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Dog Swallows Chew Whole, Ends up at the Vet. Should the Store Owner Pay the Bill?

In the Jul-Aug Real Deal, readers share how they would respond to a request for vet bill reimbursement.




FIONA WALKED BACK to her stockroom to grab all of the bins she’d need to refill her giant wall of chews. Ever since the “Buy 12, Get 1 Free” promotion began on bully sticks, tendons and other natural chews, sales were consistently high. Customers loved any deal that offered something for free, and Fiona loved having a higher quantity per transaction. Now almost every day, customers were stocking up on a dozen or more chews instead of buying just two or three.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

As Fiona came back onto the sales floor, she saw a customer standing at the checkout counter, speaking loudly to her employee while trying to hand him a piece of paper. Fiona steered the cart full of chew bins toward them to find out what was going on. The employee immediately introduced her as the store owner.

Fiona asked the customer how she could help, and in response the woman said, “You can help by paying my vet bill.” Fiona looked at the bill with a puzzled expression and asked, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’m not understanding. What is this vet bill for?”

The customer pointed at the cart and said, “I bought some of those bully sticks you recommended. My dog swallowed one whole, and it got stuck.

Luckily, we were able to get him to the vet’s office quickly so they could pull it out. But considering you sold me the bully stick, you should reimburse me for this bill. My vet said bully sticks can cause choking or a blockage when swallowed whole. My poor Saint Bernard could have died,” she said loudly enough for everyone in the store to hear. “You shouldn’t be selling these chews.”


Fiona calmly put the bill on the counter and asked the customer for her receipt so she could look into the situation further. The woman reached into her purse, pulled out a handful of 6-inch bully sticks and put them on the counter next to the bill. The customer gave Fiona her name and told her to look up the transaction as she did not have the receipt.

Fiona found the transaction and saw that she had sold the bully sticks to the customer, but Fiona did not remember the customer telling her what size dog she had. Fiona would never sell such a small natural chew for such a large breed of dog.

The Big Questions

  • Should Fiona pay the vet bill, since she doesn’t remember asking the customer about the size of her dog?
  • Acknowledge that the situation was unfortunate, but tell her that dogs must be supervised when they eat any natural chew and that the bill was not Fiona’s responsibility.
  • Provide the customer with the manufacturer’s contact information so she can ask them to reimburse the vet bill.


Mary H.
Fleming Island, FL

We make it a point to inform customers about the appropriate size for chews. However, we cannot always be present when they make decisions. That’s why we have a sign that says “Chew Size Matters.” It states that there is no such thing as a chew that is too big, but one that is too small can be a choking hazard. We also recommend supervising pets while they chew. Furthermore, manufacturers provide weight and size recommendations on packaging. We would not cover the vet bill since we take various steps to educate clients.

Laurie M.
Naperville, IL

I would compensate the owner. It appears she was not informed of the inherent risks of this type of chew, nor of the steps she could take to mitigate those risks. Without that information, the customer could not make an informed purchasing decision nor assume responsibility for an adverse event. Considering I have removed an intact 12-inch bully from a 17-pound dog, the length of this chew may be immaterial. Furthermore, it seems owners are not advised to remove chews when they become smaller, making the size-when-purchased concern somewhat moot. Nothing is without risk. It is my duty to inform a client of potential risks and benefits of whatever I recommend. Retailers need to do the same. Manufacturer warnings, if so labeled, should be pointed out and customers informed of the potential for choking, obstructions and tooth damage when offering chews. Fiona can seek compensation from the manufacturer or her insurance carrier.

Michelle M.
Osprey, FL

My initial reaction is no, we do not pay the vet bill. Unless, and this may not sound fair, it is someone who is a longtime customer and we feel the bill is a financial burden to them.

Doug S.
New City, NY

This is the age-old question: Are we responsible for a pet owner’s irresponsibility? Every manufacturer has wording to the effect that chews should be monitored for the safety of your pet. And if you own a giant breed, why would you even consider a 6-inch treat? That’s like a client who has never tried chews and finally does and lets the dog consume it in one sitting and the dog gets loose stool. They take the dog to the vet and get metronidazole to calm the stomach, and that is $150 for the visit and meds. Is it up to the merchant to reimburse? Don’t think so. I wish common sense was back in style.

Jennifer B.
North Ridgeville, OH

This is a situation where Fiona would be better off paying the bill to avoid ugliness. It would then be a good idea to post a chart with recommended sizes, emphasizing that dogs should be supervised while chewing. Even if Fiona remembered recommending a certain size, it would be she said/she said. I am now going to go type up a size chart for my chew section.

Paul L.
Mount Dora, FL

I would respectfully decline the customer’s request. Fiona was not told the size of the dog. Although she did not inquire, Fiona did not knowingly sell her something potentially harmful. I would, however, offer to give her a refund on the bully sticks. When asked how long will this treat last or if it’s a good one for “my pet,” we say, “We have no idea, but treats and toys are intended to be enjoyed while supervised.”

Laurie R.
Glenwood Springs, CO

All chews should come with a safety caveat about potential choking hazards and the need to supervise. We sell a lot of these, and employees are drilled to emphasise this with every sale. The right size for the dog is important, but even a 36-inch bully, if not removed before chewed down to swallowing size, can be a hazard. I suggest posting obvious signage near chews, and for sales folks to remind purchasers. For this case, I would post the story on social media, minus identifying info, as a cautionary tale. I would pay the vet bill, apologize for not having warned about the appropriate size of chew, and reiterate the need to supervise. I’d also give the customer a couple of the longest bully sticks I carried with information about how to safely get the chew from the dog before it becomes a choking hazard. Finally, I’d explain what chews are good for, and tell her that there are inherent hazards to take into consideration when deciding what to give her dog. This was an expensive lesson but could have been so much worse if the dog had not gotten to the vet in time!

Sarah R.
Bentonville, AR

While this is an unfortunate circumstance, I would kindly tell the customer that we would not be responsible for the bill. Any chew, whether the correct size for the dog or not, should be monitored while the dog is chewing it. Also, as a pet owner, it is very important to know what size treats are appropriate for your size dog. I would say that she might be able to contact the company to see about reimbursement, but that we would not be paying the vet bill.

Stacey Q.
Newton, MA

I would acknowledge that the situation is unfortunate, but all dogs should be supervised with any chew. The bill isn’t the store’s responsibility; it’s up to the pet parent to know what size they need. I would advise my staff to be more vocal about safety and ask more questions of customers shopping for chews.

Wendy R.
Emerald Isle, NC

I would recognize that she is being reactive, which is natural. I would give her time and space to rant while acknowledging that it must have been a very frightening experience and that I am so glad the dog is OK. As gently and sympathetically as possible, but while holding my ground, I would tell her that the chews are not inherently dangerous, but that the wrong size can potentially be a hazard just like small toys around small children, which is why dogs need us to make good choices for them. My goal is to get her to see that we are there to provide information and carry quality products, but that the burden of responsibility for choosing the proper items remains on her. I would in no way, shape or form say or even imply that I am willing to pay the vet bill. I understand that I may lose her as a customer, but I won’t take responsibility for something that was not our fault.

Brett F.
Owego, NY

Fiona is not responsible for the vet bill. Dog owners need to take responsibility for their own pets. I would be willing to refund the entire order and even provide a free appropriately sized chew as an act of good faith. Then I would explain the need to know what size chew is appropriate for her dog to avoid these issues. She can do all this politely and still refuse to pay the vet bill.

Niki P.
Denver, CO

The bill is not her responsibility. If the customer continues to complain, she should give her the manufacturer’s contact info. They carry liability insurance, and they made the product.

Shelly N.
Essex, MA

Fiona should be sympathetic to the owner, but she has no obligation to pay the vet bill. The only way Fiona would be in any way responsible is if she had told the woman that the 6-inch bully was appropriate for the a St. Bernard, which it clearly is not. Since Fiona did no such thing, it is completely on the owner to have knowledge of what her dog can and cannot handle as far as chews, treats and toys are concerned. There was no negligence or malice on Fiona’s part.

Rebecca N.
Milford, DE

I would first state, “I am so sorry to hear that his happened to your dog. I am glad to hear that the vet was able to help and everything is OK now.” I would offer a refund for all of the treats purchased. “I am happy to give you a full refund for all the treats since it seems they are not a good option for your pup.” I would then offer the manufacturer’s information, “Here is the company’s customer service number for you. I would suggest calling them and letting them know what happened to see how they can help.” If they continued to insist we pay, I would continue to redirect them to the manufacturer. I would apologize, letting them know that any chew/toy can be dangerous for any dog, and it is always suggested to keep an eye on your pet with any new chew/toy. I would make recommendations for larger chew/toy options for the future.

Brett S.
Markham, IL

I’m a brand owner. While we do not market any chews, anytime there is an issue with the food from an end customer, it should be forwarded to the brand and they can deal with it from investigation to reimbursement. It should never fall on the retailer. In the issue with the size of the chew vs. the size of the dog, that should be the responsibility of the brand to relay the information with POP displays to help mitigate a situation such as this. The retailer should know what and how tp sell their products with any warning, but that is only to help prevent a situation such as this.

Diane B.
Morris, MN

I always question what breed or size of dog the owner has before I recommend anything, just to be sure we are matching product with the pet. However, the pet store should not be held liable if the dog swallowed the chew whole, as the owner needs to accept responsibility for her pet. However, the store owner could offer a small credit toward another purchase. This shows empathy and, hopefully, will be a show of good faith toward the pet owner. However, if the pet owner refuses that or insists on something more, hold your ground. If the store owner gives in, this may set a precedent for other pet stores to accept responsibility that rightfully only belongs to the pet owner.

Diane M.
Wolfeboro, NH

Acknowledge that the situation was unfortunate, but tell her that dogs must be supervised when they eat any natural chew and that the bill was not Fiona’s responsibility.

Paige E.
Erie, PA

I would apologize and let her know we were so sorry to hear about that unfortunate incident. However, I would go on to tell her that dogs must be supervised when they eat any chew, or even have most toys for that matter, and that the bill was not my responsibility.

Georgia H.
Ferndale, WA

I vote for the second option. The owner, having a giant breed dog, needs to take responsibility for both what she gives her dog and for supervision. Any toy or chew can be potentially dangerous, and one must know their dog and their chewing habits prior to giving.

Cathy D.
Belleville, IL

I did have a client rush her dog to the vet because it swallowed the knotted end of a barbell shaped bully and was choking. I would just say something like, “Oh my goodness. That must have been terrifying! These dogs can sure give us a heart attack. So scary. That’s why we always say, supervise chews and toys! You never know when something like this will happen! I’m glad you were right there with him! We can’t pay your vet bill; there was nothing wrong with the chews that caused him to choke, your dog just loved them too much! (with a smile) We do have a Your Dog Will Love It Guarantee and will be happy to give you a refund for your chews as bully sticks obviously aren’t a fit for your guy. Some dogs just aren’t good chewers, can’t have stuff like bully sticks. I have a dog at home that tries to woof everything down super fast like that, too. If she’s persistent about the bill, I’d give her manufacture contact info.


I am a dog owner, not a store owner. I have heard this kind of story before. As a pet parent, we need to be responsible for what we give our pets. You can’t blame the store or the manufacturer for your ignorance or lack of responsibility. You would not feed your baby foods that she could choke on, and that applies to your dogs, too!

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