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This blog post was inspired by a question I received from Nancy Harrington Zajesky; thanks, Nancy.
Worried about your dog getting enough calcium but nervous about feeding bones to your dog? Yep, it's a quandary that many raw feeders struggle with and leads them to choose many calcium alternatives and in this blog post, I'm going to share why I dumped the alternatives and went for the bones.
Benefits of Feeding Raw Bones to Dogs
In case you didn't know, there are a few reasons why it's important that we add raw bones to our dogs' raw diet.
1 – Raw bones are a source of calcium, minerals, protein, fat, and phosphorus. I was always nervous about the marrow in bones because it is high in fat, but fat isn't bad for us or for our dogs.
2 – Raw bones keep our dogs teeth clean. The act of chewing and gnawing on raw bones scrapes away any tartar from the teeth. I save a ton of money on teeth cleaning because I give my dogs recreational and raw meaty bones.
3 – Raw bones give our dogs a great workout – the jaw, shoulders, and neck muscles are activated when our dogs are enjoying their favorite treat.
4 – Raw bones satisfy our dogs' chew drive. They're dogs, they need to chew. It makes them happy. Whenever my dogs have a session, they zone completely out and are relaxed afterwards.
Risks of Feeding Raw Bones to Dogs
Types of Raw Bones I Feed to My Dogs
There are many raw bones for us to choose from, but not all bones are a good fit for every dog. When I was choosing the right bones for my dogs, I would supervise chewing sessions (I still do this today) and I always kept a high valued treat on hand that I could swap with my dogs if the bones were splintering or posing a concern in other ways. It didn't take long for me to develop a list of bones that I'm comfortable giving to my dogs.
Recreational bones are bones that are given to dogs as a treat; similar to bully sticks and other dehydrated chews. However, when I give my dogs recreational bones, it's either on a fasting day or I reduce their evening meal to avoid overfeeding.
- beef knuckle bones
- pork ribs
- duck frames (these are primarily cartilage, not bone)
Raw Meaty Bones
Raw meaty bones are bones that can be fed as a treat or as part of a meal. Like recreational bones, when I feed raw meaty bones, it's on fasting days or I reduce my dogs' evening meal to avoid overfeeding.
- duck necks
- duck feet (these are primarily cartilage, not bone)
- rabbit parts
- rabbit feet
- lamb shanks
- lamb necks
When it comes to reducing my dogs' evening meal, there isn't a certain amount that I reduce the meal by; I'm not weighing the bones and then deducting those grams from their next meal. Instead, I found it better to know my dogs and what will work for each of them. For example, for Zoey, I would prefer not to feed her an evening meal, however, since the other dogs are eating, she'll want to eat too. So I will give her a meal of 4-5 ounces where 1/2 of is my veggie mix.
Adding Raw Bones to “Balance” a Raw Food Diet
The original question that I received asked how do we know how much bone to add to a raw food diet and my answer may be unexpected. I make sure that my dogs' diet is 10-15% bone. This has nothing to do with macro and micronutrients, I know. To be frank, in order to truly “balance” a dog's diet, you'll need to work with a meal formulator, purchase software, or learn to read the NRC guidelines and apply them to your dog's individual diet.
So, the questions become, how do I make sure my dogs' diet is balanced and how do I avoid giving too much or too little bone?
I use a base mix. Someone once told me that base mixes were for people too lazy to figure out how to feed a balanced diet. I don't think I'm lazy, I just don't buy into the traditional beliefs surrounding balancing a raw diet (see the video above). However, utilizing a base mix not only reduces the number of supplements I buy for my dogs, it also provides nutrients and – dare I say it? – helps me to balance my dogs' diet.
How do I know?
I have my dogs nutrient tested every few years (they'll be tested this winter) through Parsley Pet, a hair test that checks for nutrients and minerals and is reviewed by a holistic veterinarian with over 20 years of experience feeding a raw food diet and naturally rearing Australian Shepherds. Check out my review of the ParsleyPet Nutritional Blueprint Testing.
Why Raw Bones are Better than Eggshells
I used to believe that eggshells where a great alternative to raw bones and would add them to my dogs' diet when I didn't have bone on hand (between orders). While this is okay for a temporary fix, it's not something that I will do long term. Instead, I grind the eggshells and sprinkle them into the soil of my flower garden to deter slugs. Eggshells are a great source of calcium, which requires “balancing” in another way by adding more meat or a phosphorus supplement. And, yes, I can do this, but then I'm cheating my dogs out of the other benefits of eating raw bones.
Alternatives to Raw Bones
Another reason someone might choose not to feed raw bones is because their dog can't eat them. In this case, they will opt to add eggshells. But I think there are better alternatives:
- Green beef tripe adds a perfect balance of calcium and phosphorus.
- Ground bones; I use a 3/4 HP Cabelas Carnivore meat grinder to grind duck wings for the bone in my dogs' diet.
What About Seaweed Calcium?
Seaweed calcium is an alternative, but not the right one for my dogs because while it does contain phosphorus (along with calcium and other minerals), the amount of phosphorus is very minimal, which means that I'll need to add more meat or a phosphorus supplement. I used seaweed calcium when Apollo was still a growing puppy, but I no longer add it to my dogs' diet.