The feeding of raw bones is a controversial topic for cat lovers as well as veterinarians. Some swear by feeding them; others consider it to be a risky practice and recommend avoiding bones altogether. In the wild, a cat would live on a diet of small rodents and birds. Almost all of the animal is consumed, including bones, flesh, organs and the contents of the stomach.
Cats today eat a commercial diet of either dry food or canned, which is a far cry from their diet in the wild. While a considerable amount of money has been spent in research by cat food companies, there is a growing sentiment that commercial diets aren’t all they have been cracked up to be. While I am not personally a fan of re-creating their diet and feeding rodents to my cats, I do think where possible, pet owners should try to at least move closer towards a natural diet for their cat, and that includes feeding them raw meaty bones.
- Dental hygiene – Raw bones are natures way of keeping your cat’s teeth clean. If the teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, plaque (a sticky film) builds up on the teeth. Over time, this hardens and becomes tartar. Tartar causes the gums to become inflamed, and over time will move below the gums. Bacteria in the plaque cause an immune response, which results in damage to the bones supporting the teeth. When the cat chews a raw meaty bone, he macerates flesh and bone using his molars, and the food is ground into pieces which are then small enough for him to swallow. This massages the gums, acts as a natural toothbrush, scraping the teeth which remove plaque and exercises the jaw.
- Organ health – Gum disease doesn’t only affect the teeth. Bacteria can travel from the mouth via the bloodstream and into the organs such as the heart, kidneys possibly the liver and may over time lead to organ failure.
- Calcium – Raw bones are an excellent source of digestible calcium. Any excess calcium is excreted out of the body via the urine.
- Salmonella – Pull the skin off wings, which reduces the chances of salmonella infection. Only feed fresh human grade meat. My rule is if it’s not fresh enough for me to eat, then I won’t feed it to my cats. Some people recommend freezing meat to kill the bacteria, but it appears that while a few bacteria may be killed, the majority will remain in a state of limbo (unable to reproduce, but not killed), until thawing.
- Splintering – Slivers of bone can become impaled in your cat’s mouth, throat or intestinal tract. This is significantly reduced if you feed raw bones only.
- Choking – Choking is a risk when feeding bones, in particular, chicken necks. Always supervise your cat when he is eating bones.
- Fractured teeth – Before feeding your cat bones, have the cat checked by a veterinarian to ensure his teeth are in good shape.
- Gastrointestinal obstruction – A blockage can occur anywhere along the digestive tract when the cat consumes large volumes of undigestible products. Cooked bones pose a higher risk than raw.
When purchasing bones (or meat for that matter), always choose human-grade. Feed bones with some meat on them, so the digestive tract doesn’t receive a meal of bone (which is quite dry) only to process and constipate the cat.
Raw chicken necks and wings are the best bones for your cat. They are soft enough to chew with damaging the teeth but hard enough to act as nature’s toothbrush and help with dental health. Remove the skin from the wings first as it can be hard for cats to chew through. Chicken wings have meat on them which are also useful to balance out the bone.
Rabbits are an excellent alternative to chicken bones. Their bones are small enough for cats to chew easily. Most rabbits come whole, ask your butcher to chop the rabbit into smaller pieces.
Other bones which are safe for cats include raw kangaroo tail and whole (raw) pilchards.
Bones to avoid
Large, weight-bearing bones which are hard and dense. They are difficult to chew through and cause dental fractures.
Cooked bones, the cooking process causes the bones to turn brittle, which can cause many problems, particularly splintering, which can puncture tissue anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract.
Other bones to avoid are air-dried bones and smoked bones.
As soon as your kitten starts to eat solids, you can introduce bones into his diet. It is ideal to start with chicken wings which have a little flesh on for them to chew. Cubes of raw steak are also great for kittens to eat. Both can be of help when your kitten is teething.
I am an advocate of a varied diet for cats and not just one type of food. This helps prevent your cat from becoming a fussy eater, keeps his diet interesting and exposes him to many different types and textures.
There is still a lot of controversy regarding the benefits of a dry only diet (which I’ve never been a huge fan of), raw is great, as long as you know how to feed a nutritionally complete diet. If you feed a varied diet of raw, bones and commercial food, you are covering your bases.
As a guide, aim for about 10% bone in your cat’s diet.
Some owners have problems introducing bones to cats. The earlier cats are introduced to bones, the better as cats can become fussy as they grow older, particularly if they have been fed one type of food their whole life. If your cat isn’t keen on eating chicken necks, try meatier bones such as wings or drumsticks. You can lightly sear the meat on the outside to make it more appealing to your cat.
It can take a few attempts before your cat is interested in eating bones. Try different types of bones. If your cat doesn’t like chicken, try rabbit. If all else fails, try cheaper cuts of steak such as chuck. While there are no bones in this, your cat will still have to work hard to chew the meat, which gives the teeth and gums a good workout in the process.
Have your cat checked by a veterinarian. If he already has gum disease and/or painful teeth, he may be reluctant to chew harder foods such as bones.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly after before and after handling any raw meat.
- Supervise your cat(s) while they are eating bones.
- Remove uneaten bones after 25 minutes.
- Never feed cooked bones.
Sometimes even despite our best intentions, a cat will manage to obtain a cooked chicken bone. If your cat has eaten a cooked chicken bone, watch him closely for three to five days. In most cases, the bone will pass out of the system without a problem. Signs to look out for include vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, constipation or feces containing blood. If any of the above develop, seek veterinary attention immediately.