The short answer is, no bones are 100% safe for dogs or cats to eat. All bones have the potential to splinter, impact, perforate, obstruct, or break teeth. Cats generally take their time and do less gnawing so the risk is much lower for them as long as the bones are raw.
Yes, dogs would gnaw on fresh bones in the wild but few animals bother with them for long once they’re stripped and starting to dry out, whereas a domestic animal will often gnaw at an old bone to satisfy an urge that isn’t often met in captivity. Domesticated pets will also gnaw excessively out of boredom, stress or anxiety. Additionally, we have no scientific data for how many wolves, desert cats or other wild canine and feline relatives actually do suffer or die from a bone-related injury.
Once the bone is stripped of meat and fat, the main benefits come from connective tissue and cartilage found outside the bone. The partially digestible portion of bone marrow is comprised primarily of fat and blood which the animal benefits from, but it can easily be sourced elsewhere. The calcium and phosphorous in the bone itself can be sourced from many natural foods or supplements that pose no risk to our pets, and very little is required of either. In other words, dogs and cats don’t require bone as part of a complete diet if these basic nutrients are provided through an alternative digestible source as part of a balanced meal. If you feel strongly that the nutrients should come from bone, you can use small amounts of ground raw bone as a supplement.
We have consulted with traditional and holistic veterinarians and other experts regarding the safety of bones for dogs and cats. We’ve also read studies, reports, whitepapers and books by experts across the board. The vast majority agree that any type of bone, cooked or raw, can be hazardous. These experts range from independent scientists to those who are against processed pet food, which defeats the bias argument some sources make for the practice. We actively seek out evidence of the benefits of natural pet care, but we simply can’t argue with the sheer number of experts who advise pet parents to avoid whole bones. I don’t believe the risk of injury is very high but if the risk can be avoided, why not do so?
That said, there are bones that are considered safer for pets than others by BARF (Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods) diet advocates, and there are methods of feeding bones that reduce the risk.
- Raw, fresh bones with some meat still attached
- Small, soft bones like those found in turkey or chicken necks for smaller dogs and cats.
- Whole food with bones for larger dogs.
- Ground bones
- Cooked rib, beef, pork/ham, chicken, etc. cannot be fed to dogs or cats without substantially increasing the risk of injury.
You can eliminate the risk entirely by purchasing natural pet supplements that are an even more complete and pure source of nutrients and minerals than natural bones. Many of these supplements also offer other benefits, such as increased digestibility, anti-microbial properties or exceptional joint support. We use Montmorillonite (Bentonite) Clay (combined with seaweed & krill) for a full range of benefits, protection, and superior nutrition. Other choices include bonemeal, ground eggshells, or oyster shell flour.
Do you feed bones to your dog or cat? Please tell us about it in the comments below.
Dunn, T. J., DVM. The Nutritional Aspects of Bone Composition.
No Bones About It: Bones are Unsafe for Your Dog. US Food & Drug Administration. 2010.
Schenck, Patricia, DVM, PhD. Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets. 2010.
Palika, Liz. The Ultimate Pet Food Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Feeding Your Dog or Cat. 2008.
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