding him at 10am. If he wasn’t eating and acting normal by then, to return.

The next morning – the symptoms were worse

Mort was checked on at 3am (sleeping) and we got up at 7am. Mort didn’t really want to get out of bed, but was awake. And staring at us, and definitely not his self. Complicating an assessment of the situation were the pain meds he was given only 4 hours before – I didn’t know what was a result of being doped up, or what may have been pain, obstruction or heaven forbid a perforation.

It was time to do a quick evaluation in the form of a potty walk, but I knew this would be followed by heading to the vets. Mort did not want to get off of the bed, so he was helped down. He walked to the stairs himself, but sat down at the top of them. When my husband lifted him up to carry him down the stairs, Mort snapped at his face. Goes without saying this was a massive warning sign something was terribly wrong.

We took him outside to potty, and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t well. His rear legs were a bit shaky, and it’s hard to explain, but he was walking very lightly on them. Sort of like his rear half was being favored. He kept going to the grass like he wanted to poop, but couldn’t. Then he would sort of stand there, and half close his eyes. Oddly though, he actually wanted to go on the regular walk, and I had to force him to turn around and head back home so we could take him to the vets. Despite seeming pretty well out of it and in a lot of pain, he wanted to power through our regular walk.

When we got home and dashed around to collect our wallets to go into the vets, Mort didn’t even leave the front door. He usually dashes around the house at top speed. Our little dude was really quite unwell.

Back to the vets for an ultrasound

We returned to Adobe Animal Hospital, where Mort was checked over and whisked back for immediate treatment. His temperature was normal, but respiration wasn’t. The doctor decided to give him an ultrasound, and got to see the entire analysis. Little dude lay there the whole time, completely stationary and just staring at me. It was pretty clear the bone was jutting up through his intestine, there was some free fluid around the area, and that this little guy was in a pretty bad predicament. It was announced he was a surgical case, we signed the papers, and he was set to go into surgery that same morning. The doctor explained that there were three main possibilities:

  • The object could be massaged through the intestine into the colon, where it could then be left to pass. This was the least invasive, but it was pretty unlikely in his case because the bone fragment was sharp and this could cause damage.
  • An incision could be made in the bowel, and the object pulled through and removed and then closed up. This weakens the bowel, but it’s less risky overall. The doctor was hoping this would be the case for Mort.
  • If the bowel was damaged, a piece would need to be removed and then the two ends joined back together again (resectioning). This is the most risky and dangerous, hopefully this wouldn’t be necessary.

We stayed with him until he was on a drip with more pain meds, and about 10 minutes from being taken to surgery. He seemed a lot more comfortable as soon as he was given the medication, and was getting pretty drowsy. I told him to be a strong little man, and we left him in the care of surgery.

The time between initial symptoms (that were subtle) to surgery was about 12 hours.

Peritonitis: It was worse than we thought, but he was lucky

When we heard from the doctor, Mort was in a much worse predicament than we previously thought. He not only had an obstruction, but the bone had in fact perforated his bowel and started leaking harmful bacteria into his abdomen. This is called peritonitis. From Vetlearn.com:

Septic peritonitis is an inflammatory condition of the peritoneum originating from a combination of bacterial and chemical contaminants within the abdomen. It is the most common form of peritonitis in dogs. Septic peritonitis can have a wide variety of clinical courses and outcomes depending on the signalment of the patient, the source and degree of contamination, and the body’s response to the contamination. This clinically important condition is associated with high morbidity, and mortality ranges from 20% to 68%.

The doctor had to remove about 6 inches of his small intestine, and sew the two ends up. They tested the resection (by filling it with water, essentially), and the test was successful. Hopefully his bowels will work. Here is his surgical scar – this was major surgery indeed.

Mort's surgery scar the morning after surgery.

Mort had major surgery, removing six inches of his small intestine, because of a tiny raw bone fragment. They are usually digestible, but in some cases… not. This was approximately 22 hours after surgery. He wanted a belly rub (he received a chest rub instead).

We learnt that the intestine where the perforation occurred had not deteriorated. We also learnt that it had not leaked all that much, and because of this we seemed to have caught it very early. This could very well have saved Mort’s life. We were told that had he come in, say, 12 hours later “we would be having a very different conversation”.

A blood test revealed that his numbers were normal, which indicated that the peritonitis was probably caught early enough not to do damage to his overall system. So while Mort ended up having the worst predicament, we caught it early enough that he has a good prognosis.

When we visited Mort that night, he seemed a lot better than he had been in the morning. He had gone on a walk, peed with a lifted leg, and even stood up and paws at the door when we arrived. He was very dopey, but seemed much better off overall.

Mort getting a belly rub after his major surgery.

Still wants a belly rub after major surgery. He loves to love.

The bone that caused this

We were given the bone that caused all of this in a small ziploc baggie. Well, I was asked “do you want to keep this?” and I replied “Well… I’m a dog blogger, so yes.” Here it is, with a coin to help with scale.

Bone fragment that was removed from our dog.

The fragment was pretty small, but had sharp edges.

The bone fragment that was removed from Mort.

The bone fragment height, next to a quarter.

To put this in perspective, dogs eat bones with ease that are much larger than this. Our other dog takes down chicken necks nearly whole, and will crunch a chicken leg once and swallow. Typically the bones are broken down and digested. We had an unlucky break with this one, which ended up being quite sharp despite being fed raw (which do not splinter). For our takeaways about this, continue reading.

Where do we go from here? What have I learnt?

Mort, at this time, is still in the ICU. He got through surgery with flying colors – luckily he is a young, active dog in very good physical condition. Obviously we learned a lot from this.

  • First off, we had very bad luck. Raw bones are edible and digestible and most dogs do just fine and thrive on them, as they have been for thousands of years. Choking is a more recognized hazard, and still not terribly common. That said, this has scared me off of raw bones completely. Our dogs will no longer be getting bones of any kind, but will continue to get raw grind.
  • Listen to your gut when trying to determine “is something wrong?”. Look in your dogs eyes – what do you think you should do? Listen to your answer. And always defer to going to the vet if you are ever unsure.
  • This is the fifth time I have had to use an emergency vet in about 4 years, 3 of them have been with Mort, 2 of which have involved surgery and another was a surgical close call. Living close to an emergency vet or having one to call in an emergency is important. Having insurance is important, particularly with an active dog.
  • Active dogs get into things. But it’s not necessarily those things that cause the most trouble! It can be unexpected things like relatively safe bones that send them into surgery.
  • You can try your best, think you’re doing the right thing, but still run into unforeseen issues.
  • Having an “open vet office” is very important to me, greatly reducing the anxiety I feel while being at the vet and not having to wait behind closed doors wondering what is going on. And greatly benefiting the animal by having a known entity in the room. Mort often would stare at one of us, probably for reassurance while in pain and being scared with what is being done to him. I will seek and always choose an open vet office over a closed one if I can.
Mort the dog in ICU recovering from surgery while laying on blankets in his kennel.

Getting some love while recovering in ICU.

For more information on bowel obstructions, perforated bowel, and peritonitis in dogs

WebMD: Intestinal Obstruction and Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Dogs
Peritonitis: Septic Peritonitis: Etiology, Pathophysiology, and Diagnosis


UPDATE: For an account of another dog who experienced a perforated bowel from a raw bone (in this case, chicken), please read this description and question posted on DOGthusiast.

And as mentioned at the beginning: I am not a veterinarian, and blogs from any source are never an alternative to in-person evaluation and care of a professional. Please let this serve as information to be aware of prior to an emergency, but never as an alternative to contacting your vet in the event of one. If you are dealing with a suspected obstruction or perforated bowel, take your dog to a veterinarian immediately.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • kimberlygauthier

    I’m glad that you were able to keep your head about this; it had to be such a scary situation. I was truly expecting such a larger fragment. I watch our dogs with their bones, but I couldn’t be certain of the size that they’re swallowing. I want to say it’s smaller, but I can’t possibly be sure so I will follow your lead and make certain that I’m always familiar with familiar and abnormal behavior so that I can act quickly like you did.

    Love to Mort.

    • Fantastic – that\’s precisely what I\’m hoping by sharing this, as they were pretty subtle and I never suspected it would be a chip off of a large bone. I just added an additional note to the beginning of the article to highlight that this is a rare scenario and is not meant to reflect on a raw diet. I spoke with a technician from the emergency vet office who said that she sees tons of obstructions and perforations, but not from raw bones – she feeds them herself, and was surprised. I truly suspect that this is a case of bad luck.

  • I am so happy that you were so quick to act and that Mort is doing well. I’ve always been paranoid about bones, so reading about your experience is very helpful.

    • Thanks! Yes, although it was a pretty rare edge case, it has changed how we\’re feeding both dogs. No more bones for them – it will help my anxiety, and no more chance it could happen again. Plus, Mort\’s system is compromised so we can\’t eat things that have even a remote possibility of not going through smoothly (no bully sticks for him or anything like that). Guess I\’m going out to buy a tooth brush!

  • Wow, sure glad you caught that early. Heal up Mort!!

    • Thanks so much! Yep, time was key and we were certainly lucky on that account! :)

  • Ohmy dog! I am so sorry you have to go through this! But I am glad you were able to find out what was wrong!
    Sending you some healing husky hugs, poor pup!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    • Paranoia was definitely on my side :) Thanks so much for the husky hugs!

  • I am glad that he is doing well. I feed a full raw diet, and this is incredibly scary. Hugs to you both, you are all in my thoughts.

    • Thanks so much Rebekah :) I think it was a pretty rare thing that happened – more common with cooked ones, but raw definitely not. From what I can tell, it may have been a little \”hook\” that was digested into the bone, it may have caught up in his system and caused the backup and perforation. When I spoke with a tech there and the company I purchase the prepared grind/bones from (doing it for 20 years for pets), they were both surprised. Something to be aware of as a possibility, but I don\’t think it\’s very common.

  • So glad Mort is OK! Scary, and how awful.

    I’ve fed my dog raw chicken and turkey bones for a few years, and I’ve always been slightly nervous about it.

    I read your post with interest, and it gives me some things to think about. Thank you for being so open and also pointing out the benefits of raw bones.

    I hope Mort is back to normal soon!

    • Thanks so much Lindsay! Yeah, I have also been nervous about it too, and a pretty paranoid dog person in general – so of course I\’ll get both possible problems within a couple months (we had an esophageal obstruction a few months ago). It is what it is, I guess! But yes, there are so many benefits I\’m bummed to have run into this and hope tooth brushing will be as effective. (Mort\’s system is highly sensitive now for life, high risk for future obstructions so I\’m staying away from bully sticks and everything). Dogs are still getting prey model grind though :)

  • What an ordeal! But, also, what a great post — not just the story but the information as well. I think I will continue to feed Freddie bones, but with a new awareness of possible problems to look out for.

    Freddie sends get-well licks and play bows to Mort!

    • Thanks Heather! Yep, awareness is what I was hoping for because it\’s a really time sensitive one. But luckily an edge case, I don\’t think many dogs run into it.

  • Hugs to Mort, love, Mom

  • Poor Mort! I am so glad you were so observant and pro-active. I had a similar scare with Ruby over a piece of a plush toy and she will always need to be watched closely as active, mischievous dog. I am shocked at the small size of the bone fragment and this is exactly the reason that Nylabones and the like make me nervous – the pieces that come off are usually very small, but they are also sharp. Ruby and Boca are both closely supervised when they have those chew toys. This also causes me to worry about antlers. I know you’ll keep us updated, what a wonderfully organized and informative post in the midst of an emotional experience!

    • I think Ruby and Mort were separated at birth! Yeah, he\’s the same way and has been into a number of things already – always crated in a completely empty crate as he\’ll chew when he\’s bored. The rub is that now that he\’s lost intestine and has scar tissue in there, he\’s a high-risk of this happening again if he eats anything that could potentially block the system. That one was a bit of a surprise and a bummer. Will post about that once I research and sufficiently freak myself out I\’m sure ;) (next week when he\’s ready to be released from the safety of crate-jail!)And thanks re:post – like to try and do them quickly so I remember the details. :)

  • Wow, poor Mort! I am so glad you’re an attentive momma and realized something was wrong early on. The outcome could’ve been vastly different. Healing thoughts and prayers going up for your boy. <3

    • Thanks so much Christina! I shudder to think of the alternative – we lucked out for sure.

  • We’re so glad Mort came out of this okay – is he home now? We used to give our dogs bones and never had issues, but I’ve stopped. Jack just inhales things and I was really worried about an obstruction. This must have been so scary, but I think the list of lessons learned is helpful. Give Mort a kiss and a high-five from his friends at SlimDoggy.

    • Mort sends his high-five and a pawbump back to SlimDoggy! Mort had an inhaling based obstruction a few months ago (Tig looked at him sideways, and despite having an ex-pen between them he tried to swallow a second piece simultaneously – landed us in ER) – moved on to big ones that can\’t be eaten whole and this. One stressful, expensive lesson at a time I guess :)

  • This is so incredibly scary! =( I would have been a mess…You, your family, and Mort are in our thoughts. Wish I was able to give you both a hug-virtual hugs to you both and give Mort a kiss from me <3 Heal quick little dude!

    • Thanks so much!!! Sending hugs and nub wags back to you and our cattleaussie friends :)

  • So glad you caught it early and he’s going to be ok! What a scare! Yeah, young crazy dogs do crazy things and one just cannot possibly prevent everything, short of locking them in a bubble. It IS so important to be able to tell when things are dire.

    • Sometimes I wish for dog bubble wrap! It\’s really a bit of gut reaction (based on your sense of what\’s normal and what might be in reaction to pain), and also a bit of luck I suppose. First sign was he was staring at me more than normal (and normal is a lot of staring!) They sure can be subtle about things being bad…

  • I read this a while back and meant to go back and comment – it seems Mort and Alfie are on a similar level of emergency vet visits (must mean they are equally crazy and boisterous!), although so far we haven’t had any problems with his raw diet. This must have been so scary for you guys – I’m glad Mort got through surgery fine though. We usually feed Alfie the mince type of raw with the occasional bone just like you used to….gonna need to think about our approach…this really hit home a little too close for comfort! Give Mort a cuddle from me and hope he is bak to his usual self soon!

  • Scary. I’m so glad you got him to the vet in time, and that the surgery went well. Poor Mort! He deserves a belly rub when his stitches heal.

  • Oh I’m so glad Mort is ok! What a frightening experience for everyone. Its a good thing you know your dog and followed your intuition. Kirby only gets jerky and bully sticks. I do grind boiled chicken bones to dehydrate for a treat but otherwise bones terrify me.

  • Poor Mort! Raw bones scare me because our dogs swallow pieces whole sometimes…so we no longer give them out either.

    • Shara

      Yeah, raw bones are pretty dangerous for dogs, which is why most veterinary nutritionists are against feeding them except in select cases. They not only chip off in little pieces (causing obstructions and perforations) – they also cause slab fractures in the upper molars, and I’ve heard multiple stories about owners rushing to the emergency vet because some bone shapes (such as circular bones) can get caught around the jaw. There’s also the risk of infection caused by raw meat, not only to the dog (no, dogs aren’t miraculously immune from salmonella!) but also anyone who later pets the dog and gets any bacteria on the fur transferred to their skin.

  • Great article. I will be dealing with some of these issues as well..

  • Caity

    I just have to say, THANK YOU. This post was extremely helpful. Our goldendoodle swallowed a huge chunk of a yarn blanket, and an x ray showed the obstruction. The poor guy can’t seem to push it out, which amazes me because he has either been able to push out or puke up any foreign objects he decides are food. Not this time it ooks like, unfortunatley. He is going in for another x ray to determine whether or not the obstruction is moving or staying still, and so I am killing time scavanging around the internet. This was more helpful than the vets have even been at this stage. I am so glad your pup is okay! Wishing mine a lot of love and luck.

  • Lili

    I am glad that he is doing well. I feed a full raw diet, and this is incredibly scary. Hugs to you both, you are all in my thoughts.

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  • So glad to do d your blog. I am dealing with this today on a puppy I just got 3 days ago. Not sure we know the culprit. Tracy

  • Thank you so much. Scout my 4 mo old beagle, who I just had for 2 days, had major surgery to repair a perforated intestine. They flushed her stomach since she had septic stomach. The surgeon said she had a 50/50 chance. She spent 5 days in ICU with great care. Thankfully she is at home recovering now and is doing well. The drs said this can also be caused by a dog being given an excessive amount of anti inflammatories. I got her from an individual so I wonder. The best news is she is ok. Our vet bill did run $9500. I’ve set up a GoFund Me if you’re interested. https://www.gofundme.com/savescoutthebeagle
    Thank you so much for your article. Tracy

  • louisa

    I’m surprised there’s no mention of the type of bone here. Yes dogs do take down bigger bones than that and digest them, however that’s a shard from as you said, something like a huge femur – a weight bearing bone which isn’t recommended even on a raw food diet giving bones! It’s entirely different to a whole neck.

    • I actually mentioned it right at the beginning of the article in the introduction (and you mention it in your comment, so … yes I did say the type of bone), and later as well. This is an issue for any type of non-consumable recreational bone. I say here they digest consumable bones and this was rec and non-consumable. So thanks, but I did cover what you mention and said this wasn’t regarding a consumable. No where did I even remotely suggest the two were the same – in fact, I outlined several times how they were different.

      And, as also mentioned, the dog in question could not eat consumable bones due to the fact he ate them too fast and choked, multiple times once almost leading to surgery. Hence why we were using rec bone at all, so he could clean teeth — very commonly sold in the raw community. He ran into a shard nestled within a bit of flesh, cut improperly at the butcher or so I guess. My raw meat provider had been in the business for 25 years serving dogs and cats and claimed to have never had this happen before.

      Of course, now it seems obvious, but it isn’t to everyone hence the writing of this article. If there’s a day no one is selling rec bones and everyone knows about these dangers, sure. But they are commonly fed to dogs, and many raw feeders I’ve spoken to had no clue about any of this (and still choose to feed rec bones after knowing about it – heck, I easily gave away the very same frozen bones Mort nearly died from to a friend who wanted them for her dogs… this friend worked at the vet he nearly died at and helped nurse him to health), so whether or not the information is read, processed, or not, it’s relevant to some.