Answers: Raw Diets and Cats, What About Eating Bones?
|Written by Guillermo Díaz, MV|
|Saturday, March 09, 2013 12:44 PM|
I am new to feeding raw diets and I still feel a little uneasy giving my cat meat with bones. Some of the food I feed her is ground, so the bones are in the mix. But, I have been told it is good for a cat's dental health to eat meat pieces with bones in them. What should I feed her? What's safe to give her? Also, why do you recommend feeding bones over just using a calcium supplement?
Cats are obligate carnivores. Cats living in the wild chase and kill small prey such as rodents, mice, squirrels, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, and sometimes small fish. The basic premise of feeding a raw diet based on Nature's model to domesticated cats is that it resembles, as closely as possible, the natural bio-appropriate diet that Nature itself has been providing for all small species of cats for millions of years.
If we were able to see a cat eating their prey in the wild we would see that the kitty eats the whole thing from head to toe. That means hair, feathers, flesh, bones, blood, entrails, organs, glands, digested and undigested food in the stomach and intestines, head, feet and tail. The only parts they do not digest and utilize are teeth and nails. This way Mother Nature makes sure cats get all the nutrients they need to thrive and live a healthy life. The bones presented in the prey contain nutrients, such as calcium, in a perfect, balanced way.
Basic Proportions of a Cat's Prey as Found in the Wild
These proportions of body parts are relatively the same in virtually every prey animal, and the percentages of these ratios are, approximately: 80–85% meat, 5-10% edible bone, 5-10% organs.¹ The meat portion, besides including muscle meat, can and should include things like fat, skin, sinew, tendons, cartilage and any other soft connective tissue.
These percentages, although approximate, should serve as the basic guidelines for your cat's diet. These exact proportions do not need to be fed at each and every meal, but rather should combine to comprise the overall diet over the course of time. Most raw meat that is readily available to us to feed to our cats is farmed for human consumption. Raw meat from wild, pastured or foraging animals, would naturally contain a greater concentration of the vital nutrients that cats require for good health.² So, it's important when feeding a prey model diet to provide as much of a variety of different kinds of meats as possible.
Which Bones to Feed?
When feeding raw bones to cats be sure that they are small enough that your cat can chew on them. Examples include chicken wings, ribs, legs and necks, Cornish Hen cuts, many cuts from small rabbits, and many other small poultry such as quail. You can also offer small whole prey such as mice and chicks. Cats are not silly and they will screen very thoroughly to make sure the bone is suitable to chew on. You must observe how your cat attacks bones, and take note of her next couple of bowel movements to see whether she is eating the actual bone. If the stools are bloody, if there is any indigestion, discomfort, gas, vomiting, bloating or if there are any shards of bone in the stool, then discontinue feeding whole bones. If your cat is constipated, then you may need to reduce the amount of bone you are feeding.
Never Cook or Microwave the Bones
Doing so can cause the bones to splinter, making them sharp with the possibility of puncturing the intestinal system.³ This could cause internal bleeding, constipation, rectal bleeding and blockages in the gastrointestinal system.⁴
Raw Bones and Oral Health
Cats fed a prey model diet of whole raw foods are compelled to use their jaws and teeth for the purpose they were designed for. This slicing and tearing action of ripping apart whole, raw meats and raw meaty bones provides a scrubbing and flossing action that helps to keep gums healthy, teeth clean and white, and jaws strong.⁵ A healthy mouth is vital to the overall health of any animal.⁶
The Importance of Calcium
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. By the time you see symptoms of a calcium deficiency, your cat has often been calcium deficient for months or years. That is why it is so important that everyone who has their kitten on a raw food program be sure their animal is getting sufficient levels of this important nutrient.
Early signs of a calcium deficiency can include restlessness, stiffness, weakness, irritability, muscle tremors and hypersensitivity to touch and sound. More advanced signs of a calcium deficiency include: arthritis, skin and coat problems, broken and/or bent pasterns, weak, easily injured ligaments, broken bones, patella luxation, severe pain, most often in feet, legs or hips, heart problems such as arrhythmias, constipation, diarrhea, incontinence and kidney, bladder and liver problems.
Most of the calcium in the body is utilized by the bones and teeth. However, it is also involved in the blood-clotting process, in nerve and muscle stimulation, parathyroid hormone functions and the metabolism of vitamin D. To function properly along with the high phosphorus content in meat, calcium must be accompanied by magnesium, boron, copper, molybdenum, potassium, sulphur, zinc and vitamins A, B6, D and E. Salmon or small fish oil can provide vitamins D, E, and K. The necessary trace minerals and other vitamins are already in the raw meat. Calcium must be supplemented in a domestic raw diet unless you are feeding whole prey, bone-in meats or you are feeding a ground diet with bone in the mix.
What About Calcium Supplements?
Calcium supplements can be used if you are feeding meat without the bone, but it is not the first choice. Real bones contain much more than just calcium. Trace minerals along with cartilage that is connected to bone add to the complex nutrients real bone provides.
Advantages of Feeding Raw Whole Foods:
Note: The Feline Nutrition Education Society provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. The Feline Nutrition Education Society disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.
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Dr. Guillermo Díaz studied veterinary medicine at the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Perú. He currently practices in Lima and also provides veterinary services to a large number of local rescue organizations.
1. Ellen S. Dierenfeld, PhD, Heather L. Alcorn, BS, and Krista L. Jacobsen, MS, "Nutrient Composition of Whole Vertebrate Prey (Excluding Fish) Fed in Zoos," U.S. Department of Agriculture, May 2002.
2. Yiqun Wang, Catherine Lehane, Kebreab Ghebremeskel and Michael A Crawford, "Modern Organic and Broiler Chickens Sold for Human Consumption Provide More Energy from Fat Than Protein," Public Health Nutrition, no. 13, March 2010, 400-408.
3. J Yan, KB Clifton, JJ Mecholsky Jr and LA Gower, "Effect of Temperature on the Fracture Toughness of Compact Bone," Journal of Biomechanics 40, no. 7, 2007, 1641-5.
4. Dr. Bruce Syme, BVSc (Hons), "Feeding Raw Bones to Cats and Dogs."
5. David A. Fagan, DDS and Mark S. Edwards, PhD, "Influence of Diet Consistency on Periodontal Disease in Captive Carnivores," The Colyer Institute, 2009.
6. David A. Fagan, DDS, M S. Edwards, PhD and JE Oosterhuis, DVM, "Oral Disease and Its Impact Upon Systemic Health, in Spite of the Diet Consumed," The Colyer Institute, 2009.