For years, veterinarians have dubbed February as Dental Month. Ironically, they also encourage the consumption of starch-filled dry kibble diets by our dogs and cats. The carnivore teeth crunch on these "sugar cubes" day after day under the ridiculous misconception that the teeth are being cleaned. In the natural world a dog consumes a rabbit, bones and all, and the canine dentitions are cleaned. Proponents of species appropriate diets can bear witness to the healthy mouths and gleaming, white teeth of dogs who consume a raw, meaty bone diet or are fed a commercial prey-concept diet with raw bones being fed recreationally, but regularly. Raw bones are the only natural product that can actually remove tartar.
I agree with every other veterinarian who says that cooked bones are dangerous! It is not good to get into KFC in the garbage! However, raw bones are a different story. When a bone is boiled or smoked, the molecular structure actually changes. Upon ingestion, the stomach acids cannot break it down successfully, increasing the likelihood that it may become lodged in the intestines. Also, dry bone becomes brittle and more likely to splinter and potentially cause gastrointestinal perforations. Raw bones are softer and safer.
Keep in mind, all bones should be fed under supervision and with caution. I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. Even raw bones could cause a tooth to fracture. The risks can be minimized by following a few helpful tips.
Choose the appropriate size of bone for the species or breed of pet.
Mice bones are the appropriate size for a cat. So, unless your cat is allowed to hunt mice, these are not readily available. Unfortunately, our felines will need regular teeth brushing and /or prophylactic dentistry under general anesthesia periodically during their lifetimes. Some cat owners are able to obtain and feed whole quail successfully and others smash chicken necks with a hammer. I think the vertebral size of a chicken neck could allow it to slip through the pylorus of the stomach, before breakdown, and then become lodged in the small intestine. This was the experience of one raw diet manufacturer who also ran a cat shelter. I do not feed raw bones to my cats. Fresh Is Best markets a freeze-dried chicken neck which seems to be very safe and may be helpful in decreasing plaque accumulation and slowing tartar formation in cats and small dogs.
I regularly feed raw bones to my dogs! Keep in mind, when selecting the appropriate bone for your dog, the type of bone safest for his breed. Size matters. A dog that weighs twelve pounds or less may have difficulties with whole, raw bone consumption, similar to a cat. A chicken neck is the smallest and shortest readily available bone type. This may be an option for any size dog, providing you observe your dog's bone-eating pattern. If your dog tries to gulp down the bone whole, than it is not an option. I know a Pomeranian who is a gulper and a Golden Retriever who is a nice chewer. The Golden can have a chicken neck or two, three to four times per week as a meal replacement, for recreation, for dental care and for mental stimulation. This particular Pomeranian can never have them. But, he can have one duck neck twice per week as a meal replacement. The duck neck is longer, but still slim. The length forces him to chew, not gulp, and the small vertebral size is still appropriate for him. The vertebral size of a turkey neck is not appropriate for any domesticated canine. Even Dr. Ian Billinghurst, the famed author of "The Raw Meaty Bone Diet," discourages the use of turkey necks.
Observe the rapidity of consumption.
When a bowl of raw, meaty bones are fed daily, a pet is not that excited about the "meal" because it is the routine diet. He will generally crunch through the breakfast or supper nicely. However, if the routine is a conventional diet or a mushy raw diet, then a recreational bone is an exciting novelty! In a frenzy, your dog may "wolf down" the bone too quickly. Remember, the idea is to do a little chewing. You can slow down the process by preceding it with a "veggie" appetizer or by slathering the bone with some canned pumpkin or sweet potato or perhaps some blended green beans. The idea is that the veggie will need to be licked off and the fibrous choice will mix with the gnawed up bone and give us all peace of mind that the bone will pass through the GI tract safely. In nature, hair and hide are the indigestible fibers which are consumed to promote proper peristalsis and move intestinal contents through to their end goal. It always makes sense to do our best to mimic nature.
Alternate bone type and shape for maximum effectiveness.
Neck bones are chewed and generally chomped with the incisors or molars. They are entirely eaten in minutes. Hollow, marrow bones are cleaned out utilizing the canines. They become very clean and could be gnawed on for a few days for mental stimulation, until they become brittle and then should be disposed. Knuckle bones are ground down by the large, back molars. These bones are often huge. Too much ingested, even ground bone, could cause obstipation. Even a large dog could be over zealous and consume too much of this bone type in one sitting. You may take this bone away in 1/2 to one hour and put it into a ziplock and back into the freezer. Remember, dogs bury bones and dig them up later.
Observe what comes out the other end 8 to 24 hours after you have fed a bone.
What comes out depends on what goes in and your dog's sensitivities. Bone is composed primarily of calcium. This does not cause loose stool, however excessive fat can cause diarrhea. Bone marrow is high in fat. Breeds who are genetically predisposed to hyperlipidemia or pancreatitis do not handle fat well. A frozen marrow bone can be thawed. Spoon out the marrow. Leave only a tiny amount inside or replace it with a small amount of peanut butter, so that your pet has something to work for. This way, even a sensitive pet can still reap the canine-cleaning benefits of a marrow bone. Commonly after bone consumption, fecal matter will be light, firm, and gray or white. It will disappear rapidly from the yard. There should be no straining or dry constipation. If this does occur, try feeding smaller amounts of bone less frequently and add or increase the amount of fibrous vegetation fed concurrently. The body needs time for the "prey" to pass. Carnivores in the wild seem to know when and what to forage to manipulate proper digestive function. Our domesticated carnivores are not always afforded this natural opportunity. So, if we're going to possess an indoor carnivore, it is our good stewardship responsibility to mimic nature's needs as closely as we are able, to provide our beloved pets with the nutritional tools they need for quality and longevity of life!