Feeding dogs a raw food diet doesn’t have to be complicated. It took me a little while to figure out those words of wisdom.
So if you’re just starting out on your dog’s raw feeding journey and feel a little overwhelmed, don’t worry. It’ll get easier and I promise it’s a lot less complicated than it may seem at first.
That being said, in my previous raw food post for ThatMutt I reviewed Primal, a pre-made raw dog food brand that is great for getting started on raw dog food.
It takes out what might be the most complicated component of preparing your own dogs’ raw meals, and that is getting the math right between the different cuts of meat that make up a nutritious meal (muscle meat, bones and organs).
I personally fed my two boxer mixes pre-made raw dog food from a company called Darwin’s Natural Pet for the first 6 months after ditching kibble. Since it was beginning to be a bit on the expensive side to feed this type of food exclusively, I started looking into making my own meals and was able to cut the cost in half.
Now, in order to create your own dog’s meals, you’ll want to know how to calculate percentages, but even if you don’t, there are some fabulous raw food calculators that are accurate and extremely helpful in double checking your own math.
I like the one that Raw Feeding Miami links to on their website because it offers two separate calculators that differentiate between Prey Model feeding (without veggies) and the BARF model (with veggies):
Raw bones as an integral part of a balanced raw diet
Dogs need the right amount of calcium and phosphorus in order to thrive and to maintain good skeletal health. When feeding a raw diet, raw meaty bones provide exactly that.
So even though bones only make up 10% of a nutritious raw diet, they are an integral part of it and can’t be overlooked. By “raw meaty bones” I simply mean bones that have meat attached. Read on to learn more.
Raw meaty bones (RMBs) also function as a natural toothbrush and keep a dog’s pearlies nice and clean. Missy and Buzz have been “brushing” their teeth several times per week for the past 2 years. Take a look at Buzz’s teeth:
But aren’t bones dangerous and can potentially harm my dog?
The answer to this question is “yes, bones are dangerous when they’re cooked.” While you can wing feeding raw to a certain degree, there is one really important rule that you absolutely have to follow, and that is never ever feed your dog cooked bones.
Unlike raw bones which are soft and pliable, cooked bones become brittle, can splinter very easily, and become sharp little weapons, meaning they can cause a lot of harm once they’re inside a dog’s body.
What kind of raw meaty bones can I feed my dog?
Out of the 2.5 years that my dogs Missy & Buzz have been on a raw diet, they’ve been eating raw meaty bones for 2 years without ever having had a problem eating or digesting them.
As mentioned previously, it took me about 6 months to feel comfortable enough putting their meals together myself and to offer them whole RMBs. (The pre-made raw meals from Darwin’s contained ground bones.)
I started them out on chicken leg quarters and slowly added other RMBs to their meals over the course of the next 24 months ranging from duck necks/heads/frames to turkey necks, chicken feet, rabbit heads, and just recently salmon heads.
As a rule of thumb, the RMB you offer your dog should never be a lot smaller than their mouth. That way, he’ll be a lot less likely to just swallow the bone whole instead of chewing it.
So don’t offer your 80-lb Lab a chicken wing, but start with a chicken leg quarter instead. Likewise, your Yorkie might be overwhelmed with a turkey neck but do great with a chicken wing.
How to safely feed your dog raw bones
Another piece of advice I can offer is know your dog’s chewing habits. If your dog tends to gulp, hold the RMB you’re offering while they eat it. That way, they’re forced to take bites out of it and actually chew.
One of my dog walking clients is currently switching their German Shepherd from kibble to raw and followed my advice of holding the chicken leg quarter when offering it to Stanley.
Otherwise, he has a tendency of swallowing food whole. Holding it worked great to “force” Stanley to chew.
Someone who follows me on Instagram did the same when offering their Husky-Lab-Rottweiler mix Baloo a chicken leg quarter for the first time. It worked just as great as it did for Stanley.
Also be aware of your dog’s dental health before offering RMBs. In general, a dog’s teeth will be able to handle RMBS no problem, but (older) dogs with weaker teeth might be better off with ground bone in their meals.
Another lesson I learned over the years is to feed my dogs raw bones on a surface that can easily be wiped down. When it’s nice outside, I give them their RMBs on the grass in the back yard – obviously there’s no clean up necessary there at all.
When I feed RMBs inside, I put down a large towel on the hardwood in the kitchen/dining room area that gets tossed into the wash right after. This is great to practice the command “stay” or “place” to keep your dog confined to one area.
Every now and then I also feed Missy and Buzz larger RMBs such as duck frames in their crates.
This option is great to keep them busy for a while when company comes over! I’ll remove their bedding beforehand so all I have to do is wipe down the pans after they’re done eating.
How do I know how much actual bone content is in a raw meaty bone?
One thing to keep in mind is that RMBs don’t only consist of bone, but they also come with meat attached. The actual bone content varies between the different RMBs. Chicken leg quarters typically contain around 20% bone, necks are around 45% bone, chicken feet are 60-80% bone, duck heads and duck frames are around 75% bone.
Perfectly Raw offer a great overview of the different bone percentages on their website:
If you’re not entirely sure if your dog gets too much or too little bone in his meals, take a look at his poop. If it’s too runny, he’s not getting enough. Or, if it’s too dry, he’s getting too much bone.
*Note from Lindsay: I find it easier to calculate how much bone my dog would need over a full week vs. each meal. Then I just make sure he gets that amount over the week.
To sum it all up:
- Never feed cooked bones, only RMBs.
- Raw bones make up 10% of a nutritious, balanced raw food diet.
- They are important for your dog’s skeletal and oral health.
- Choose RMBs that are a good fit for your dog’s mouth in size.
- Know your dog’s chewing habits and hold on to the RMB if your dog is a gulper.
- Feed your dog raw bones on surfaces that can easily be cleaned – avoid carpet and wood.
- Take a look at your dog’s poop if you’re unsure that he’s getting the right amount of bone.
In my next post, I’ll share where we get our paws on affordable raw meaty bones!
Do your dogs get RMBs in their diet? Do they have a favorite kind?
Let us know in the comments! Also, leave any questions you have about how to feed your dog raw bones.
Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt about feeding her two boxer mixes a raw dog food diet. She is a blogger and dog walker and maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.