Raw Bones… to feed or not to feed?

Raw meaty bones are the “staple food item” in the Evolutionary Programme of Nutrition for dogs and cats. But this is a topic which has two very opposing opinions, with no real middle ground – it seems that there are those in camp “yes to bones” and those in camp “no to bones”.

Let’s examine both sides of the debate so you can decide for yourself which side you want to take.
On the pro side, the arguments for are that dogs and cats are carnivores and nature intended for them to eat meat AND bones. Their wild ancestors ate this way for many thousands of years and even through evolution to a domestic dog (or cat), their digestive systems are still designed to perform at their best on a diet based on raw meaty bones. 
These have a number of benefits for pets, including:

  • Raw bones are like ‘nature’s toothbrush’ for pets – the biting, chewing and crunching action mechanically removes tartar from teeth to help maintain dental health.
  • Raw meaty bones are a great source of both calcium and phosphorus, which are essential minerals to keep your pet’s own bones (and teeth) strong and healthy.
  • Raw meaty bones are a great source of protein, with an excellent amino acid profile to match your pet’s body’s needs to promote healthy muscle growth and maintenance.
  • Raw meaty chicken or pork bones are a good source of essential fatty acids, which carry fat-soluble vitamins. These fatty acids are needed by every single cell in the body, and help to keep the skin and coat in good condition.
  • Bones provide “bulk” throughout the gut – they act a bit like fibre to keep food moving through the gut and help to express the anal glands to prevent your dog becoming constipated or “scooting” its bottom along the ground.
  • Chewing on bones is a great mind and body-occupying activity and a ‘boredom buster’ for many pets.  They get a full body workout as they chew, gnaw and crunch on these.

The ideal bones to feed dogs and cats for nutritional purposes are what we call “edible bones”: the soft raw bones and cartilage from young animals such as chickens, ideally necks or wings. These are hollow, non-weight bearing bones which do not contain any marrow – they are soft and pliable and full of important nutrients such as calcium and phosphorus and other trace minerals.

Some larger bones such as lamb or kangaroo femurs can be suitable as occasional ‘recreational bones’, especially for large dogs whose jaws can fit around these. These are not intended to supply nutrition, but instead are meant to be gnawed on to help keep teeth clean, and to stimulate the mind and body. Dogs should always be supervised (from a distance – some dogs can become quite territorial over bones) while eating these sort of bones to ensure that they are not swallowed in chunks (as they can cause a blockage).

Just be wary that the sort of bones which contain a large amount of marrow are not suitable for dogs which are prone to pancreatitis, in case the marrow is swallowed as it is very high in fat and could trigger a flare up of this disease.

The one thing to be stressed is that bones must only ever be fed RAW: dogs and cats should never be fed cooked bones as these not only lack nutritional benefit, they can also be a hazard to their health.

Cooked bones can splinter and damage or tear through a dog’s mouth, oesophagus or the remainder of the gastro-intestinal tract and cause a life-threatening intestinal perforation and peritonitis.

Cooked bones can also absorb moisture from the gut and set like concrete in the large bowel and cause an obstruction which completely blocks up the intestines, which can also be life-threatening.

People in the anti-bone camp will argue that raw bones can cause the same problems that cooked bones can, i.e. they can cause tears or obstructions in the gastro-intestinal tract. And they are not incorrect, but this is fairly uncommon in most pets. If you do choose to feed bones, we would still advise observing your pet eating them just to make sure.

The Doctor B’s range includes raw meaty frozen bones for those who choose to feed raw bones. These should be defrosted prior to feeding, in a similar manner to the patties.

For people who don’t feel entirely comfortable feeding raw bones whole, you can take a middle ground! We do include crushed up raw meaty chicken bones our in Doctor B’s BARF patties, to provide all the important nutrients, but remove any danger – however small it may be – of blockages from bone pieces or damage to the intestinal tract by sharp bone edges.

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