Most people learn early on that it is 100% unsafe to give dogs cooked or smoked bones because of the fact that they are brittle and pose choking and digestive hazards. Due to this a lot of pet parents stay away from bones altogether. As a result the pet food industry is full of all kinds of manufactured bones for dental health, chewing, recreation, vitamin supplements etc. These are just as bad (if not worse) then the kibble products and in some cases aren’t even safer in terms of choking and digestive hazards. If you feed raw you most likely already know a bit about bone safety but if not here are a few reasons so many raw feeders love RAW meaty and recreational bones.
1. They are a wonderful source of calcium and phosphorus. Calcium is an important part of your pet’s health! (Without calcium in the diet, the body extracts it from its own bones, which leads to many issues related to mobility.) They also contain a variety of minerals not found in other food.
2. They are the best possible form of teeth cleaning outside of the vet’s office. They promote gum health and reduce bad breath.
3. They provide ruff-age and help to maintain anal glands naturally
4. They can help balance the digestive tract and tone digestive muscles that can help reduce stomach issues later in life.
When fed appropriately (about 2-3 times a week unless ground in food at 10%) the digestive hazards are avoided because raw bones break down naturally in the stomach and don’t stay large enough to pose any threat. It’s important to always supervise your dog with a bone no matter what. Instinctively they should know how to chew and swallow them correctly but anything can happen. Aside from the smaller raw meaty bones like poultry necks, spines, feet etc. the general rule of thumb for recreational bones is that they should be about the size of the dogs head or larger. Never smaller because these types of bones are meant to be chewed on and scrapped of marrow but NOT eaten completely. I am personally not a fan of the recreation bones because they can chip teeth and don’t contain the nutrition components that make their positive attributes outweigh their risks. If my dog loved this activity, I’d make an exception but otherwise I see them as completely unnecessary. Marrow can be obtained without them so she doesn’t need a knuckle bone to pass the time and possibly break her teeth on. Raw meaty bones on the other hand are a different story. They should never be weight bearing bones because they are too hard to chew and unlike recreational bones are meant to be eaten completely. I see the value of these bones but they still make me nervous so I plan on sticking with necks and backs because the are considered to be the safest. Chicken wings can be cut to be made safer, but I still don’t love these because I have other options. Ideally I would give her lamb and goat bones because they are considered to have the perfect balance of hardness to effectively clean the teeth but not break any. However these bones, for me at least, are very hard to find. Although red meat should make up about 50% of her diet, chicken, duck, lamb and duck are closer to a dog’s natural prey so they make the safest bones to eat. Chicken and duck are much more readily available where I live and while they might be considered too soft to clean teeth by some people, I brush her teeth daily and am more interested in their nutrition than their dental care anyway. That being said, if your dog (or you) is really against dealing with raw bones in general there are 100% adequate alternatives available and you do not need to feel forced to do so. It may be controversial in some circles but I truly believe you can go without bones and still have a healthy and balanced raw diet as long as you are educated. Things like bone meal are dangerous alternatives (most are toxic unless from a local farm that makes food Grade) but egg shells are a GREAT alternative source of calcium! You can dry and crush them into a powder very easily and make your own supplement. I love this because there are a lot of concerns about the safety of many calcium sources in supplements on the market and as long as you get good quality eggs this takes away the guess work. A lot of people also just add one whole egg shell and all to get the same result. I don’t do this daily so I keep the shells as back up on a day she doesn’t get a bone. For the other minerals you can simply use a mineral supplement, which actually should be given even if you do feed bones because it’s broad spectrum and you know that your pets needs are being met. Some feeders are against supplements altogether because your dog wouldn’t “get fish oil pills etc out in the wild” however I disagree. We need supplements now because of the world we live in TODAY. We have depleted the soil and changed the environment. For this reason I think it’s appropriate to adjust. My dog’s wolf ancestors didn’t live in the same world and it’s the same reason I take supplements myself. I just want the best shot and as long as I am getting them from trusted sources and know how to use them, I think they’re great! Teeth cleaning can be substituted rather easily as well. Any mouth size appropriate tooth brush will do. You can make your own toothpaste or even just use coconut oil. If your dog won’t let you brush, a bit of ground kelp added to the food should help. For more advanced dental issues and plaque you can either get a cleaning at the vet or look up where to get one that is anesthesia free. This method is increasing in popularity, so they’re relatively easy to find now. Either way there are many alternative methods, all of which would be great to add EVEN with the help of bones.
Bottom line, raw bones are WONDERFUL if your dog likes them but if not you can absolutely still feed raw! Some dogs warm up to them over time so I’d say don’t give up but don’t stress over it too much either! It’s no reason to wait to go raw or worse not at all.
Personally I am doing about one small raw meaty bone per week because my dog doesn’t love them. Chicken feet are the easiest to find organically and they are an excellent joint supplement (glucosamine and chondroitin) so because she eats egg shells and takes supplements I know her dietary needs are being met. Eventually I hope to move to a food that has some ground in so this 1 per week will probably stay at that and if we miss a week it’s no cause for concern.
My super easy calcium supplement is pictured below. My dog is 25 lbs so she needs 550 mg of calcium per day. (50mg per kg) She gets calcium from other sources so I only use 1/4- 1/2 tsp. based on the assessment that:
“One whole medium sized eggshell makes about one teaspoon of powder, which yields about 750 – 800 mgs of elemental calcium plus other microelements, i.e. magnesium, boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, sulphur, silicon, zinc, etc. There are 27 elements in total.”
A vet should be able to assist you if you don’t want to measure it out on your own. Fortunately dog’s having a “fast track” metabolism helps mitigate some concern. A good thing to remember is the simple fact that wild dogs eat what they find. Some days they get a lot of one thing and other days none. It tends to balance out over time but I also do blood tests at her annual check up. Hair tests can be very helpful also. So far we’ve been right on track but never hesitate to ask a medical professional. I know many holistic vets even offer nutritional counseling now so there are resources available if you have any concerns!
*Another great bone replacement for calcium is raw green tripe! It has an ideal calcium to phosphorus ratio and most dogs absolutely love it!