I remember the first time I started feeding raw chicken bones to my dogs after years of them having a primarily kibble-based diet. It seemed sort of weird and dangerous; would they be able to digest it? What about those sharp bits – won’t it cut their insides? And what about all the bacteria? (Cue the dramatic music…..)
Funny how the tables have turned – raw bones are an important part of my dogs’ daily diet now and I would find it odd to feed them kibble!
While there are many varying views about different types and ratios of bone to feed in a raw diet, I follow the principle that the average dog’s meal should contain about 10%-15% edible bone, 65-70% muscle meat, 5-10% offal and about 5-15% of vegetables, fruit and herbs (see my blog on “How much bone do I need in my dog’s meal?”).
Bones are one of the best sources of calcium for dogs. Their whole digestive system is designed for carnivorous dining – including bones – from their teeth through to their high acid stomachs and short intestinal tract.
What are ‘edible’ bones?
Edible bones refer to the softer bones that your dog consumes completely (as opposed to recreational bones that are more for gnawing on). What is considered edible for one dog, may not be for another. For example, chicken bones and cartilage are generally edible for most breeds, however, a lamb neck may just be a recreational bone for smaller breeds, but edible bone for larger breeds or those with more powerful jaws and teeth. Edible bones typically come in the form of ‘raw meaty bones’ (RMBs), which contain varying combinations of bone, meat, cartilage and tendons (all of which offer great benefits to your dog!).
I also feed ‘recreational’ bones – ones that are more for a good gnaw, like the lamb neck my little Daisy is enjoying below. These are excellent for teeth cleaning. But there are some rules with feeding all bones to minimise the risks….
Managing the risks of feeding bones to your dog
Bones are not without their risks (as is the case with other chew items for your dog) and it is important to know what they are and how to minimise the dangers as part of being a responsible raw feeder. Here’s a few of the most important ones to note:
- Bones MUST be fed raw….NEVER FEED COOKED BONES TO YOUR DOG! Cooked bones are more inclined to splinter and much of their goodness is lost in the cooking process anyway.
- Make sure your dog chews the bone, and doesn’t swallow it whole. Serving bones that are appropriate to your dog’s size helps. Make sure there are no small bits of bone that can easily break off and become lodged in your dog’s gut. If your dog struggles to chew them, have them ground up into the meal.
- Serve fresh bones and practice similar hygiene as you would with preparing raw meats for your own meals. This includes washing hands and keeping children away from the dogs particularly after eating raw meals.
- If your dog is unaccustomed to eating bones, introduce them slowly as part of a transitional diet.
- Always supervise your dog while they eat their bones and be familiar with some basic first aid in the rarer occasions where they may have an issue. This is useful for any item your dog may chew on.
And if the prospect of feeding whole bones to your dog just seems too overwhelming to start with, or if your dog is not able to eat whole bones due to health issues, consider finding a good butcher who can grind them up for you to add to your dog’s food (still keeping the 10% ratio in mind).
If feeding your dog fresh bones is not an option for you, you can still add vital calcium to your dog’s fresh food by adding an edible bone supplement such as Microcrystalline Hydroxyapatite (MCHA), which is a freeze dried ground bone you can add to meat meals. Just make sure it is from a reputable source and preferably from organic, certified BSE free pasture fed cattle.
I have found the following resources useful for forming my views on feeding bones to my dogs:
- Billinghurst, I DVM (1993), Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Long Healthy Life, Ian Billinghurst, Australia.
- Brown, S (2010), Unlocking the Canine Ancestral Diet, Dogwise, USA.
- Böhm, S (2011), Raw Food Diet for Dogs, Cadmos Books, UK.
- MacDonald, C (2004), Raw Dog Food – Make It Easy For You and Your Dog, DogWise, USA.
- Middle, C Dr (2008), Real Food for Dogs and Cats, Fremantle Press, Australia.
- Schultze, K (1998), Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats, Hay House Inc, USA.
- Taylor, B & Becker, K DVM (2009), Dr Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats, Natural Pet Productions, USA.