After our previous posts dedicated to meat and offal, this week it’s all about a dog’s all time favourite: bones. A ‘hot’ and controversial subject which has split the crowd into two battling sides for decades. To feed or not to feed bones, this seems to be the tricky question, and I found myself struggling with it when we first started feeding George raw food.
What kind of bones? How much? When? Won’t he choke? What if they splinter? Should I try ground bone instead? All of these tormented me for weeks while I was trying to make the right decision, and I’m sure there are other people out there who are asking or have asked themselves the same questions. Hopefully, my (limited) experience on the subject will help answer some of them.
First of all, if you’re thinking that maybe there’s no need for bones at all, think again. Bones – which are a living tissue – are a vital ingredient to a healthy dog’s diet, since they contain calcium and all the other minerals that are important in growing healthy bones, plus enzymes, amino acids, copper and iron, all of which are essential for a dog’s body to operate properly.
In the wild, before dogs were domesticated, they used to hunt and eat other, smaller animals in order to survive. Their teeth are designed to tear, crunch and chew meat and bones – not little meat-flavoured pellets – and their body is designed to cope with that. Moreover, it is a proven fact that, nutrition aside, dogs have a psychological need to gnaw on bones. If you want to keep your dog happy, give him a bone. Otherwise, do not be surprised to find teeth marks on some of your prized possessions or antique furniture.
Also, bones provide mental stimulation and exercise the dogs’ neck and jaw muscles. They can also be useful in cleaning the teeth and reducing tartar, whilst the chewing action slows down the eating process and makes it harder for a dog to over-eat.
For those of you who are willing to give bones a try, here is what we do. We feed George chicken wings and lamb ribs all year around, because they are softer and less likely to splinter and are easily available for not much money. I like the fact that I can feed him these indoors in the winter, by simply holding one end whilst he munches on the other. This prevents the bones from being dragged around the house and is a good safeguard measure that stops greedy dogs from swallowing large pieces of bone and potentially choking on them. Turkey necks are also recommended, but I have so far been unable to find a good local source.
In the warmer months, when George can spend a lot of time in the garden, we add bigger lamb bones as well as the occasional marrow bone and knucklebones, which keep him entertained for hours. All dogs love marrow bones, but marrow has a high fat content which could cause diarrhoea if fed too often, so these tend to be more of a once in a while treat rather than a menu fixture.
Knucklebones are one of the best types of bones to feed a dog, since they contain cartilage and soft tissue that do not pose the risk of splinters or tooth damage (if the dog’s a ‘hard chewer’), and even the bony part tends to be softer than regular bones. Because of their large size, there’s also no risk that the dog will swallow them whole and choke on them. Overall, a wonderful choice, providing that you can find a reliable source for them.
There are a few aspects to take into consideration if you want to make feeding raw bones a success:
1) Never ever feed cooked bones, because they are much more likely to splinter and cause internal damage. The same applies for raw pork bones, as these are also prone to splintering and any meat that may be on them could contain harmful bacteria.
2) Always be around when your dog is eating bones, just in case they choke and you have to intervene.
3) It is not a bad idea to feed bones after a meal, rather than as a meal, since dogs are more likely to not chew them properly and try to swallow them whole when they are hungry. Make bones an after-meal treat and your furry friends should be savouring them without any problems.
If you are still worrying about your dog potentially choking on a bone and are not willing to take the chance, don’t worry, there’s still a solution. You could choose to feed ground bone, which still retains all its nutritional value and can be easily mixed with the rest of the food. You do lose the chewing factor, but you remove the risk entirely. It’s worth a thought, and there are quite a few online companies that supply raw pet food consisting of meat and ground bone mixed together.