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This article has been kindly submitted to us by Jonathan Self, founder, and written by Vicky Marshall, managing director, Darling’s Real Dog Food

The first time a vet suggested giving our dog a bone to chew on I was slightly shocked. This, I thought to myself, borders on malpractice. The poor dog will choke or, worse, he will swallow a bit of bone and then…well, I wasn’t quite sure what might happen but I felt certain nothing good could come of it.

I raised my objections. The vet explained why bones are so good for dogs but his words fell on deaf ears. ‘Look,’ he said after a few minutes, ‘I understand you have reservations. If I lend you some books will you promise to just flick through them? For Rudi’s sake?’

It was the words: ‘For Rudi’s sake’ that got to me, of course. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Rudi so I borrowed the books and the next day over a cup of coffee I opened one at random and started to read. Half an hour later I was at the butchers buying a bag of bones. Forty-five minutes later I had an indescribably happy dog.

I could kick myself for being so gullible

Why had I thought bones would be so bad for Rudi? Thinking about it now I realise that I had bought into the myth – promoted by the pet food industry – that the only food suitable for dogs was manufactured food. That is to say canned food, dried food, pouched food and a range of treats that included – ironically – fake bones!

It is not as if I didn’t know that dogs loved the real thing. Images of dogs drooling over bones (and sausages, come to think of it) featured strongly in the storybooks, comics and cartoon shows of my youth. At school we covered dogs in biology and learned, of course, that they were carnivores.

Despite this I allowed myself to be brainwashed by clever advertising. This is doubly irritating as I used to be in marketing myself, (I worked for Nationwide Building Society until I heard the call of dog food), and am only too aware of how unethical businesses (not Nationwide, I am happy to say) use clever imagery to achieve results.

I could kick myself for being so gullible. Processed dog food is bad for dogs on all sorts of grounds – it is cooked, it usually contains lots of grains, even the expensive stuff uses poor quality meat, it is packed full of preservatives – I could go on and on. Its worst failing, however, is that no matter how hard the manufacturers try to replicate the goodness of a natural diet it can’t match the benefits offered by a raw, meaty bone.

My husband thought I was reading a thriller

When Gary, my husband, came home and found me reading a book called Raw Meaty Bones he asked me if it was about the Mafia. In fact, it is one of the most important books about canine health and nutrition ever written. Its author is Tom Lonsdale, a British vet, and it tells the story of his battle with the veterinary profession trying to persuade them that manufactured pet food was doing dogs more harm than good. Of course, the real thrust of Lonsdale’s book is that raw food is what dogs are biologically designed to eat. He points out that although humans have created dozens and dozens of different breeds of dog canine teeth and digestive organs remain unchanged. But the bit of his book I want to focus on here is why, if you are a dog, raw bones are so good for you.

In the wild dogs eat their prey, bones and all

Nature knows best. It is one of those trite things that people say but – when one stops to think about it – the phrase contains a great truth. In the wild, providing they have a choice, all animals eat what is best for them. For dogs this means small prey or, if hunting in a pack, a share of a larger prey. They are thrifty, too. Nothing is wasted and that includes the bones. Initially these are ripped, torn, chewed and sucked to remove all the meat and marrow. Then they are gnawed, crunched and (if small enough) eaten whole.

There has been some fantastically interesting (if gory) research in Australia proving this in which scientists studied the insides of hundreds of wild dogs (don't even ask). One study was by a chap called S J O Whitehouse (Australian Wildlife Research magazine, 1977, 4:2, 145-50) another by a chap called A E Newsome (Australian Wildlife Research magazine, 1983, 10:3, 477-486). Hundreds of dogs were examined across a wide geographical area. The results were conclusive not only on the bone issue, by the way, but also on other dietary preferences. No wild dog ever eats grain.

(Note there is more research available on the same topic including detailed studies by Neville Buck who studied a wide range of dogs and wolves at Howletts and Port Lympne Zoological Parks in the UK).

Bones are packed full of vital nutrients

It is easy to understand why the dog wants the meat and marrow, but what makes the bone itself so desirable? The answer is that bones contain a huge number of nutrients that are vital to your dog's health. These include:

  • Minerals including calcium and phosphorous.
  • Protein containing essential amino acids including lysine.
  • Essential fatty acids.
  • Fat soluble vitamins (A, D and E).
  • Blood forming nutrients (these are in the marrow) including copper and iron.

Bones keep your dog's teeth and gums healthy

Bones are nature's toothbrushes. They keep your dog’s teeth clean and gums healthy. Plaque can’t build up and decay is prevented. As a result your dog shouldn’t develop any of the nasty oral diseases to which many of those on processed food are prone. It will also mean he or she has sweeter breath.

You may be interested to know that a growing number of vets believe that there is a close connection between oral health and general health. One veterinary dentist who has studied this is Dr. Gary Beard who is based at Auburn University in Alabama. In 1991 he wrote a paper pointing out that heart failure, hepatic compromise, renal failure and other serious diseases in dogs could be a direct result of poor oral hygiene. The same year another US vet, Dr. Richard Hamlin, of Ohio State University proposed that diseases of the heart, liver and lungs could be caused this way. And...but I won't go on. If you are interested then Tom Lonsdale's book has all the references.

Bones are great exercise and help with mental health

One final benefit of giving your dog bones should be mentioned. They give your dog great exercise. It strengthens their jaws and upper body. Indeed, it is a sort of mini-workout for them. You will also find that chewing bones keeps your dog happily occupied for hours.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about raw food I would be pleased to answer them (if I can!). Just email me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or telephone 0844 656 1566 (calls 4p a minute at all times).

Darling’s Real Dog Food makes feeding raw food easy and convenient. We produce raw, fresh food using human grade ingredients sourced from local, ethical farmers. It is our proud boast that we get our food ‘from field to Fido or Fifi in under four days’. www.darlingsrealdogfood.com.