The right raw bones for your dog or cat
by Ann Brightman
Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006, www.animalwellnessmagazine.com
Whenever I presented Alice with a raw bone, her eyes would light up as if it was Christmas. She’d slowly take it from my hands as though it were a precious gift, carry it carefully to a specially-selected spot, and then settle down blissfully to gnaw on it. She never showed as much persistence as when she had a bone between her front paws, and would continue working on it for ages, oblivious to everything and everyone around her.
It’s not surprising that raw meaty bones form an integral part of many a dog’s (and cat’s) diet. Think about it. When wild carnivores consume prey animals, they usually crunch up the bones along with the flesh. So it’s natural that our canine and feline companions would also enjoy and benefit from bones.
Raw meaty bones offer several perks. Nutritionally, they contain protein and minerals, including calcium and phosphorus. Gnawing and chewing bones also gives an animal’s jaws a good workout, and helps keep his teeth and gums healthy by removing the plaque and tartar that lead to dental disease. There are even some psychological benefits. Like Alice, many dogs seem happiest when they’re gnawing on a bone, and it can keep them busy and boredom-free for hours.
Raw meaty bones can be purchased from premium pet food companies such as Amoré and Nature’s Variety. The latter offers raw ham, lamb, beef and bison bones as well as turkey necks and split beef knuckles. Amoré, meanwhile, sells raw free-range organic chicken necks, wings and whole quail frames for both dogs and cats, as well as buffalo bones, chicken frames and ostrich or emu bones for dogs.
if your animal has never had raw bones before, he may get diarrhea at first. Don’t let him eat too much at a time, until his digestive system adapts.
The best bone
Like anything else, raw bones can pose some hazards if you don’t take a few precautions. Keep the following suggestions in mind when treating your companion to a bone.
• Avoid bones that have sharp edges, angles or broken-off ends, as these can cause injury.
• Match the bone to the size of the animal. For example, don’t give a large dog a bone small enough for him to swallow. Conversely, a cat won’t be able to do much with a big beef bone.
• Also consider the type of bone. “For recreational chewing, I prefer marrow bones and knuckle bones — possibly even rib bones for smaller dogs,” says veterinarian Dr. Sharon Doolittle. Raw chicken necks, backs or frames are the best choice for cats and can also be given to dogs.
• It’s been mentioned before, but it’s worth stressing again: never give your dog or cat cooked bones, especially from poultry. Heat makes bones brittle, and greatly increases the risk of splintering and shattering. When ingested, sharp pieces of bone can lodge in the digestive tract and cause injury or intestinal obstruction.
raw bones should still have some meat and connective tissue attached. it encourages gnawing and chewing and is where a lot of the nutrient content comes from.
It’s important to recognize that even raw bones can sometimes splinter and crack. “I have seen animals get into various problems with bones – choking, intestinal blockages, and so on,” says Dr. Doolittle.
“All bones can fracture,” agrees veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve. “Even vertebral (neck and spine) bones contain an outer shell of longitudinal cortical bone, which can and does splinter, as well as cancellous or trabecular bone in the inner por- tion, which is less likely to splinter due to its weblike structure.”
The solution? Supervise your animal when he’s working on a bone. If the bone starts to splinter or you see large or sharp pieces breaking or flaking off, take it away from him. Dr. Hofve rec- ommends pounding chicken necks and spines with a hammer to pulverize the vertebrae before giving them to dogs or cats.
It’s also a good idea not to let a bone lie around too long because it can dry out and become extremely hard. “My own dog fractured both his upper carnassial teeth on raw bones because, after just a little while in the yard, they dried out and turned into the equivalent of concrete,” says Dr. Hofve.
The calcium question
There’s no doubt that bones are a source of calcium, but today’s farming practices have rendered them less rich in this important mineral than those of wild prey animals. “In modern ag- riculture, meat-bearing animals have been selectively bred to be immensely meatier than they were originally,” says Dr. Hofve. “This means there is far less bone, relative to meat, than in any wild animal.”
In other words, you shouldn’t rely on raw bones as the sole source of calcium in your animal’s diet, especially if you are feeding him a home-prepared food. “Unless you are catching wild birds and bunnies for your animal, you absolutely must supplement calcium,” says Dr. Hofve. Extra ground bone can be added to your animal’s meals, or talk to your vet about adding a calcium supplement.
Alternatively, look for a premium pet food that includes ground bone on its ingredient list. “I’ve seen some raw diets that contain ground bone,” says Dr. Hofve. Northwest Naturals is one company that adds fresh ground bone to their frozen raw natural pet foods, providing the diets with a good balance of calcium.
Chew on this
Some people opt to feed their companions ground rather than whole bone all the time. If you choose to go this route, you still need to give your animal something that will exercise his jaws and keep his teeth and gums healthy and in good condition. “The meat chunks in raw frozen diets still satisfy the chewing urge, and the total package appears to have the same positive dental action,” says Dr. Hofve. “I’ve even heard of people feeding a raw meat diet still partially frozen – this mimics the chewing action of real bones in keeping the teeth clean. Not all animals will eat it this cold, but a surprising number will — even cats.” For dogs, hard non-toxic toys such as Kongs and rubber bones can also serve as “toothbrushes” to keep teeth free of plaque. You can also buy additive-free freeze-dried meat treats that encourage chewing.
To borrow an old cliché, dogs and bones go together like apples and cinnamon. It’s important to do your homework before introducing your four-footed companion to raw bones, but fed properly, they can be a healthy and much-appreciated meaty treat.