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This blog post was originally written in November 2016, it has been updated with new information and republished.
When I first transitioned to DIY raw feeding, there are many times when I had muscle meat and organ meat, but no bone. I wasn't concerned, because I could just add bone meal to make up the difference. And then I began researching bone meal to see if I was using the best brand. While many people recommended the brand, I learned more about bone meal that resulted in me taking it off of my shopping list.
What's Bone Meal?
Bone meal is finely ground animal bone that we'll usually see in the gardening department of a hardware store because it's used as an organic fertilizer. Food-grade bone meal can be used as a supplement in homemade dog food, and I thought it would be a great alternative when I didn't have bone for my dogs' raw meals.
However, more research revealed that it's actually quite difficult to find locally made and processed bone meal.
Why I No Longer Feed Bone Meal to My Dogs
I dug a little deeper into the mystery of bone meal and learned a few things that shocked me. How did I miss this before?
Unless it's locally sourced bone meal, it's not a good idea to add it to our dog's diet.
- Many food grade bone meal manufacturers use heat to process their meal, which makes it difficult for dogs to digest, preventing them from gaining the calcium/phosphorus benefits.
- The calcium in food grain bone meal isn't very bio-available and our dogs may be getting less than 50% of the calcium.
- Many manufacturers source their bone meal from other countries, and if we recall the chicken jerky fiasco, we know that sourcing from other countries increases the risk of contamination.
- The calcium-phosphorous ratio in bone meal isn't always ideal for dogs.
Bone meal doesn't sound too hot, does it?
My Alternatives to Bone Meal
Once I realized that bone meal wasn't the best option, I started searching for alternatives and came up with the following:
1 – Raw Meaty Bones
Raw meaty bones are one of the best ways for me to add calcium to my dogs' diet. I feed the smaller ones in their meal (duck wings, quail, and rabbit) and I feed the larger bones outside on nice days (duck frames, rabbit, and lamb necks).
I have a meat grinder that handles duck and rabbit without issue and friends with the same or similar grinders have had success with chicken and quail too. When I don't (or can't) feed something whole, I grind it and mix it into my dogs' meals.
How Much Bone Do I Feed?
How much bone I add depends on what else my dogs are eating that week. I balance my dogs' diet over time instead of daily or in every meal. When making raw meals, I start with a base of 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% organ meat. I then add additional ingredients based on my dogs' individual needs. Learning which nutrients my dogs need in their diet has been helpful.
Which Raw Bones Do I Feed to My Dogs?
Finding the right bones for my dogs took patience and today, my dogs eat duck necks, duck frames, lamb necks, rabbit, and beef knucklebones.
- Order raw meaty bones from Raw Paws Pet Food
2 – Green Tripe
Green tripe is a superfood, and raw feeders are such fans that there are some that feed a diet of only green tripe to their dogs. Green tripe is the stomach lining of ruminating animals (cows, lamb, bison, etc.) and it's filled with all the yummy gastric juices that make humans cringe, and dogs salivate. Our dogs LOVE green tripe, and I love feeding it to them.
Not only is green tripe great for a dog's digestive system and, therefore, immune system (yummy gastric juices), it's a great source of Omega 3s, and offers the perfect ratio of calcium and phosphorus (1:1). So on weeks when the dogs are not eating a lot of bone (if any), then they're going to eat green tripe daily. Otherwise, our dogs eat green tripe about three days a week either as a full meal or mixed into their raw meals.
- Order green tripe from Raw Paws Pet Food (they have frozen and freeze-dried)
3 – Quality Seaweed Calcium
Another option is seaweed calcium. I add this when I completely spaced and didn't add bone to a meal. This rarely happens, but it's nice to have seaweed calcium on hand just in case.
The brand that I prefer, Animal Essentials, sources its seaweed calcium from Iceland where the waters are cleaner. Each batch is cleaned, heat-treated, and tested for purity. The calcium found in this product is 70% bio-available, which means that our dogs are absorbing and utilizing most of the nutrients.
How Much Seaweed Calcium I Add to Meals
There are instructions on the container that explain how much to add to a meal, however, I ignore them and instead focus on my dogs. Seaweed calcium tends to make their poop hard (lots of calcium) and can lead to constipation, so I go easy when adding it to a meal because I know that I can make up the calcium portion of the meal with green tripe or bone the next day (after thawing food).
What About Eggshells?
I source pasture-raised eggs from friends who raise chickens, so I don't have to worry about what was used to rinse the eggs that are so shiny and clean at our grocery stores. I used to grind up the eggshells and save them for days when I needed to add calcium or extra calcium (like when we have a puppy in the house) to the diet, but I stopped when I began trying to figure out how much phosphorus I needed to add to the diet to offset the additional calcium.
When it comes to raw bones or green tripe, I don't worry about these things. And I don't want to start, so I now save the eggshells for my garden. The only time I feed them to my dogs is when I'm cooking for them – I'll crack an egg and toss it and the shells into the pressure cooker. No muss, no fuss.
Can Raw Feeders Substitute Dairy Products for Bone?
Years ago when I had a raw feeding group, a woman shared that she adds cottage cheese to her dog's diet to meet the bone requirement. Although her admission resulted in a series of middle of the night messages from an angry raw feeder who was offended by what a stranger was feeding her dog – yeah, I'm rolling my eyes at the memory – I wasn't able to get worked up about it.
1 – I don't feed cottage cheese, yogurt, or any other dairy product from the grocery store because it's been processed and I doubt the calcium content will meet my dogs' nutritional needs.
2 – Although my dogs enjoy a milk fast once a week, I don't do this to add calcium to their diet, I do it to give their gut a break.
Although I'm not willing to condemn the use of bone meal in raw dog food, I don't think it's for me. Until I find a quality source, I'll use these alternatives – which are working out great for me.