Yes, yes, I DO know that cooked bones are dangerous for dogs, and of all cooked bones, poultry bones are the worst. But I also believe that very few things in life are black and white, and that there are often ways around things.
Dogs have evolved to digest bones. Now, it’s true that these bones were nearly always raw, and sometimes the dogs broke teeth on them, or got them stuck inside themselves and had serious problems with that, but the fact is that they have stomach acid strong enough to dissolve bone, and teeth and jaws serious enough to crack them.
These days we are all too well aware of the dangers of feeding bones, from the raw weight-bearing knuckle bones which can shatter teeth and cost you a fortune in doggy dentistry to the fragile and shard-forming cooked chicken bones which can become impacted and perforate bowels causing a nasty, lingering death. But it’s not all bad, because bones contain a huge amount of calcium – an essential mineral for the healthy working of any mammal body.
Many dogs fed on home-cooked diets are deficient because their daily calcium requirements are really quite high: 119mg/kg. That means Jeffie needs 3,300mg and Sid needs 3.800mg each day. Calcium is a very important mineral – you’ll know that bones and teeth rely on it for strength, and the nervous system, and even the heart beat are also regulated by it – but it needs to be consumed in the correct proportion to phosporus and Vitamin D, and if it isn’t, Bad Things happen: for instance, a diet too high in phosphorus (the most likely fault) will cause calcium to leach from the bones to correct the imbalance. Any commercial dog food will be balanced for this, but if you cook up a pan of cheap minced meat to add interest to their dinner you’ll be throwing this all out of whack. Use your pan of cheap mince and mix in pasta or rice and a few veg and call it their diet, and long term, you’re asking for trouble. Feed them only what you eat, and … well. They WILL suffer for it, unless your diet is unlike that of the average human being on this planet and resembles an Atkins Diet on acid.
Many, many people therefore feed their dogs a raw food diet which includes bones (even chicken bones, which are fine when raw) and personally, I think it’s a great idea if you have the storage space and the stomach for it and you do it properly. Some people do what I do, and feed cooked bones along with the meaty add-ins. But hold the gasps of horror, ladies and gentlemen. Do not phone the RSPCA just yet, because this is how I do it:
I have a source of chicken carcasses. at about Â£1 each. I can also buy bags of wing ends, and both the carcasses and the wings are ideal for making dog food. If you add in a few veggies and a little oil, and maybe a vitamin supplement, it makes a pretty reasonable food by itself, but I’m too lazy to do the whole home diet thing, so I just use it to add into the dry ‘kibbled’ dog food which forms their basic diet.
So. I pop the carcases into the pressure cooker, along with a pint or so of water, a slug of olive oil, a couple of carrots and any other left over veg I happen to have. Sometimes I add a few herbs, or some tomato puree. Then I cook it at high pressure for at least one hour*. The picture right up at the top is what it looks like when it comes out. It’s around 50% bone and contains the organ meat, too, because giblets are included.
Next I set up my little mini-production line. I use a slotted spoon to take the chicken out of the pressure cooker and put it into a shallow casserole dish. Then I separate the meat from the bones and put the meat, gristle, soft wobbly bits etc into one dish and the bones into another. Some of the bones (the sternum and the spine) can be squashed into mush with the blade of that rather lovely knife you see sitting there.
Others need to be put into the grinder attachment of my hand-held blender with a couple of tablespoons of stock from the pan and whizzed to a pulp in that.
As you can see, when it comes out, it is a thick, pink liquid – a bit like liver patÃ© gone wrong. Pour this plus the stock over the shredded meat, mix well and cool it and it actually becomes remarkably similar to tinned dog food when it sets, solid and sliceable.
Then at meal times, I mix a spoonful with some hot water and add it to the kibble. Result? Bliss for dogs with a perfect calcium:phosphorus ratio! I do want to stress that I’m not advocating this as a complete dog food for long term use, just as an ‘add-in’ which is a lot better for your dog’s health than plain lean meat, because over time, lean meat can leach calcium from bones, cause trouble with the nervous system and also stress the kidneys.
Oh, and that white bowl containing a few bones is about what I’m left with, the ones which are too hard or splintery to grind. And from four whole carcasses, that’s not too bad!
* For those who have never used a pressure cooker, these wonderful things can cook a casserole in 20 minutes, or a 3 lb pot roast in half an hour. They not only reduce the cooking time, but the meat comes out extremely tender, thoroughly cooked through, and full of flavour.