Bones 101: Bone Feeding Basics
Written by Sarah Griffiths, DCH and Inna Shekhtman
December 5, 2017
When it comes to raw feeding for your pet, bones are essential. They are nature’s toothbrush and aid in keeping your pet’s teeth and gums in perfect shape. Without bones, the raw diet is not complete and will be missing essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus. And chewing whole bones is a great way to provide your companion with mental stimulation.
Follow these simple rules for a lifetime of happy and safe bone-chewing:
Never Cook Them!
Bones should always be fed raw. Cooking changes the chemical structure of the bone. Cooked bones are brittle and sharp when broken and incredibly hard to digest. Feeding your pet cooked bones can have unpleasant consequences for you and your pet including vomiting, diarrhea, impaction, or perforation of the digestive tract. Bones naturally contain the a perfect mineral make-up for all life stages of dogs and cats. Cooking removes these minerals and other nutrients from the bone. The same applies for mixed meals that contain ground bone. Do not cook these formulas.
Consumable (Meal Bones) and Non-Consumable (Recreational Bones)
There are two types of bones you can give your pet: Consumable bones which can be eaten and digested as a meal or non-consumable bones which are too hard to chew and digest, but are great for for recreation.
Consumable bones include: chicken necks, turkey necks buffalo knuckles and whole herring.
Non-Consumable Bones include: beef and buffalo femurs, boar drums and lamb shanks (can only be partially eaten eg. cartilage, meat and marrow).
Introduce Them Slowly
If your pet is new to raw, we recommend transitioning them for 30 days before adding whole bones to their repertoire. When a pet switches to raw, the digestive tract goes through some changes, including an overhaul of the gut’s microbiome and a decrease in gut pH (more acidic). Allowing these changes to take place makes transitioning to bones easier. Use ground meat meals to make the transition.
Teaching Your Pet About Bones
Chewing bones is a partially learned behaviour which means that puppies and kittens need to be taught how to chew bones. Adult dogs switching to raw must also learn to maneuver and chew bones. Start the lessons by holding the bone for them. This helps them get the idea and to make it easier for them to maneuver so they don’t lose interest before they get the hang of it. Chewing bones can feel foreign to a pet who isn’t used to it so help them along by providing a little moral support. Be patient and confident ‐ your pet can sense your energy and is more likely to be a quick learner if he feels your energetic support.
Choosing the Right Bones for Your Pet
The first rule of thumb is to make sure that bones are always larger than your pets mouth capacity so they do not get overly excited and try to eat it all at once! There are so many shapes, sizes and proteins to choose from. There are also hundreds of breeds of dogs and cats that may require specific types of bones depending on their size and head/facial structure. Check out Part 2 for a detailed description for the use of each of our bones.
Pups and Kittens ‐ Young pups and kittens who still have their baby teeth can sometimes have trouble with bones because those tiny teeth can make it hard to chew. For, young animals we recommend introducing bones gradually and holding the bone and so they just get used to chewing. They may not be able to eat it yet but it’s great enrichment and will give them the idea at an early age.
Seniors ‐ Some seniors have had teeth removed and if they don’t have many teeth, they may not be able to chew bones. For older pets with limited chewing abilities, use our ground meals that include bone to provide a balanced calcium/phosphorus ratio without using whole bones.
Pug-Faced Breeds (Brachycelpahlic) ‐ Pug-faced breeds such as pugs, bulldogs, boxers and Boston terriers may have limited chewing abilities due to their skull structure. Be sure to monitor your pet closely and spend time to observe the best bone options for him or her.
Miniature Breeds and Cats ‐ Mini dogs have very small jaws and teeth and will need bones that are small enough for them to enjoy and chew. Little dogs are also genetically predisposed to dental disease so bones are important for maintaining oral health. Chicken necks are a great small dog option along with lamb shanks which provide a variety of bone and cartilage to complete the raw diet. Cats do great with chicken necks several times per week.
Monitor Your Pet
Whatever bones you choose to feed, ensure that you are not far away while your pet enjoys them. It’s important to monitor your dog while he eats, especially animals new to bones. It will take some observation and experience for you and your pet to figure which bone options are best.
How to Feed Bones in Apartments, Small Spaces or Yards
There are lots of ways to feed bones without making a mess. We recommend:
- Teaching your pet to eat on a rubber mat: We highly recommend spending the time to teach your pet this simple trick. Eating on an easy-to-clean rubber mat allows you to feed your dog a bone anywhere you go. It also makes clean up easy. You can simply hose off the mat, scrub with soap and hang to dry.
- Teaching your pet to eat in a crate is also useful. Wire crates with removable plastic trays make the best bone-eating areas because they are also easy to clean and keep your pet and the bone contained while they eat.
- Feeding bones in the yard is a great way to keep messes down too. There’s nothing more satisfying then seeing your dog enjoy a bone in the grass outside. Monitor your dog closely to ensure they don’t bury the bone for later to avoid them digging up a stinky surprise for later!
What Kind of Chewer is Your Dog?
Is your pet a voracious eater? Or a slow, gentle eater? You know your pet best. If your dog is an enthusiastic eater and chews bones with gusto, the hard, long bones of large livestock (called femurs) may not be suitable for him. Femurs are considered a recreational bone and cannot be broken up, eaten and digested. If your dog is a hard chewer or has a strong jaw, there is the risk that femurs could wear or even fracture teeth. If you have a soft-chewing pet, femurs are a suitable option. Knuckle bones and necks are great options for hard-chewing dogs.
The Aggression Myth
Did your dog growl when you gave him a bone? This can happen when dogs are introduced to bones. Some believe that raw food has created aggression in their dog. This is a myth! When pets are given access to high value foods or toys, they can get possessive if they think it will never come back again. Raw food and bones are definitely high value food items in your pet’s eyes. If they are used to the same food every day and a bone comes along, they may decide it’s life or death to hang on to it! This is a training issue called resource guarding. It can be worked through by using several bones at once and trading your dog for each bone until the dog understands that bones will be coming their way regularly. If you feel like it’s a problem you can’t solve on your own, call a dog behaviourist to help your work through it. It will help you deepen your bond with your dog in the long run and they will feel more secure for working through it. Additionally, you will be enhancing your pet’s health to be able to confidently feed bones and raw food.
Variety is the Key!
We recommend feeding a variety of bones to get the best balance of nutrients. Each bone type has a unique nutrient profile and will benefit your pet in different ways. There are exceptions to this rule but generally, the more variety, the better! Your pet will also enjoy the different options. Each bone provides a different type of enrichment.