If you’ve ever spent any time reading the ingredients list on dog food labels, then you might have noticed one particular ingredient cropping up occasionally: bone meal.
Bone meal? What is that? Is it good for your dog, or should you avoid foods with bone meal in them?
We’ll answer all these questions and more in this guide.
What Is Bone Meal?
Bone meal is a powder made from animal bones that have been ground up. The idea is that when dogs were wild animals, they would eat the bones and the meat on any prey that they captured, so they’ve evolved to need the nutrients inside.
You can find bone meal in many commercial dog foods, but it’s also sold separately (sometimes under the name “bone broth powder”). Many people who feed their dogs a raw diet will sprinkle bone meal into each serving.
You can also make bone meal at home if you prefer. It’s simply a process of steaming chicken or beef bones until they’re pliable and then grinding them up in a food processor.
Is Bone Meal Good for Your Dog?
You’ll find several vitamins and minerals in bone meal that are important for your dog’s health. The most important of these are phosphorous and calcium.
Phosphorous is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and it’s also vital for keeping your dog’s cell walls healthy. It’s a core component of both DNA and RNA, and it’s used to provide energy at the cellular level.
Calcium is important for healthy bones and teeth as well, and it’s a vital component of the transfer of information between cells and nerve impulses. It also helps with blood coagulation and muscular contraction.
If your dog doesn’t get enough calcium or phosphorous in their diet, they’ll start to cannibalize their own bodies to make up the difference. This can lead to weakened teeth, brittle bones, and a whole host of other health issues.
Your dog can get all these benefits just from gnawing on bones, of course, but that’s not without its risks. Your dog could break a tooth on an especially hard bone, or if they swallow a large chunk, it could become a dangerous obstruction in their digestive tract.
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Are There Any Risks Associated With Feeding Your Dog Bone Meal?
For the most part, bone meal is healthy for dogs, if you buy the right kind or make it yourself. The biggest risk lies in serving your dog too much, as it can bind together in their stomach and potentially cause an obstruction that will require surgery to remove.
If you’re making it yourself, be sure to pulverize the bones as thoroughly as you can, as any shards could perforate your dog’s stomach or intestines. Also, make sure they have plenty of water available so the meal passes safely through their digestive tract.
It’s important to realize, though, that there are a variety of bone meals sold, and not all of them are designed for canine consumption. Some bone meal is sold for gardening purposes, as it’s full of nitrogen and other important nutrients. Never give your dog bone meal that’s intended for gardening, as it could be full of toxic fertilizers, herbicides, etc.
Likewise, some bone meal has added vitamin D in it. These should be avoided, as too much vitamin D can cause kidney failure and death in dogs.
All you want in your bone meal is ground-up bones, nothing else. Regardless of whether you’re making it yourself or buying it at the store, make sure it doesn’t have anything more than what nature intended inside it.
What About Bone Meal in Commercial Dog Foods? Is It Safe?
The best answer we can give to this is that it depends. As a general rule of thumb, bone meal in higher-end foods will be safer than what you find in their bargain-basement competitors.
The issue lies in where the bones are coming from. Higher-end foods will use bones (and meat) from food-grade animals; basically, this is meat that you would eat yourself and would have no issue serving to your dog.
Cheaper foods, on the other hand, often use bone meal (and meat) made from animal by-products. Animal by-products are the leftover scraps of meat that aren’t fit for any other uses; they’re all scraped together, cooked, and repackaged as meals or other ingredients.
The problem is that you don’t know how those animals died. They might have been sick, or they might have been dead for some time before their meat and bones were scavenged. They may even have traces of the chemicals used to euthanize them left inside.
It’s hard to tell whether the bone meal in a dog food is made of clean bones or dodgy animal by-products. The price tag will be one clue, but if the label doesn’t specify what animal the meat or bones came from, that’s a red flag.
Should You Feed Your Dog Bone Meal?
If properly prepared, bone meal can have important benefits for dogs, such as strengthening their teeth and bones. It’s not essential, however, and unless your dog has a calcium or phosphorous deficiency, they’re likely getting all the nutrients that they need from their diet already.
Anyone feeding their dog a raw diet might want to consider adding it to their pup’s food, though. In addition to helping fill out any gaps in their diet, it’s also quite flavorful, so your dog will undoubtedly appreciate it.
If bone meal is in the food that you’re already serving your pooch, more research is in order. Check the label to see if there are any animal by-products in the food and if so, if they’re labeled properly. These will clue you in as to whether the bone meal that you’re feeding your pup is worthy of them.
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