Raw meaty bones as part of a cat or dog’s diet are considered by many to be an essential component. There are however diverging views when it comes to the health benefits of raw bones, with some believing that there is insufficient science to prove any benefit.
In this blog, we're going to take a look at the diverging views when it comes to whether bones are an essential component of your furry companion's diet.
Australian vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst, is one of the world's biggest advocates for feeding raw meaty bones to your furry companion's diet. In his book “Give Your Dog a Bone” Billinghurt promotes bones as being a source of “essential nutrition” in the form of the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E, protein, minerals and essential fats (1993 pp. 116-118).
Let's take a look at each of these nutrition benefits individually.
Fat soluble vitamins
Dr Billinghurst states that the fat soluble vitamins A, D and E “are stored in bone with the fat” and thus eating raw meaty bones enhances “the immune system” and promotes “healthy longevity” (1993, p. 118).
The argument for the immunity benefits of raw meaty bones is rejected by Dr Brennan McKenzie who writes that “there is absolutely no scientific evidence to support these claims. BARF proponents have no shortage of opinions and anecdotes to demonstrate the benefits of their diets, but they have a severe shortage of data” (2010).
Dr Billinghurst promotes fresh bones as containing “all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts with the exception of methionine” (1993, p. 117) and that when factoring in meat, “raw meaty bones contain your dog’s total protein requirements” (1993, p. 118).
Essential fats and minerals
As for essential fats, Dr Billinghurst recommends raw chicken bones as having the best essential fatty acid content (Billinghurst 1993, p, 135). He writes:
“[chicken bones] are beautifully balanced with respect to their bone to flesh ratio, and when raw, they are soft and safe” (1993, p. 135).
Dr Billinghurst asserts that pig bones are also “very high in the essential fatty acids” and that “ beef and lamb bones have fat which is low in essential fatty acids” (1993, p. 118).
The marrow in bone is also said to be a source of nutrients – “all important blood forming nutrients, particularly copper and iron” (Billinghurst 1993, p. 118). According to Dr Billinghurst, “chicken bones contain a particularly high proportion of bone marrow – which is rich in both blood forming nutrients and vital essential fatty acids” (2014).
Dr Billinghurst states that bones contain both calcium and phosphorous “in perfect balance” (Billinghurst 1993, p. 117). He writes:
“in common with all raw bones are a balanced and biologically appropriate source of the bone forming minerals calcium and phosphorous. This is vital to the construction (the skeletal system in particular), of young dogs and cats, including most particularly our large breed dogs” (2014).
Dr Bruce Syme holds bones out as having a lesser nutritional value than Dr Billinghurst but recognises the calcium benefits in bones. He advocates that bones provide:
“a natural, and highly digestible source of calcium”, which is “required to provide a natural balance to the higher levels of phosphorous found in raw meat” (2011, p. 50).
Dr T.J. Dunn is of the view that whole raw bones provide a good balance of calcium and phosphorus for dogs... and that's about it!” (2014). He writes “If 70 percent of the bone is minerals and only 30 percent of that one pound is composed of poorly digested collagen, where is all this purported nutritional reward? There are no vitamins, no omega fatty acids in bone, no digestive enzymes, and only scant amounts of poorly digestible amino acids locked up in the collagen. Even if stomach acids could leach out all the collagen locked up in the bone fragments the collagen would yield minimal nutritional value” (2014).
Another benefit of bones espoused by Dr Billinghurst is their “excellent source of cartilage”. He writes:
“chicken bones from young chickens are an excellent source of cartilage; cartilage plays a vital role in developing and maintaining joint health and as a continuing part of the diet of our companion animals, it has the power to prevent the growth of cancerous tissue” (2014).
Dr Dunn believes that the cartilage in bones “is 50 percent collagen”, which he states is “a poorly digestible fibrous connective tissue” (2014).
In addition to the calcium benefits of raw bones, Dr Syme also holds raw bones out as having “a beneficial effect on the dog or cat’s digestive tract” due to its “cleansing / scouring effect, providing much needed roughage in the diet”, and as providing “bulk for healthy faecal motions that stimulate anal gland emptying”. (Syme 2011, p. 50).
This contrasts with Dr Dunn’s view that any amino acid, vitamin, essential fat benefits of bones are negligible because of their poor digestibility.
Other benefits including exercise, dental health and mental stimulation
The act of chewing, ripping and tearing at bones provides cats and dogs with whole body exercise and mental stimulation (Diaz 2013). The description of how the eating of bones provides exercise, is usefully provided by Dr Billinghurst who says,
“Think of a dog with both feet planted firmly on a lump of meat still attached to it’s bone. Head down, taking hold of that meat, ripping and tearing away. What is that dog exercising? That dog is exercising it’s whole body. It’s jaws, it’s neck, it’s shoulders and it’s front legs. It is also exercising the back and hind legs which are braced to resist all this activity up front” (1993 p. 124).
According to Dr Dobias, bones are essential for a cat and dog’s dental health. He believes that “without bones, I don’t think you can keep your dog’s teeth healthy” (Garland 2014). The act of chewing bones can promote healthy teeth and gums (Messonnier 2014).
It is believed that feeding ground bone to your pet can also have dental health benefits. According to Dr Karen Becker “raw ground bone is a gentle dental abrasive, acting like fine sandpaper when chewed, which helps remove debris stuck on teeth” (2014). Dr Becker believes that raw bones are the “best option” for removing plaque and tartar from teeth (2014).
Not just bones, meaty bones
What the likes of doctors Dunn and McKenzie may not have considered when discussing the nutritional benefits of feeding raw bones is the nutritional benefits of bones when they have meat on them.
If bones are being fed or eaten and they don’t have any meat on them, then it would make sense that the bones would only be a source of calcium and useful for dental hygiene. While these benefits are positive in themselves, one cannot ignore the additional benefits of feeding meaty bones.
When a bone is fed that has meat and fat on it, the benefits of meat and fat, such as essential fats and protein, would also be present.
The commonly held position that a raw meat and bone diet has no scientific backing must be questioned.
While there may not have been any laboratory tests conducted to prove the benefits of a raw meat and bone diet, vets who promote the diet, such as Dr Billinghurst and Dr Syme, have conducted years of feeding trials, in-practice experience and research upon which they rely to demonstrate the numerous benefits of feeding a raw meat and bone diet (Billinghurst 1993, p. 3; Syme 2011, p. 3).
After reading the diverging views on whether or not bones provide essential nutrition for your cat or dog, what do you think?
Becker, K 2012, ‘Raw Diet: The Perfect Pet Food That Helps Break Down Your Pet’s Tartar’, Healthy Pets, viewed 22 June 2014, http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2014/01/01/pet-oral-health.aspx
Billinghurst, I 1993, ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’, Warrigal Publishing Bathurst
Billinghurst, I 2014, ‘Frequently Asked Questions about Dr B’s BARF Products’, BARF Australia, viewed 28 June 2014, http://www.barfaustralia.com/WhatisBARF/FAQ.aspx
Diaz, G 2013, ‘Answers: Raw Diets and Cats, What About Eating Bones?’, Feline Nutrition Education Society, viewed 22 June 2014, http://feline-nutrition.org/answers/answers-raw-diets-and-cats-what-about-eating-bones
Dunn, TJ 2014, ‘The Nutritional Aspects of Bone Composition’, PetMD, viewed 28 June 2014, http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_nutritional_aspects_of_bone_composition?page=2
Garland, K 2014, ‘Pet Dental Health: Give Your Dog a Bone’, Your Holistic Dog, viewed 22 June 2014, http://www.yourholisticdog.com/pet-dental-health-give-your-dog-a-bone/
McKenzie, B 2010, ‘Raw Meat and Bone Diets for Dogs: It’s Enough to Make You Barf’, Science-Based Medicine, viewed 22 June 2014, http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/raw-meat-and-bone-diets-for-dogs-its-enough-to-make-you-barf/
Messonnier, S 2014, ‘Raw Bones and Dental Health for Pets’, PetMD, viewed 22 June 2014, http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_multi_raw_bones_dental_health_for_pets
Syme, B 2011, ‘Feeding Raw Bones to Dogs and Cats’, in Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition, Vets All Natural Pty Ltd, Southbank, VIC