While raw diets are picking up steam, there are still lots of people who are resistant to feeding raw, mostly for one simple reason: fear. I can relate: for me, the anxiety was strongest the first time I gave my dogs bones. I know I’m not alone in that, either…one of the most frequent things I hear from people when we’re talking about raw diets is “I thought you should never feed a dog (or a cat!) bones. Isn’t that dangerous?” Well, the short answer to that is “No, they aren’t dangerous”…but there are a few things you need to keep in mind to make sure it’s safe. Read on to learn how to feed raw meaty bones to your pet safely.

The importance of bones

It’s important, for optimum vitality, to feed raw meaty bones to your pet. Dogs and cats evolved to eat prey animals (which of course includes that prey’s muscle meat, bones, organs, and glands), and they need the calcium, phosphorous, and other minerals they contain. Whole bones also act as toothbrushes and floss for them, helping to keep their teeth and gums clean and healthy. Bones are a vital part of a balanced diet, and chewing and crunching on raw bones also helps exercise the jaw muscles (as well as tapping into a primal joy that’s evident on a dog or a cat’s face when they’re eating bones).

8 rules for safely feeding your pet bones

Rule #1: only feed your dog or cat raw bones. The first, and perhaps most important point to remember, is your pet should only be fed raw bones, never cooked ones. Cooked bones become very brittle and can easily splinter, perforating their stomach linings or causing other damage to their digestive tracts, causing blockages, and so on. Raw bones, however, are pliable and soft, and much less likely to splinter.

Rule #2: Avoid feeding the weight-bearing bones (i.e. leg bones) of large ruminants, such as sheep or cows. This is because these bones are incredibly dense, and dogs, especially those that are enthusiastic chewers, can crack a tooth on the bones. Bones from birds and rodents are perfect to feed for cats or dogs, and I also regularly feed heavier bones, like beef and sheep ribs, with great success to my dogs.

Rule #3: Feed the right size bone to your pet. This means offering pieces that are bigger than their mouths until you know how they’ll handle the bone. Any smaller, and your dog may try to just swallow the bone whole, especially if they’re novice bone chewers.

Rule #4: Offer bones that have meat attached to them. When you offer raw meaty bones (which is exactly what our dogs and cats evolved to eat), you give your pet a chance to eat a balanced, species-appropriate meal, while at the same time increasing the safety margin of that meal. When meat is still attached to the bone, your pet must work to rip, shred, and tear the meat off the bone, and this slows them down from just trying to swallow the bone in one gulp. It’s especially important to do this with novice raw eaters, as they may not yet know how to eat bone properly. Feeding this way gives them a great chance to learn what to do, while still providing mental stimulation and all the other benefits that go along with eating the diet they were designed for. Plus, to our carnivore friends, raw meaty bones are pretty tasty, and who doesn’t want to enjoy a meal that appeals to them in every way?

Rule #5: Monitor your pet at all times when they’re eating, especially eating bones. Even for experienced chewers, it’s important to keep an eye on your pet when they’re eating (and by the way, this goes for everything, not just bones—monitor them when they’re eating meat, organs, even kibble and canned food). If your pet chokes or has some other kind of problem, you want to be able to help them immediately. I will say that, particularly if you have a pet you’re transitioning from kibble or canned food over to a raw, fresh, balanced species-appropriate diet, you may see a little bit of blood in their mouths or on their food for a few days at the beginning of the transition. Because the bones act as floss and a good toothbrush, if they have a build-up of tartar and plaque (and most animals on a processed-food diet do), there will be a very small amount of blood until their gums are tougher and healthier and the tartar and plaque are reduced (generally only a few days). It’s nothing to be concerned about, just as you wouldn’t be concerned if you started flossing your teeth after a long period without flossing and saw a small amount of blood. However, if you see a large amount of blood, you need to investigate and help your pet immediately.

Rule #6: Separate and monitor your pets when feeding bones (or anything else, for that matter). If you have a multi-pet household, make sure you keep your pets separate when feeding them. This prevents squabbles from arising because somebody got too close to somebody else, and it also prevents one pet from swallowing a bone or other food before they’ve had a chance to properly cut, tear, or crunch it to the right size, just to prevent someone else from taking it. Everyone should be allowed to eat in peace, and you will need to monitor them to make sure they get this opportunity.

Rule #7: Keep in mind that bone marrow is fatty and a higher-caloric food, and can cause diarrhea until your pet is used to it. You can certainly feed your dog a bone with marrow, but if your dog is overweight or not used to marrow, you may want to limit it or forego it altogether.

Rule #8: Feed bones in a place that’s easy to clean. Because raw bones can make a big mess (trust me on this one!), it’s a good idea to feed them outside, in a crate, or on a towel or mat. We feed our dogs outside, which makes clean-up a lot easier. Our cat eats inside, but he keeps everything on a mat, and clean-up is a breeze.

I hope this article will help you feel more comfortable feeding your pet raw meaty bones! Have you started feeding your dog or cat bones? Let us know in the comments below!