Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Please Mr Butcher, can I have a bone for my dog?"

A serious post about how [confusing it is] to choose the right bone for a dog - written by a concerned and confused housewife dogowner after 1 night of googling.


Most people would say Georgia eats well. We've come a long way from feeding our dogs kibble from Woollie's and canned dog food.

Sadly, I can't say for sure if her meals are perfectly balanced since I'm not a dogfood expert.
The entire bottom half of our freezer is all Georgia's food. How did our fridge life get so taken over by 1 dog?

Nor do I have the mathematical genius required to calculate the kind of 2 decimal point percentages I see on dogfood bags and sites.

To tell you the truth, I get a headache when presented with such numbers and instantly think of all the dogs in the world who don't eat like that and still live good happy lives. [Though perhaps not Methuselan ones.]

Here at our little house, we're hedging our bets by feeding Georgia with a mixture of all good things. As I once commented on Ms Tonk's post about what to feed dogs, we follow the same guideline with Georgia's diet as we do with our own - provide lots of variety and eat in moderation.

2 daily meals of raw and cooked bones*, offal and meat, kibble [currently Canidae], rice and greens.

Sometimes, I wonder why I fret. Last week, Georgia found some fresh entrails from roadkill. Before The Other Half could stop her, she'd sucked the lot down. We thought she'd get the runs. But no. Remarkably [or perhaps not], she didn't get the slightest bit sick from it, and the only ones who gagged were us humans.

My latest bugbear and the one I'll be discussing today is bones.

There was a time when we fed our dogs bones as treats. Jordan and Rufus got a big marrow bone or lamb shank once a fortnight, if they were lucky and if we remembered.

Georgia, our 46kg princess, gets 2 little raw bones every single day with her meals. And a big one once a fortnight or so.

Here's the problem.

It seems not all dogs are suited to bones and not all bones are suitable for all dogs.

What bone you pick for a dog might depend on such fiddly things as the size of the dog, the said dog's preferred chewing method, and the purpose of giving the said bone to the said dog in the 1st place.

I know, I know. That already sounds too complicated. But it is, in fact, common sense. Take a deep breath, re-read the sentence if you have to, and you'll see what I mean.

Georgia does not chew her bones. Big or small, she gives them a cursory chomp or 2, then swallows them in chunks. She gobbles them down as if there were ravenous hyenas circling, waiting to pounce and pluck the bone right out of her jaws [not to be confused with Typists who steal her bones while she's sleeping]. Sometimes, she gags and regurgitates the chunks.   

This, of course, bothers us. Over the last year, we've experimented with all types of bones for her. From chicken necks and wings to brisket and lamb necks. We give her tibias long marrow bones for cleaning her teeth. We give her lamb shanks for a more meaty bite.

"This one's pretty good. What is it?"

We've also experimented with sizes of bones, and how they should be cut.

For example -

Given that she often gags trying to swallow her 1/2 a lamb neck, we now get the butcher to 1/4 them, thus hopefully halving her chances of choking on one. [See? I do do some dubious math.]

We've also gone from giving her a whole marrow bone to just 1/2 at a time so there's less gunk stuffing up her intestines and other more unmentionable body parts.

And no more cutting them lengthwise either, as butchers like to do! Bad BAD. [Apparently.]

In short, our choice of bones has evolved in the last year to cater to our dog's needs and eating habits. I was feeling quite proud and happy with our decisions.

Until last night, when I read this -

"...stay away from cut bones; this includes things like cut up neck bones (where they are cut into individual vertebrae), cut ox-tail bones, and cut knuckle bones. The smaller size encourages inappropriate gulping, not to mention the rather sharp edges left over from the saw blade!"

On that same site [which is dedicated to dispelling myths surrounding raw feeding], I found even more things we should do to make bone-eating safer for our little pea!

Who would have thought picking a bone for a dog would be so closely related to rocket science?

Then. While my mind was still grappling with what further changes we might have to make...

More confusing news.

Some experts believe bones are not good for dogs at all!

How could this be? Well, if you'd like to know what complications could arise from feeding bones, read this. Personally, I wouldn't be keen for Georgia to choke on a bone. I just wouldn't have the strength required to attempt a Heimlich Manoeuvre on her 46kg mass.

And if the above advice is not expert enough for you, perhaps you'll believe this scary one from the U.S. FDA.


I don't know what I hope to get out of this post. A little more clarity would be good. What scares me is that I've come up with so much conflicting information in just 1 night [or to be precise, 2 hours] of googling. What else is out there that I do not know and should know?

How can an average dogowner like myself hope to make a good decision when even the experts are conflicted?

Can you, by any chance, help? Any personal experiences, thoughts and opinions will be gratefully added to this database!

I will end this post with  A Note To The Other Half who buys the bones but will probably not read any of the helpful links I've provided here.


Dear Other Half,

Based on my findings,  this will be our new guideline for feeding bones to Georgia -

+ We will now use only raw chicken wings and beef brisket in her daily meals. The chicken wings are small enough for her BigDog throat and she does at least crunch them once or twice before swallowing. The brisket bones are soft and [so far] she seems to chew them more.
A bag of brisket sure doesn't go far. After trimming all the fat off, all that was left was the plate on the left.

No more raw lamb necks until she stops gobbling them down, not even if they're 1/4ed.

+ We may be overdoing the bones by feeding them to her twice a day, 7 days a week. 3 or 4 times a week, or just 1 bone a day should be fine.

You'll just have to learn how to ignore Georgia when she comes to hassle remind you about her bone.

+ No more cuttings of the spine, even if the butcher swears they're great for dogs.
No more lengthwise cutting of tibias/femurs/longbones/marrow bones even if the butcher says the dog won't be able to get to the marrow if he cuts it crosswise, and even if he thinks we're being stupid.

+ "Recreational, teeth-cleaning bones" and lamb shanks will only be given once a fortnight. We won't let Georgia get to the point where she's cracked them open and swallowed the chunks. We'll remove the bones after a good gnaw and while they're still intact. You will not say that that is a waste of money.

+ Finally, just in case all these precautions do not work, we you will learn the Heimlich Manoeuvre [video below].

Thank you. Please be aware that this guideline is subject to change at any time.


I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes, I wish we could go back to the good old days when dogs called Fido ate table scraps, and no one felt guilty about it.

"Listen guys. Please don't fuss."

"I'd be happy to have whatever you're having."


Other related reading.
+  I like the general feeding guidelines here on the RSPCA Australia site. They're simple to understand and achievable. Plus, there are many other interesting onward reading links.

Here's an excerpt from the section on bones:

+ Too many raw bones may lead to constipation. Generally 1-2 raw bones may be offered per week with a few days in between each serving

+ Avoid large marrow bones (these have very thick outer rims), T-bones, 'chop' bones e.g. lamb cutlets, large knuckle bones and bones sawn lengthwise (as done by some butchers) as dogs may crack their teeth on these

+  Want to know how to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre on a dog?

OR if you don't like to read, here's a video. [I don't see her lifting a 46kg dog in it though.]

+ After all that to-ing and fro-ing, is raw food [including bones] even good for a dog?

I accidentally found this article on a site called Science Based Medicine. It's written by a vet and titled Raw Meat and Bone Diets for dogs: It's enough to make you BARK ooops! BARF.

I've read it through once. My head is aching and my eyes feel crossed. I will have to go back for another round later. In case you think I'm being a baby about it, here's an excerpt -

"Functionally, dogs are omnivores or facultative carnivores, not obligate carnivores, and they are well-suited to an omnivorous diet regardless of their taxonomic classification or ancestry."


Update. 2 steps forward, 1 step back.
I wrote this post yesterday. This morning, Georgia chucked this lot up. [Don't worry, I've cleaned the messy yellow slime off.]
Yesterday, she got 1 piece of brisket with her brekkie, and 1 chicken wing with her dinner. As you can see, bits of both came out of the front end. [God know what came out of the back.]

This is the one that bothers me the most.

It's not little and it's very sharp. I wouldn't want her to suffer from a perforated intestine so, as of this moment, and until her eating habits more raw chicken wings either.


"Oh honestly. Why don't you just kill me now and get it over with?"

p.s. I'd like to say a quick "Thank you!" to Kol's mama, the Nigella of the doggy world, who's kindly been emailing me information on bones as we struggle to find some suitable ones for Georgia :) 

*UPDATE 5 April
Please read the next post for an important correction!


H and Flo said...

It's a nightmare. I purposely haven't clicked on any of the links because I've found exactly the same problem - it all depends whose point of view you're reading; there is no scientific peer review which is probably the only thing that would keep me happy in terms of judging the reliability of what I'm reading! I freeze Flo's meaty bones and give them to her frozen - maybe that would encourage GLP to chew a little more... I also freeze her marrow bones and beef soup bones (all from Woolies). The other thing I give her is minced chicken carcass, which you can buy from Leonards ($2.50 per kilo). I wish there was some sort of recognised authority on bones!

What Remains Now said...

I don't do any raw feeding although I would if I weren't lazy about no good advice from me. I have been thinking about changing to grain-free, maybe as a first step. Very interesting to read your posts about this.

georgia little pea said...

You and me both Flo!

I read about freezing meaty bones on one of those links. I shall try that though it must be uncomfortable to gnaw them over winter! There is a lady who sells organic chicken carcasses here but they're whole, not minced. I'm having a bit of trouble imagining a minced carcass ;p Will try to check that out.

THANKS for your input!

Lori - grains are another of my bugbears. After all my reading, I'm no longer sure that they're bad for dogs.

A raw diet is the easiest thing for a lazy person lol! No prep involved (unless you count trimming fat off).

Jean said...

After trying to learn everything I could about feeding dogs, I finally stuck my head in the sand in frustration and went back to doing what I'd always done - feeding kibble (albeit a better quality) with a bit of canned, no bones.
Were I a more patient, confident person, and were there some REAL answers out there, I'd probably be feeding raw or homecooked as I really don't like processed foods for myself or my dogs. But it is just too confusing (and everytime I say that, someone on my dog boards says "It's simple - just slap some raw meat into the bowl with some veggies. Oh..and add this and that and the other supplement, and once a week do this and that and the other, and every second Thursday remember to give this......"). Aaackkkk!

I used to feed my dogs marrow bones (the long ones with the marrow in the centre and thick outer core) but even when I scraped out the marrow, my sensitive tum dogs got the runs, and then I noticed my collie cross was splitting the bones in half. I was told to try knuckle bones as the best for cleaning teeth - which they promptly upchucked all over the floor. Lamb necks they swallowed whole and choked on. So ended my adventure in bones. I've yet to find a 'dental chew' that lasts any longer than a cookie, except bully sticks, which they suck in and choke on!

Just a point for those who merely skim (not that they would be reading the comments), but from the blue part about what you feed, it looks like you feed "raw and cooked bones"? Cooked bones (unless dissolved to pulp in a pressure cooker) are the one thing all the experts seem to agree are a no-no due to splintering hazard.

Whew - that was rather long! Ooops.

georgia little pea said...

I feel your frustration Jean. I'm hoping to get some good advice out if this post! Thanks for letting me know about the cooked bones caption. My poor sentence construction. I don't feed cooked bones! Whew! I shall drag myself out of bed now to go downstairs and correct the post on the comp. why not? It's only 2.48am ;) THANKS for sharing your personal experience! x

sagechronicles said...

My head is spinning with all that great info about bones. Good info! I don't give Sage a lot of bones, but she loves the occasional one she gets. In fact, there are some marrow bones in the freezer right now.

Jan said...

You have a topic that I have totally avoided writing about on my blog because there is so much conflicting information and so much hysteria from owners who are convinced their way is from heaven. My dogs get a high quality kibble and whatever any human drops on the floor for more than one second.

I have been happy with my investment in deer horns for chewing. They were devouring meat bones and rawhide bones, but they like the deer bones now that that is all they have to chew. It's been weeks and the horns have really stood up to the treatment.

verobirdie said...

You know I don't have a dog myself, but I remember my father telling me to never give a dog chichen or rabbit bones. They are too sharp and risk to perforate the intestines. As your last picture shows. And my sister is as "picky" as you are with her dog.
Yes, I know i'm no help :-)

June said...

I do not do it but I think a RAW diet is probably the best thing in the world for dogs. I think anything that dogs would do, if left to their very own wild instincts, is probably good for them. Those roadkill guts were, no doubt, Dog Caviar and excellently nutritious.
As for the sharp parts, even people can eat sharp things and their guts coat them with mucus so they pass on through.
And puking isn't, for dogs, what it is for us, I think. I think it's sort of like an ungulate with a cud. Or owls, who upchuck the indigestible parts of their diets.
You're doing fine. Georgia's happy and healthy. Don't make yourself crazy.

georgia little pea said...

Jan - it is a minefield. I think this is what "ignorance is bliss" means. Deer horns and rawhide chews .. I think I read something about them in one of those links. Nothing too good. I'm sure there's another source out there that will say otherwise. Sigh.

Vero - that's not true. That WAS helpful. Very large and very small bones can be problematic. As Jean mentioned in the comment - they should NEVER be given cooked.

June - that was wonderfully informative and I must google the subject of animal chuck ups. I know, I sound like a dotty dogmama. I swear I'm not! I am a very curious one though and would love to understand why bones are such a complicated issue.


Pamela said...

I'll admit this is one of those areas where I deliberately keep myself in the dark for fear or being overwhelmed by information. The other one is sustainable seafood. Yucko!

I can see why you're trying to get the right information about bones because the can be dangerous. But as for the rest of Georgia's diet I'd just ask if her coat looks good, she seems happy, and she feels well. If so, you're probably doing just fine.

Jen said...

Argh! Dog food!! I'm struggling with this one too!

I raised Murphy on a raw diet. I thought she was doing well on it, but she was born missing 4 teeth and bones can be hard for her. So, I never know what to give her! To top it, she's developed (well I think it was always there) and allergy to chicken, I suspect. I've switched her to a high quality kibble now that she's two.

Spike and Sophie are almost completely raw feed. They rarely have issues, but sometimes when they eat too much bone, they erm, have accidents in the house. :( Once again, if I knew what bone to give that would avoid the urge to have a bathroom break on my family room carpet, long about 4AM, I would!

I have a puppy on the way and I'm worried about raising another on just raw. I think I'm moving towards a mix of kibble/raw etc and hope that somewhere along the line my puppy gets the right nutrition.

There is so much info out there and at one time I was convinced raw was the only way to go. Now, I'm not so rigid. At the rate I'm going, I may well be back to just kibble. Saves me thinking, LOL

Ellen said...

I guess that is why I don't give bones to the poochies. Too much of is this alright or is this not. Then the size of too small...

I must be unfair to do this but that is what I don't do...give bones except Nylabones.

georgia little pea said...

Jen - thanks for sharing your own woes with feeding. life was certainly simpler when we didn't have the internet and just fed our dogs whatever our gradparents did. i can understand why Pamela prefers to keep herself in the dark :p and might end up kicking myself for opening this pandora's box!

among all the things i read was that bones were not a good idea for dogs with teeth problems like Murphy's and mishapen jaws. some things seem obvious only after i read them! i suppose with his chicken allergies, other raw meats would be your only choice [if you're sticking to raw].

i'm making a calculated guess that fresh raw meat might still be better than commercially processed kibble.

p.s. thanks for coming back. missed you :) a puppy on the way? looks like i have some catching up to do myself! x

Elizabeth said...

Oh, that bone upchuck would scare me, too. But she's been eating it all this time with no trouble, so maybe it's not as bad as it looks??? The only bones my boys get are the thick raw marrow ones (sometimes long and sometimes cut crosswise). They don't bite down on the bones, though, they scrape and lick. I freeze them first, too (and I have never noticed a sharp cut edge).

Dogs can break teeth on just about anything hard, including bully sticks and rawhide (I know dogs who have). For that matter, a human can break a tooth on a pizza crust (I did - it was weak from a grinding habit). My point is, nothing is without its potential hazards (and a weak tooth is going to break on something eventually).

You know Georgia's chewing and swallowing habits better than a stranger does, so try not to be bullied by all the opinions. You are a fantastic dog parent.

So glad Jodi is sending you some advice. Hope you figure something out soon.

georgia little pea said...

Elizabeth - me get bullied? HAHA! i'm just interested in finding out what other people are doing bonewise. expert opionions are one thing and real life dogowner experiences are something else :)

we've been fortunate so far with the bones, considering Georgia's eating habits. [or rather, SHE's been fortunate]. but it takes just one wrong one to get her in serious trouble - something worse than a chuckup or constipation!

you're lucky with JF and Doo-we. i wish Georgia was more of a licker and scraper too. perhaps one day.

Kolchak Puggle said...

Oh Georgia! How did I miss that she was a gulper? Silly me, I should be paying better attention! It's been my pleasure to bark with you about bones!

Perhaps Miss Pea is a candidate for ground bone supplements instead of whole bones to chew...or you could do what we did when we had to train Koly to chew. It's a time consuming PITA, but after 4 months, I can let him chew his bone now. At first, I used to hold his bones at one end while he chewed them to prevent him from swallowing it whole.

Here are thee guidelines we use:

No cooked bones. Ever. These are hard, dry and dangerous.

Whole bone 1 - 2/week and a small amount of ground bone in regular meals that would otherwise be boneless.

No weight bearing bones of large animals (ie. beef or bison marrow bone or tibias) as these bones tend to be harder than the average canine tooth.

Supervised bone consumption only (I mean, there *is* a choking risk, but there's a choking risk with soft toys, Nylabones, tennis balls, kibble, and anything your dog puts in their mouth really.)

Grains, kibbles and raw feeding shouldn't be served within 6 - 8 hours of each other as they digest at much different rates. The grain/kibble can stay in your dog's intestinal tract for many hours after it is eaten and the raw meat juice and bacteria that normally wouldn't cause a problem CAN cause a problem if the grain keeps it in the gut too long.

Feed appropriately sized bones. For us this means I do get the butcher to half lamb necks, but for Georgia I would serve them whole. With a gulper, I would serve bones that are too big rather than too small.

As for sharp edges, having seen the bone she yakked up, are you really concerned? I wouldn't be, the regurgitation is her body's way of telling her the chunk she swallowed is too big and to chew it a little more, then swallow it again. (Though I would say wings might too small for her. Maybe try chicken thigh or the whole carcass instead.)

georgia little pea said...

Dear Kol's mama,

thank you so much for your advice! i am over the moon :) i will need some time to digest it [no pun intended]. it looks like i might have to switch around what she eats so as to allow for the time needed [she gets fed approximately at 8-ish am and 6-ish pm]

being human, i always like to have variety in each meal. maybe, i should just give one type of food in each meal but have variety over the day instead.

bone training. hmmm. never even thought of that before.

definitely food for much thought for me [no pun intended again!]


47 said...

Bones are the only raw food my dogs get. I feed frozen marrow bones from a pet store. They're special because they're cut into pieces, but all the edges are rounded off. I never feed them unfrozen because one of my dogs is a power chewer, and like yours, will swallow chunks. I have no idea why freezing them helps, but it does.

Mary Hone said...

I personally am anti bone. I give Roxy and Torrey kibble and dog treats. I've always heard they were bad for dogs.

Peggy Frezon said...

We used to buy big marrow bones for Kelly. Hard as they are, she chews them up and gets chunks off them and swallows them. It's really difficult to know what bones to give your dog. Your post and the comments (esp. smart Kol's mom!) are very helpful. I tend to err on the side of not giving Kelly any bones until I figure it out. Poor Kelly!

georgia little pea said...

Is this what "having a bone to pick" means, you think? ;p

Poor Kelly indeed! I'm surprised that such a sweet looking littlish dog is able to chomp through a huge marrow bone! She must have very strong jaws and teeth.

Georgia is protesting already. I haven't given her any bones since making this post, but will today. Thanks to all the comments here, I'm going to try a FROZEN brisket!

Here's wishing both of us luck figuring this out :)

Peggy Frezon said...

Yes, my delicate little girl has strong teeth! One time when she was a puppy, she shredded an entire empty Diet Pepsi can! I came home to see it into tiny slivers and expected the worst...but somehow she didn't get a single cut!

Karen Friesecke said...

I'm not 100% convinced about the BARF diet. I don't think that bones and meat only are a good diet for a dog. Adding veggies and kibble, like you do, is a pretty good way to go for vitamins and minerals.

For a few months, I fed Jersey raw turkey necks. I stopped because most turkey & chicken are infected with salmonella. I'm not worried about Jersey getting salmonella, but her transferring it to me. I have Lupus, which means that my immune system is compromised, so it's a risk that I'm not going to take.

I will feed the dogs raw venison bones when I get them during hunting season. I help butcher the meat, so I know that it's done right & without possible bacterial contamination.

Karla said...

I once had to stick my hand in my puppy french bulldog's throat to pull out a sharp (raw) bone he had managed to disintegrate from a proper sized 'safe' bone. Goes to show even if you give them the big chunky ones, they can and will try to eat the whole thing. I am very careful about what he chews on now.

p500wez said...

can i ask why you trim the fat off? My dogs get full rabbits fur and all just remove the digestive system full chickens same story but also remove the feathers, hares, squirels, mice and baby rats whole, pheasent, wood pigeon any and all lamb bones including the head. lambs stomach, beef bones any and all inc heads pig heads occasionally, i also get pet mince from the butchers which is basically all the trimmings we dont want to eat. brown bread, eggs, pilchards, table scraps and dry food if meat supply is short. sometimes they may not get fed at all for a day or two. pups get the best bits but basically anything i can get cheep or free. dogs get wormed every 6 months and only ever been the vet for puppy jabs neutering and stitches. ive got/had spanials, collie, lurchers, bull type and terriers

georgia little pea said...

Hi p500wez, it surprises me that so many people still read this post lol. I found the info and comments very helpful in the days when I was still sorting out Georgia's diet which is now a steady combo of cooked and raw, fruit, veg, eggs and meat, rice and good kibble. Her tummy has been good for a long time, touch wood :)

Your dogs' diet sounds great! Georgia scavengers for road kill when we're out for walks. Being urbanites, we're a bit horrified even though we know it'll do her no harm and probably some good! Why do I remove the fat? Fear of pancreatitis recurring. She got quite ill after sucking up half a bucket of fat in a park when she was quite young.

Have a great day!