SFRAW “Founder Notes” No. 1: On Feeding Raw Meaty Bones

  • This is the first in a series of blog posts I’ll be putting out this year. I’m calling it, “SFRAW Founder Notes” where I will share my perspective, tips & tricks, observations, occasional ramblings, gleaned from my 30 years of experience with Natural Rearing and Raw Feeding on topics related to raw feeding, health and nutrition.

One of the things that has kept me engaged and inspired all this time is all our wonderful, caring and dedicated SFRAW members and, my genuine adoration for animals. Especially the amazing animals’ lives changed with switch to whole, fresh foods diets and Natural Rearing. The astounding number of healing transformations I’ve been honored to witness has provided ongoing inspiration, excitement, joy, comfort and nourishment to my heart and soul every. single. time.

My passion for all things animal and nutrition/health has been further ignited during what has been a flourishing period of new information and research within the realm of health and nutrition over the past decade — always engaging and interesting! In fact, I’ll plan to attend more health summits and related seminars this year — there’s just so much cool stuff happening at the moment! Indeed, I’m attending an interesting conference the end of this month organized by the pioneering people behind the KetoPet Sanctuary featuring several well-respected leading researchers on metabolic health and nutrition.

Back in “the garage days” – SFRAW started in a member’s garage in 2003.

I’ll also share what I’ve gathered from my unique experience as the Founder and owner/operator of SFRAW. April of 2019 will mark 16 years of continual operation (not including the 2 years prior with my Meat Madness monthly food prep group – which was fun, too!) It has not been easy, but like most things worth fighting for and when it comes to matters of the heart, it’s been worth every challenge and struggle.

I’m hoping to also include a series from SFRAW Mentors where they can post about their tips & thoughts on feeding raw that may be of help and support to our members. Of course, that will be “SFRAW Mentor Notes” and is forthcoming…

Lastly, our legacy Yahoo Group archives is a vast well of truly awesome insight and information gathered over many years. I have the archived and downloaded — I may re-post discussions we had on occasion to this blog, if they seem useful and relevant for today’s raw feeders.

So, on to No. 1 in the series…
On Feeding Raw Meaty Bones I have nearly 30 years of experience in Raw Feeding, and have learned a lot from the hundreds of dog and cats that I have supported and known as the Founder/Owner of SFRAW since 2003. Let me share my personal experiences on feeding raw meaty bones with you! The information provided is based entirely on my observations and opinions made after learning a lot about feeding bones – I hope it helps you when making these choices for your own animals.

Also: be sure to check out my past blog post: On Feeding Marrow (and other “recreational”) Bones vs. Raw MEATY Bones here.

Why feed raw meaty bones? Raw, meaty bones are an ideal, species appropriate food and best format for most dogs and cats, providing many important benefits! The primary reported and observed benefits of feeding raw bones is quite impressive – promoting and supporting good lymphatic health, clearer/healthier teeth and gums, better digestion, improved breath and elimination – keeping their guts in great shape. The benefits of raw bone chewing/prey model diets also includes:

  • behavioral health – chewing bones allows for them to express innate species specific canine/feline behavior in the most natural way
  • stress relief: the act of chewing supports relaxation in our dogs/cats,
  • exercise (some bones are HARD work!)
  • problem solving, which supports cognitive health and function
  • gnawing on a big, complicated meaty bone meal activates posterior chain stress release and maintains the function and fitness of many muscles, tendons and nerves along the important posterior chain
  • maintains the proper and healthy function and fitness of the oral cavity, teeth/gums, digestion/gut, and elimination pathway including the anal glands.
  • promotes healthy movement of Chi throughout the body

Lambo is a beloved French Bulldog that enjoys eating prey model raw meals! @doggielambo

Feeding Bones: Special Categories = Special Considerations

But, remember, as exciting as it can be to see other dogs and cats eating whole prey or big meaty bone-in cuts like a wolf or lion — modern, domestic dogs/cats have been modified through selective breeding for cosmetic traits that deviate from the natural head, jaw and oral cavity of a wolf/wild dogs or wild cat. So, just proceed with caution, and do not take unnecessary risks. Be prepared for the possibility of something going wrong, plan and learn accordingly. Choose your bone and cut selections wisely and follow my other recommendations on this blog to provide the best possible nutrition and eating experience for your beloved dog or cat at any age and for each breed.

Growing Puppies & Kittens – may have an increased interest and need in eating bone during periods of their growth stages.  Some days or even weeks, these youngsters may seem to want nothing but bone-in cuts. If this happens, take note! Be mindful, but do not be alarmed. Simply do your best to provide more than one protein during these periods for nutritional diversity, and never overfeed. 

Related note for growing animals: Both OVER-nutrition and OVER-exercise can cause growth problems in developing bones, ligaments, tendons and joints. During these growth periods it is important to allow their bodies to develop without added physical stress or developmental risk from too much activity.  Large and giant breed dogs should avoid stairs for the first 4 months entirely, and limit jumping activity or any hard exercise for the first 10-12 months.  From the start, and throughout the development period of your puppy or kitten, have a knowledgeable & objective third-party take a look at your animal for their objective opinion regarding weight/body condition; development of their pasterns, feet and joints should all look correct for their age and breed, and in no way under or over-developing or misaligned. Choose someone that understands proper structure, working dogs or breeding cats, and has an eye for knowing proper body condition — this may or may not necessarily be your veterinarian, groomer or trainer, but if you have a great raw-knowledgeable professional with this expertise that can do this for you, they will be a wonderful resource in this regard.

Keep toenails trimmed properly to ensure proper alignment and growth of their joints/structural health. Most people are unaware that long toenails can cause major issues in a dog’s mobility and structural health. Keep those nails trimmed short!

Balance that Critical Calcium to Phosphorus Ratio! It is critically important to provide a balanced ca:ph ratio during the growth period, and the amount of elemental calcium or raw bone that you feed is important.  Thankfully, raw feeding allows for slower, more even, growth when compared to growing animals fed kibble or processed foods which is great for structural integrity and long-term health.
Dog diets should stay within a safe range of 1:1 to 2:1 calcium to phosphorous; and cats require a narrow range of 1:1 to 1:1.4 (ideal = 1:1.3).

Customization for the Individual One of the many other benefits is your ability to adjust and modify the changing nutritional needs as your young animal grows. There will be periods during the growth stage when they are simply crazy for bone, bone, bone (and need it!) and other times when they really crave muscle meat, dairy, or offal cuts. 

Teething Babies When animals are teething they can go off bone or prefer a lot more chewing — it depends on their teething pain and what feels best for that individual.  If they are 6-9 months of age, teething, and they go off their whole bones — try offering ground bone instead or a calcium supplement instead. It might be that the act of chewing is the issue — because they still need calcium for proper dental development, and an easier to consume format may be better for them if, due to teething discomfort, they are not able or willing to chew the whole bones.  So long as nutritional and menu modifications are done purposefully, with thoughtful and knowledgeable supervision/guidance, it is perfectly ok to make modifications to the “balanced” diet for short periods in order to meet your animal’s unique needs as they grow.  IMO, this type of adjustable, conscious feeding and the careful customizing of their nutritional needs, is the ideal way to ensure the best possible nutrition for your animal to enjoy the full benefits of a life-time of health, with great immune function, musculoskeletal development and structural integrity.

Sweet Seniors — barring dental or other health issues, this population of animals may (not always, but it is common) begin to have issues with eating bones. This is may sometimes be due to the physical effort required to consume meaty bones; when very aged, they just don’t have the energy or interest, as elders, to manage it/want to. Think about your 95 year old great grandparent, and you can see how this might be understandable for dogs/cats in their Twilight Years (over the age of 12 or 18 — depending on the species/breed). If this happens, you can offer them raw bones in a ground format instead. If they have an interest in eating bone when provided in an easy to gulp right down format, then you can keep feeding bones to them this way instead.  But if they are not eating the ground bones with total gusto, they may simply be expressing a reduced nutritional requirement for bone, and have an increased requirement for protein/meat. Contrary to popular opinion, senior animals actually require MORE bioavailable protein and micro-nutrients than adults/younger animals. Knowing this allows for you to make important adjustments to their diet with their assistance and feedback – take heed of their efforts to communicate their needs during this special period of life.

Note: I’m writing a blog post right now about picking out the most protein rich meats (per calorie) for your senior or animals that have an increased need for protein (athletes, recovery/repair, seniors all fit into this category). I am including information on the benefits of using whey or your seniors (or any dog or cat post surgery, in recovery after an accident or injury, or in physical therapy) and using an amino acid supplement to help maintain/increase healthy muscle mass (important factor related to extending life & healthspan).

Special Caution for Brachycephalic Breeds – Breeds of dogs and cats that have this unique “smooch-faced” structural feature are at higher risk for many conditions including choking, swallowing, and breathing problems, in general. Individual animals may also have additional structural conditions and abnormalities that may increase their risk for normal breathing, swallowing, and their ability to chew. This category includes snub-nosed breeds of dog (PugsShih Tzus, and all types of Bulldogs, including “Frenchies”, and Boston Terriers) and cat breeds such as the PersianExotic and Himalayan

Because of their unique structural features and possible abnormalities, these animals are categorically at a increased risk for safely being able to consume whole pieces of food and raw meaty bones. The risk for choking is very high for these breeds, and so I usually encourage people to feed ground bone-in options to these animals as a precaution. 

This is not to say that there are, and will always be, individual animals or even numbers within a household or certain genetic lines of dogs/cats, that do incredibly well on a prey model diet, where they can eat all of their meals on the bone, intact and in whole form.  Choosing to feed whole pieces of meat/food or bones at all to brachycephalic breeds is a personal choice that must match your comfort level and assessed risk for your own dog or cat. 

In general, I do not recommend feeding these animals pieces of bones or whole pieces of food, but I know several individuals that do absolutely outstanding with a prey model approach.  The choice is yours!  I’m pointing this out to merely assist you as you enter into making this choice with the knowledge and understanding of this increased risk unique to these animals.

Learn This First: Know how to do the Heimlich Maneuver! It’s really easy to learn how and it can save your animals’ life. Your dog/cat can choke on MANY things – not just bones or pieces of meat, but toys and other objects.  Every pet parent should posses this basic knowledge/skill and know how to use it, if ever needed. Sign up to learn how to do this by taking an Animal First Aid class (the Red Cross provides classes nationwide, local animal shelters/SPCAs sometime have classes available in First Aid and CPR). If all else fails, at least take some time to watch YouTube videos on the topic to get an idea on how to do it – and do it now, before you need to ever use it! — or ask someone that knows how to show you the basics in person. It’s super easy and a skill that can safe your animals’ life.

Kasie’s Four S-es of Safe Raw Feeding: to feed anything other than ground meals (prey model, pieces of meat/offal, raw bones, etc):

  1. Supervision = safety! Never, ever leave your dog or cat with a raw meaty bone or any chews while unsupervised. Every time you feed them a raw bone, you absolutely must be present to intervene if there is an issue.  If you can’t watch them, be able to hear that distinctive (and satisfying) crunch crunch sound — and if it goes quiet, be right there, immediately, to SEE why (most of the time, they’re just taking a break, or maybe they/re done eating). The only things I feel comfortable allowing to be chewed on unsupervised are raw/stuffed hooves, raw/stuffed or raw/cut trachea, and for young puppies/kittens — you can leave them with gigantic bones that are as big as or even BIGGER than the size of their bodies — such as whole sides of goat, lamb or huge beef leg “dino” bones that in NO way could ever possibly be swallowed.
  2. Size – it really REALLY matters!  “Go BIG or go home!…or, go grind!”...the bigger and meatier, the safer the bone will be — this goes for all dogs and cats.  If the meaty hunk or bone is not the size of their head, it may be too small. If it’s ground up, this is safer, but only if the grind is fine for tiny dogs and cats; larger dogs will do fine with a chunky or medium grind.  Large chunky grinds and pieces of bone may be a bigger problem for them compared to feeding it intact and whole. If you cut the bone down in size, you may think it will be easier for them to eat or safer but really, what you are doing is increasing the risk for your animal to choke on it! Please do not cut things down to size — go big for safety!  The highest risk bones for choking are those that are just a little bigger than the dog’s throat and they will try to swallow it, but it gets stuck.
    1. For very young puppies & kittens and dogs around or under 10-lbs: chicken necks might be an issue. Please, don’t make the mistake of cutting them into rounds – yikes! This will make them even more of a risk. Always go for bigger, more complicated bones or you can choose to smash them down with a rolling pin or meat tenderizing mallet to make them safer to consume. They are the perfect starter bone for many — but once the size of the animal’s throat is about the same diameter as the meaty bone or piece of meat, you need to reconsider or adjust accordingly.
    2. For dogs in the 50-75 lb body weight category: turkey necks and duck necks are the highest risk bones to feed dogs of this size because these bones really are just about the size/shape of their throats and reports of choking are more common.
    3. For bully breeds and dogs with large jaws and heads, but relatively small throats: these dogs are at a higher risk for choking, in general. They have these big ‘ol – beautuful! – heads and jaws, usually very powerful ones — that seem like they could just go through those meaty bones with ease. Yes, this may be true, but then, once this piece hits the throat opening/esophagus — oops — it just doesn’t fit past their big mouths into the throat!  This is an emergency situation that can be life threatening, and we want to avoid it at all costs! So, select carefully, be aware of your own dogs risk and do your best to provide the safest, most nutritious meals.
  3. Style & Speed – HOW your dog or cat eats needs to be a determining factor when it comes to feeding bones and whole pieces of food safely, too.  For most animals, moving to whole prey is the ideal way to slow them down and provide a more involved, complicated eating experience where they will need to spend more time working on the meal. For dogs that can tolerate cold foods (some may experience digestive upset – regurgitation, vomiting or diarrhea – from eating cold food) feeding their food to them frozen may also slow them down and provide an added benefit of the act of chewing.
  4. Stress: it is important to provide your animals with a safe, stress-free environment at every meal. The energy involved with and put into preparing, serving and eating meals will have a direct impact on their health – period. It is my position that the energy, safety, and healthfulness of the food we feed (and eat!) is directly influenced from the way it is handled and served from “pasture to table”.  Every step of the way, thoughtful intent, energy and care will have a negative or positive influence on the food. Providing your animals with a truly “stress free” healing and healthy meal starts with the way the animal is raised and handled for food while they are alive, how they are harvested and handled/processed, the preparation of the meals and all the way to the point at which you serve the meal. Finally, consider the space and energy associated with the meal at the point of eating it.  All of this will impact the safety, digestibility, nutrition, as well as vibrational and healthfulness of the meals. Issues relating to the stress and energy component of eating and foods can manifest slowly over time (causing disease in the animal), or can create an acute crisis situation (nervous dogs eating too fast for fear of competition for resources or from an environment that is not relaxing for them to enjoy their meals safely).  Below please find a list of what to look out for when feeding your dog or cat – what to avoid or act upon to remedy, as best you can, by making changes to provide them with a safe, stress-free eating environment. If you recognize any of these signs of stress in your pet at mealtimes, recognize that this is a problem that you will need to find a solution for :
    1. eating faster or slower
    2. showing tension in their body – stiffness in their jaw/neck or back/rear end
    3. twitching tails for felines or tail tightly between their legs for dogs
    4. hovering over their meals, hesitation/reluctance to eat, or…eating their meals very, very fast

Get creative and try to think about it from their perspective! You can ask an animal behaviorist for suggestions, too.  Stress at mealtimes might be because of other animals, people, noises, or other distractions, environmental factors, or whatever they perceive as a threat – something is making them anxious, worried, overexcited or uncomfortable. Eating under these conditions will not only cause digestive upset in many animals, but also are just the circumstances under which their normal and customary meals may be risky to feed. 

Boarding and Pet Sitters? I say, “Switch to Ground!”

This recommendation is also for when you have house-guests – (human or other animals), and during occasional upheaval in the home such as construction/remodel. Also true when hosting a special social event in your home (perhaps even during busy holiday season), and for travel – if travel is not something your pet is accustomed to.

When you board your pet or if you have a pet-sitter taking care of your raw fed animals, the best way to completely eliminate the risk of choking/issues related to feeding raw meaty bones is to switch to ground bone-in products during their time being cared for others. This is especially important if/when they do not already know the people/animals and location/environment well and feel routine around eating/feeding. This is not necessarily true when you co-own animals, ,have a working dog that travels regularly or if the caretaker is someone your animal knows well and loves dearly, who is also very experienced in raw feeding and would follow all the recommended guidelines for safely feeding raw meaty bones.

But switching to ground bone-in meals may even be a good idea when you have house guests, perhaps during the busy holidays or when the household energy and routine is disrupted. Know that is is perfectly OK and even a great, responsible idea to simply switch to feeding ground meals and do not feed bones or whole pieces whenever you think the ambiance and atmosphere present at that time may increase associated risk for your dog or cat.

Don’t forget — it is entirely possible that your animal may be stressed by YOU at meal times!  In MOST cases, while you do need to supervise mealtimes, the less involvement you have with their meals after you serve it to them, the easier it is for them to eat normally and in peace. 

Prevent Resource Guarding (“food aggression”) Start Early and Practice/Re-enforce Throughout Their Lifetime! It is very important to teach animals at an early age that your approach is not a threat to them while they are eating, nor is your proximity and handling of their food other highly coveted objects. To do this, you will need for them to know and feel absolute confidence that your approach and proximity to their food and them while eating will result in “good things happening”. It is essential and important for safe food handling and also for establishing a stress-free meal environment. Reinforcing this through behavior modification techniques around the food bowl is important to do even as your dog ages — but you will want to still give them freedom, peace and space to eat without your constant harassment or hovering over them.

Mindful Mealtimes – It Just Takes a Moment! Choose what and where and how to feed so that you can feed every single meal intentionally, with great confidence, and love. You can accomplish this via a routine you have established or healthful rituals you and your animals engage in surrounding mealtime. Even as busy as we are these days, and with the usual weekday rush to prepare food to feed ourselves and our families healthy, whole food meals: try to take a moment when possible, to express your gratitude for the animals that died in order to provide such healthy nourishment, for the producers that worked hard to make it available for you, and for your ability, and increased awareness about nutrition, to be feeding them this wonderful food; the vitality is contains and nourishment it provides.

Feel Good Foodies: Tasty Favorites, Exciting Flavors/Textures and Full Bellies Promote Wellness, too! Celebrate with your animals in joy and pleasure, over the excitement of eating such yummy foods! If your animals are excited about their meals, you can join in on all the excitement with your body language and tone of voice – sing a song or do a dance (so long as this is safe to do!) for the healing healthy foods you’re providing for them. 

Post Meal Dog Face Rubs: A Compliment to the Chef and Perfectly Normal After a yummy, satisfying meal (usually a big meaty bone), many dogs love to rub their faces in blissful satisfaction on the couch or the carpet. This is a sign they are REALLY happy with what they just ate – so, rejoice! If it is a problem when they rub on your furnishings, please arrange a soft and comfortable place for them to effectively rub on after a meal (outdoors on a natural/chemical-free lawn can also work!) You can also facilitate and better control the mouth/face rub ritual by providing a clean towel in your hands; gently allow for them to rub on the towel. Good chance to check their eyes, nose, mouth, chest and ears for daily health and possible gunk — wipe to tidy and clean, as needed.

Pre-Meal Hunting Behavior for Cats is Important! Most cats require a solid hunting game before meals to build up their appetite and promote healthy digestion. If they run around and have their own game happening while you get the meal prepared, this is great! How cool is that!? If not, it is important to engage with them in a meaningful and healthful way by playing a game or teaching fun tricks/behaviors associated with mealtime excitement before they eat. Post mealtime, healthy kitties will typically groom (either a full body session or minimally/cursory lick/clean and readjust of the whiskers). Some cats may enjoy your involvement via brushing or petting them as they get cleaned up after a good meal.

Letting Go of Ego… Be sure to never “take it personally” should they refuse to eat what you offer. When this happens, try your very best to remain completely unemotional – leave your ego and any emotional or behavioral baggage that you may have about food and eating (many people do!), out of it. 

Embrace and Welcome Opportunities to Fast: It’s perfectly OK for your healthy dog or cat to *not* eat, sometimes.  Fasting is an outstanding, healing, life supporting tool. Sometimes they just need a little “re-set” by taking a break from eating, for a gentle cleanse, to address any health imbalances they may have and for natural detoxification.  So long as their behavior/mood/energy and vital signs are all normal, fasting for up to 3-4 days is perfectly fine for stable animals. If they are acting normal and healthy otherwise, you don’t have to worry about refused meals here and there. Just simply and swiftly pick it up and put it away.  You can offer it at the next meal instead – be sure to not truly fast them and not feed treats or other things between meals and this may diminish or complicate their natural appetite and biorhythms. No matter what you do, please, please don’t doctor or fuss with their meals at mealtime — doing so can quickly and effectively foster and encourage strange or unhealthy behaviors around food, mealtime and eating.

Carnivore Biorhythms, Hormones and Best Timing of Meals. Most dogs do best with a once a day eating schedule — so if they are regularly disinterested in their meals or can be “picky”, I recommend that you fast one day first. Then, skip the next day’s breakfast, skip all treats during the day and move to feeding one meal a day in the evening. Feeding one meal per day, especially when you move to afternoon or evening timed meals, is actually ideal for the natural biorhythm of carnivores. This feeding schedule can completely and effectively normalize a dog’s appetite and elimination, too. If an animal experiences problems with this schedule (for example, “hunger pukes” = vomiting bile in the middle of the night/early morning) , I suggest a 18/6 fasting/feeding window – where you divide a 24 hour day by fasting them for an 18 hour window, then “feasting” and providing meal(s) and treats for a 6 hour window. You may choose to feed/train and treat during this 6 hour window at will, but I have found the best tolerated option is a main meal in the start of the 6 hours followed by a mini meal at the end of the 6 hours. This may look like/translate into feeding a main dinner and then a before bedtime snack. The best pre-bedtime snack for dogs that experience “hunger pukes” is usually a little meatball or small portion of protein. Typically, this is all that is necessary to remedy this issue. Dogs and cats with “hunger pukes” do eventually overcome this symptom, after their digestive systems become fitter and healthier with time on a whole fresh foods diet. Cooked and processed foods will maintain the issue, however — so stay away from ALL processed foods/treats for establishing long-term fitness/health of your animal’s digestive system.

Raw Bone Suggestions from SFRAW 
(originally posted in 2006)
TIP #1
The larger and meatier the bone, the safer it is to feed. Look for bones that are the size of your animal’s head (they will not be able to swallow the bone whole or without chewing first). Bones that are cut into small pieces are more of a risk to feed as they can be swallowed whole without being chewed. Feeding bones/parts the very same size of your animal’s throat are the most dangerous as they can get lodged in the esophagus; animals can misjudge their ability to get the piece down their throat safely.
TIP #2
If a bone is not super meaty ‘as is’, feed it as a topper or dessert to a portion of muscle meat (ground, stew or trim), organs/offal, soaked/cooked or sprouted grains, or pulped veggie/veggie-fruit mix. Feeding boney bones alone without enough non-bone material (meat, organs, or other bulk) may cause constipation or an impaction.
TIP #3
Do not feed long or weight bearing bones unless you have an animal that carefully chews the meat off the bone or licks the marrow out of the bone only. Do not feed these bones if your animal is apt to bite down hard, chip off pieces and/or crack them open. Long and/or weight bearing bones are most prone to splitting or cracking into sharp shards. These are the types of bones that are more likely to cause obstructions, intestinal perforations, get lodged in the roof of the mouth, and cracked teeth when chomped on.

I hope what I have provided here mentors, supports and guides you on a successful journey of Raw Feeding your dogs & cats. Have fun and enjoy!

One thought on “SFRAW “Founder Notes” No. 1: On Feeding Raw Meaty Bones