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By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Raw bones have been a part of canines' diets for as long as they have been tracking, attacking and killing their prey -- far back into the early shadows of evolution. Today's canine house pets share almost exactly the same genetic determiners of anatomy and behavior as their long-distant predecessors.
When early man found out that the canine, if captured very early in life, could be trained to do man's bidding, the destiny of the canine was changed forever. Humans found ways to breed the canine companions for specific jobs, such as hauling, hunting or retrieving. And coat color became important when "modern" humans got interested in status symbols and prized possessions. Body size and shape became important because the humans who were hunting prey needed specific types of canines to assist in the hunt. One type of canine would be better suited to chase down elk and another body type would be best at digging rodents from their earthen dens. That's why, in the world of dogs, we have today all sorts of body types and sizes.
What didn't change, though, through all those centuries of breeding for specific body and coat types was the internal configuration and function of organ systems. The general pattern of teeth, stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver, heart and other mammalian organs stayed the same.
If you were to take a look at the internal organs of a Saint Bernard, a wolf, or a Chihuahua you'd see that they are arranged, shaped, and function in identical ways! With such differences in body size, color and shape it doesn't seem possible that they originated from a common ancestor and share the same internal anatomical and biochemical machinery.
Modern man has modified a number of characteristics of the canine. But there's one thing man has not altered: the basic nutrient requirements of the dog. Dogs need today essentially the same nutrients that their predecessors required eons ago. That is precisely why there has been so much notice given to the practice of feeding dogs (and cats, too!) raw meat and other unprocessed foods.
There is ample proof that today's pet dogs (and cats) DO NOT thrive on cheap, packaged, corn-based pet foods. Dogs and cats are primarily meat eaters; to fill them up with grain-based processed dry foods that barely meet minimum daily nutrient requirements has proven to be a mistake. And the fact that some pet foods have artificial colors and flavors added simply reveals the trickery needed to coax dogs and cats into consuming such material.
There arises the question of safety when feeding raw foods, too. The risk of infection from food-borne pathogens such as Salmonella and E.coli need to be understood. And the question of the need to feed whole, raw bones to dogs has yet to be answered to everyone's satisfaction. There are many proponents of feeding raw bones to dogs and the feeling is that the benefits gained from consuming raw bones far outweighs any perceived hazard of bone impaction or intestinal perforation. (See the this article for information on the hazards of feeding whole bones to dogs.)
Finely ground raw bone, on the other hand, presents no hazard of causing constipation, obstruction or penetration of the gastrointestinal tract. Also the finely ground bone should be present in appropriate amounts because too much can upset important ratios of other minerals.
Proponents of feeding whole bones to dogs (the contention is that COOKED bones are a safety hazard, RAW bones are not) state that there are great nutritional benefits derived from consuming raw bones. These nutritional benefits can actually be seen in the greatly enhanced health status of the dog when the dog is switched away from processed, dry food diets.
Raw bones, some contend, are an absolute necessity; dogs will not live a long and healthy life unless their diet contains raw bones. But is this contention based on facts? Is it the actual bone itself that provides all these nutritional benefits, or the attached soft tissues that really are the storehouses of nutrients? Let's find out where these nutritional benefits are really coming from ...