Can raw, meaty bones deliver better teeth AND better behavior? (One vet and two dogs have their say)

Patty Khuly, DVM
October 17, 2008
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Some of you may know that I’ve undergone something of a conversion on the subject of raw in recent years. It’s not that I feed the BARF-style diet you may have heard about (ad nauseum in some cases). I still feed mostly home-cooked with some high-quality commercial supplementation. But I no longer fear the raw—nor the raw meaty bones the BARF diet and others employ.

Since opening my mind a bit to the case for raw food and raw, meaty bones in particular, I’ve taken to offering my dogs raw chicken necks, chewy beef hearts and the occasional femoral head (mostly from my imported legs of lamb). Here’s how I approach it:

1-I never use ground meats: These have higher bacterial counts when pre-ground and because pets lose out on the fun chewing if you grind it all up for them.

2-I source from high quality butchers: In my case, from the local farmer’s market or Whole Foods, places I trust to stock the humanely raised and slaughtered meats I prefer. And…

3-When I do feed the bigger bones I leave lots of meat hanging off them: This only works if I’m the one deboning the cut, which I usually like to do myself, anyway. (Alternatively, you might enjoin your butcher to respect the dog’s portion by generously avoiding the bone. Sure, they may look at you as if you don’t really understand the price you’re paying for your fancy meat but it’s worth it just to see their almost universal expression of horror.)

4-On the bigger bones I like to stay around to watch and listen: Not only is it entertaining to observe them enjoy themselves but if I’m there I can be vigilant for the first sounds of teeth scraping bone—a sure sign that the bone is “killed.” At that point I take it away to spare their teeth, offering a crunchy carrot or apple slice in its place to ease the inevitable separation anxiety. (“Where did my fabulous bone go?”)

5-I mostly feed raw cuts out of doors, just as nature intended: Maybe it’s just me but, clean freak though I’m not, I can’t abide heart goo or stray chicken fat on my floors.

So far my dogs have suffered no dental chips or gastrointestinal upset. Partly, I think that’s because I started slowly, offering smaller bits (like chicken necks) and working up to the bigger ones.

I also think that’s because my dogs’ jaws don’t properly meet (they’re Frenchies, how much pressure can their maws exert anyway?). And Sophie Sue has a cast-iron stomach, to boot.

Do my dogs have better teeth for it? More than likely. One has only to observe the ripping, chewing action as they work the cuts to see why some proponents of this method call raw, meaty bones the “dental floss of the pet world.” But I’ll have to get back to you on their dental progress.

Do they seem better behaved for eating raw meaty bones (as some evangelists of this feeding method have suggested is the uniform norm)? With Sophie you’d never know; she’s just so even keeled. With Vincent, however, the results have been more obvious. His nighttime-exclusive protective behavior is dramatically diminished on the nights he gets a good chewing in. And he conks out sooner and more soundly.

My dogs are not the kind that go wild for toys, so maybe that’s why I’m so excited to see them get this kind of normal dog activity into their lives. And perhaps I’m prematurely positive on this experience. After all, I believe that evidence of two dogs’ favorable reaction for a relatively short period of time on a particular dietary supplement is not exactly widely recommendation-worthy.

Nonetheless, I’m having fun playing around. Here’s hoping that five years from now I’ll still be spouting goodness about a method that currently seems to be serving my personal pets—and me—well.