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Bones Are Not The Best Source of Calcium For Dogs and Cats
For some, the above is a powerful statement and to be honest, this statement of mine is meant to catch your attention.
But what am I really trying to say or express?
What I really want is for people to stop and think for a moment — to realize that in nature, carnivores don't obtain calcium from a
singular source such as bones. Instead, carnivores obtain calcium from
multiple sources — bones just being one part of the solution.
In a home setting, we strive to provide every meal so it is balanced while in nature, some days the carnivore may get more calcium and on other days less — creating balance overall.
While I wish understanding the calcium issue was clear as day, the reality is, there are probably many factors affecting calcium — many of which we are not even aware of. Many want a rock solid answer, but with calcium, I just don't think there is. At the end of the day, the ultimate solution to ensuring your dog or cat is getting enough calcium is probably still food variety with added calcium tempered with a little common sense.
So I write this article because I believe that when we become fixated on calcium from a singular point of view, such as bones, then we miss seeing the
In nature, carnivores obtain calcium from bones, from blood, perhaps a sprinkle of dirt and who knows what else. Although many feeds bones as their singular source of calcium, I personally have noticed that dogs and cats do better when they get calcium from another source and/or additional sources. For me, this means adding some ground egg shells to the diet.
I am not sure why I've noticed better results with ground egg shells, but I suspect that the ground egg shells are more easily digested making the calcium more avaiable to the body. On numerous occasions, dogs and cats that have had some problems while eating a raw meaty bone diet have done better when ground egg shells have been added.
Why do I like ground egg shells? Well, because in nature, fresh prey is loaded with blood and while blood alone may not contribute all the calcium our pets need, it definitely does add some. But the meat we buy from the store has been drained of blood and although ground egg shells is obviously not blood, using ground egg shells does help to provide and/or replace calcium from missing sources such as blood and sources we are still unaware of.
As previously discussed in Part 1 of my book, our pets need almost twice as much calcium as phosphorus (not everyone agrees with this ratio and there will never be full agreement but nonetheless, that's the ratio I personally follow).
One of the major keys to health for our four legged furry friends is to have a calcium to phosphorus ratio that's in balance. If this ratio is not in balance, health problems are sure to follow. On the other paw, when this ratio gets back in balance, health problems can begin to disappear. The calcium to phosphorus is the single most important ratio within the body. The calcium to phosphorus ratio builds either the foundation of good health or ill health, all depending whether it is in balance or out of balance.
I like using ground egg shells as my primary source of calcium because ground egg shells are a concentrated source of calcium yet low in phosphorus. This allows us to easily add calcium to the diet of our pets whether they are young or old, sick or healthy, like eating bones or dislike eating bones.
Ensuring our pets get enough calcium is extremely important because raw meat is naturally high in phosphorus and low in calcium. Adding calcium to the diet is crucial to balancing the high phosphorus content of meat.
One of the things I've noticed is that in nature, carnivores don't always eat the bones of their prey. A lion, as an example, after killing a zebra will eat the meat and leave the bones. Conversely, if a lion catches a baby gazelle, then the lion will eat the bones and meat. It all depends on the size of the prey. Ultimately, our carnivore friends are more interested in meat than they are of the bones.
This is why, after lions have finished eating a zebra you see the skeletal structure with just a little bit of meat left on it. The vultures then come along and pick off the last remaining meat. Then come the hyenas that actually eat the bones. Hyenas have exceptionally strong jaws and neck muscles and they live to eat bones. In fact, you can always tell when you are looking at the stools of hyenas because they are pure white — they are pure white due to all of the bones they have eaten. In fact, the stools of hyenas are also very dry allowing them to be used like chalk on a blackboard.
Now the arctic wolves will sometimes catch a musk oxen. When they do, they eat the meat and leave the bones similar to the lions. If you ever go to Ellesmere Island, the most northern island in the world where both the arctic wolf and musk oxen live, then you will see the bones of musk oxen littered across the island due to natural death and the wolves eating them but not their bones.
Lions like their meat — they focus on the meat. In fact, a lion can eat so much meat after catching a zebra that the lion literally cannot move. Their stomachs are so big and plump that they can't even get up even if they wanted to. Yet, for all of the food they have eaten, the bones remain.
With cats, as an example, if they catch a mouse then they will eat the bones because it's a relatively small prey. On the other hand, if a cat were to catch a rabbit, the cat would eat the meat and leave the bones.
Whether or not carnivores eat the bones, in my observations, all depends on the size of the prey in comparison to the size of the carnivore.
Bones, therefore, in my opinion are not only part of the calcium solution and not the total answer. In some situations our pets would naturally eat bones, in others they would not. Either way, calcium naturally comes from multiple sources that include blood and other sources.
I use ground egg shells as a substitute for the missing blood and other missing sources of calcium that carnivores naturally get in the wild. It's not ideal, it's not perfect, but it gets the job done.
Bones: A Mineral Supplement
In my experience, if you feed bones as a
singular source of calcium supplement, then chances are your pets will potentially suffer from some calcium deficient related issues.
While in my opinion bones should not be considered a calcium supplement, bones do provide minerals. Thus feeding bones is or can be beneficial in terms of providing our pets with some valuable minerals.
Many people feed chicken backs, chicken legs along with other types of bones. Personally, I prefer to feed chicken necks or backs. They are easily crushed and broken down. This in turn reduces any sort of complication from eating or feeding bones.
The reality is that bones are usually days or weeks old before we buy them. As a result, they are usually dehydrated making them harder. This can lead to potential problems although I have not encountered or experience any problems due to this.
I've seen dogs and cats eat all sorts of bones — from cooked bones to raw bones and everything in between. I've seen cats and dogs eat them with no problems at all. But I personally still prefer to feed chicken necks or backs to reduce any risk.
Some people are more fanatical and insist that you need to feed other types of bones. But for me, I worry less about this sort of talk and instead prefer the relatively safety of chicken necks or backs.
I don't feed chicken necks every day — perhaps once or twice a week — similar to how, in nature, our pets would not be eating bones every day.
While bones can and do provide minerals, it's also important to note that bones can also be a source of heavy metals such as lead. This is another reason why I prefer not to feed bones every day. Heavy metals get stuck in bones, that's just the way it is.
Not all pets like to eat bones either — some do, some don't.
Bones: Fiber For Pets
Our pets are meant to have either no fiber in their diet or at the very least, only a small amount. This is due to the fact our pets have very short intestinal tracts.
Although our pets don't need fiber, bones reportedly have a similar effect as fiber for our pets. The crushed bones, as they pass through the body, help to cleanse it too. In fact, a holistic vet I heard talk one time suggested that the crushed bones also help to drain the anal sacks naturally.
Some General Guides
In the past, I would give my dogs knuckle bones to chew on. However, there is a chance that your dog may crack or break its tooth on a knuckle bone especially when the knuckle bone is too big. Also, most knuckle bones have too much fat and not enough meat on them. We want to avoid excess fat in our pet's diet. Fat should always be fed with the meat — meat and fat together, with less fat and more meat is how our pets are meant to eat. If you are feeding other types of bones, there should always be some meat on the bones too.
Some dogs will bury bones, let them rot and then eat them once they are fully rotten. This is not an unusual behavior. This allows the enzymes within the meat to break down the meat itself thus making it easier for the meat to be digested by the dog.
Never feed cooked or cooked small bones, both of which can get stuck in the body.
For me, since bones are not a significant part of the diet, I tend to stick to feeding chicken necks or backs. However, if you want to feed bones as a major or significant part of the diet, then I would suggest reading a book about raw meaty bone diets for dogs and cats.
Feeding Bones To Puppies and Kittens
When a puppy or kitten is about 6 weeks of age, that's when they are of approximate age for eating bones. When I operated my cat sanctuary, I saw small kittens devour a chicken neck without any problems and I assume the kitten was about 5 to 6 weeks of age. But to be safe, I would wait at least until 6 to 8 weeks of age before feeding bones to puppies and kittens. I personally would suggest chicken neck again as they are easily crushed.
A Brief Summary
In the 1990's, I fed a raw meat diet in combination with bonemeal yet I still encountered health problems. Starting around 2000, I switched to ground egg shells as my primary source of calcium with some blood and bones added as well. Since then, I've had the best success in helping people and their pets.
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