Case Story: Bone Meal Toxicity

By Jo Marshall
Certified Veterinary Technician at Pet Poison Helpline

I took a call from a concerned puppy owner today regarding her Labrador puppy, Mya. The puppy had gone on a short field trip to visit the neighbors. As the owner approached the puppy, little Mya had her face buried deep a in a bucket and was eating away in true Labrador fashion, as if it were her last meal. She was clearly trying to get every bite before her mom got to her. The neighbor family had been out gardening and had poured a bag of organic bone meal into a bucket to use as they worked in their garden. For little Mya, being the carnivore that she is, this was nice little treat and she made the most of it.

Her owner did everything right in this situation. She gathered the information from the fertilizer bag, including the product, company name, the company phone number and the product active ingredients. She then called the manufacturer of the bone meal to inquire as to the harm of this product if ingested by a dog. She was advised by the manufacturer that the product is non-toxic to dogs when ingested and no concerns would be anticipated.  After some thought, she became worried by that advice because her puppy is only 4 months old and she was unsure of how much her puppy had actually ingested and felt certain that it was more than just a lick or taste of the bone meal. So she called Pet Poison Helpline for advice.

Here is what we had to say about this exposure. We agreed that this product is truly non-toxic BUT that is not the only concern here for Mya. Organic fertilizers can contain blood meal, feather meal, and fish meal to name a few, in addition to bone meal. These products are very palatable to carnivores, i.e. our dogs, and they can and will eat large quantities when given the opportunity. With bone meal specifically, we get very concerned that the meal will actually clump up in the stomach and form what we call in veterinary medicine, a bezoar. A bezoar is very simply a stone formation from ingestion of a foreign material that the dog is not able to digest.  These stones then cause an obstruction and generally require surgical removal.  We can also see risks of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas as a result of a rich or high fat meal or large ingestion of an organic fertilizer. Pancreatitis is more common in some breeds of dogs, Miniature Schnauzers for example, older dogs, dogs that are obese or dogs that have a previous history of pancreatitis. This can also result in mild to severe gastrointestinal upset which can include vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea.

All of these clinical sign have the potential to be very serious and in some instances, potentially life threatening! So for Mya, we recommended that the owner induce emesis (make her vomit) to get the bone meal out before it could result in more serious concerns. On follow up with Maya’s owner, Mya vomited a large quantity of food and what we suspect to be the bone meal. We expect that she will do fine and will return to her normal Labrador puppy-self by morning!  This is a much preferred outcome to having surgery to remove a stone in the next 48 hours!

So the moral of the story here is to talk to a veterinary professional before determining if something is non-toxic or harmless to your dog.   This is not the first call that I have taken where the owner has contacted the manufacturer of the product or a friend or Dr Google and has been given misleading or completely incorrect advice. The  aforementioned individuals mean no harm and want to help but likely have not had the training to offer appropriate advice and their advice may actually result in harm to your pet.  My recommendation to you is to contact your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline. Our veterinary professionals are available 24/7 to assist you in assessing the potential risks to your pet with potentially harmful exposures.