I fed grain-free canned food and some raw. I never worked up the nerve to feed bones, and sourcing organs was difficult. I could only find chicken livers, and Mr. Fluffy didn’t always keep those down. So my hope was that the complete commercial raw would help balance his diet.
I was wrong.
He’d never had or needed a dental, but at 11 years old he had a couple of hairballs that included pieces of tooth. One of his bottom fangs was gone. So he went for a dental, during which several teeth were removed. I was informed he also had several resorptive lesions. I felt horrible, because I hadn’t brushed his teeth or done what I should have to keep him healthy. But when the vet mentioned that the x-rays showed his jawbone was getting soft, I realized the issue wasn’t bacteria - it was osteoporosis.
I don’t believe Mr. Fluffy was getting the minerals he needed from his food. The human body must maintain certain levels of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in the blood in order to keep the body alive. If it doesn’t get those minerals from the diet, then it will pull those minerals from the bones of the body.
“Calcium, Phosphorus, or Magnesium Deficiency: If blood levels start to decrease, hormones are released that act to free these minerals from the bone. Until bone mass is near depletion, blood levels of these minerals will remain normal. These deficiencies will be missed unless your vet evaluates your pet’s bone density.”
In my opinion, Mr. Fluffy’s tooth loss, resorption, breakage and soft jaw bone were a direct result of an unbalanced diet. His body wasn’t getting what it needed from his food, so it was taking the minerals in his teeth (and other bones, e.g. jaw) to maintain the amount of calcium and other minerals needed in the blood to keep everything functioning normally.
Those who feed a balanced raw diet say their pets’ teeth are strong and healthy. My impression is they attribute this to the teeth scraping the bone to keep the teeth clean. I’m sure it helps, but I would add that it’s also because they are getting the minerals their body needs to maintain bone health, including strong and healthy teeth.
NOTE: Do NOT feed cooked bone -- it can splinter into sharp pieces and damage the GI system. Only feed RAW bone.
So if feeding bone isn’t an option for whatever reason, what can you do to keep you pet’s teeth healthy? Brushing certainly can be helpful as long as you use something safe for pets. But another thing that can help is bone broth. There may be commercial supplements out there for pets that address osteoporosis, but I prefer to keep things as simple and natural as possible. Bone consists of a variety of minerals, and they are in specific ratios to each other. I seriously doubt any commercial supplement would be able to copy that. Bone broth provides the right minerals, in the right balance to each other, in a very absorbable form. Basically, you’re feeding liquid bone.
Here’s some great information about bone broth as applied to humans, and which I think also applies to our pets. Emphasis (in bold) in these quotes is mine.
“Gotthoffer also found gelatin to be prescribed for both hyper- and hypo-stomach acidity. He cites three physicians who report gelatin to "work better and more rapidly than bismuth and tannin" in clinical practice.24 A more recent study by Wald, demonstrated that glycine (a main ingredient in gelatin) stimulates gastric acid secretion.25 “
Maybe bone broth, which includes gelatin, is a better option than the ACV for soothing the stomach?
“Scurvy is a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. It results in symptoms such as bleeding gums, bruising, and poor wound healing. These manifestations are actually due to a deficiency of collagen, because vitamin C is needed to synthesize collagen.”
“To summarize, collagen (broth) can be considered for use in the following conditions: poor wound healing, soft tissue injury (including surgery), cartilage and bone injury (including dental degeneration).”
“Additional studies have reported positive results with glycine for health conditions. Fogarty states that glycine is "associated with a strongly reduced risk of asthma."41 Wald demonstrated that glycine stimulates gastric acid secretion.42”
Hmm . . . again wondering if bone broth, which contains glycine, may be a better option than ACV . . .
“Minerals are essential to life but they are not easy to digest. In the stomach, the presence of hydrochloric acid is necessary to physically break down our food, but also to extract elemental minerals from the food that we've eaten. A similar reaction takes place in the making of broth. An acid is necessary to remove the minerals from the bone. This is the purpose of using vinegar (acetic acid) when making broth.”
“Minerals have numerous functions in the body beyond the composition of bone, which is why the body will rob the bones and tissues to maintain steady levels of minerals in the blood and other fluids.”
“Deficiencies of minerals can be acquired, similar to vitamin deficiencies. Generally there are two ways this can happen, lack of intake in the diet, or lack of absorption in the intestines. Broth can be an excellent remedy for both of these causes of mineral deficiency because it provides easily absorbed extracted minerals, plus promotes healing of the intestinal tract.”
“Calcium is involved in immune function by helping to stabilize mast cells. It regulates cell reproduction and it also regulates the manufacture of proteins. As we can see, calcium is a vitally important mineral, so important, that it is maintained at a constant amount in the bloodstream at all times, to be readily available for the body's needs.”
“Calcium (broth) can be considered for use in the following deficiency signs, symptoms and conditions: pain and inflammation, cramps, muscle spasms, delusions, depression, insomnia, irritability, hyperactivity, anxiety, palpitations, hypertension, high cholesterol, allergies, brittle nails, periodontal and dental disease, pica, rickets, osteomalacia, osteoporosis and any situation that creates bone loss such as aging, immobilization, postmenopause, and caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol use.”
Broth can be thought of as a protein supplement, and a calcium supplement.”
So, how much to give?
Raw feeders usually go by the rule of 80% meat/10% bone/10% organ (including liver). Mr. Fluffy was fed one 5.5 oz can per day. Using that as my 80% meat (I'll round down to 5 oz to make it easier), then 10% bone would be .5 oz. Solid weights are different from liquid weights, so I converted that .5 oz from a solid to liquid (broth). 2.1 tablespoons = 1 solid ounce, so .5 oz bone (solid) would be just over 1 tablespoon of broth.
5 oz can = 80% meat
5 x 10% = .5 oz bone (solid)
.5 oz solid bone = 1 tablespoon "liquid bone" broth
For Mr. Fluffy, I had to work with what he’d accept. I added it to his raw bedtime snack (turkey tenders, chicken hearts or gizzards) and he drank it because it was mixed with the blood or meat juices. However, he didn’t like it mixed with the commercial raw for some reason, and I was working on getting him to take it by itself before he died.
I also noticed that 1 tablespoon seemed to make his stools soft, so I decided to cut back to ½ tablespoon and his stool normalized.
Was this balanced? Probably not as much as it could have been. But my mantra is “you do the best you can” and I was always trying to improve things. It was my hope that by adding the broth to his diet, it would slow down the deterioration of his teeth and bones, or maybe even stop it. If I got really lucky, perhaps, in time, the deterioration might even reverse (at least for his jaw and other bones). I had no proof this will work. Only an x-ray would show if the jaw bone was still softening, if it was unchanged or hardening. And it would take time for his body to use those minerals. But I felt it was worth a try. I will mention that his tumor was on the side of his neck and face. When I took him to the vet to find out what it was, she did another x-ray and compared it to the one from his dental, thinking perhaps she had missed something. She did not see the jaw bone deterioration on the new x-ray. Some may say it was because the dental had treated his mouth issues. Is that the case, or did the bone broth make a significant difference during those few months? I will never know for sure.
By the way, don’t let the pet food labels fool you. They may say they are “complete and balanced” but there’s no guarantee (http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/10018997/Patrick06.html?sequence=2). There have been several pet foods recalled because they didn’t have enough of a specific vitamin, and I personally think that if they were truly “complete and balanced,” our pets wouldn’t need dentals. Rotating brands and proteins can help, in case one manufacturer is low on certain vitamins and another is low on others.
Here are some other great links about bone broth:
Bone Broth only addresses the minerals. However, I also didn’t feed organs, and the nutrients in those are vitally important, too. A, D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins, meaning the body stores them in fat. Those vitamins, incidentally, are also the ones that can be blocked by grains. All of them are found in fish liver oils (note the “liver), eggs or egg yolks, milk and dairy products. If your pet can handle fish liver oils, then that may be the route for you. I am personally not comfortable giving fish products to cats for several reasons:
1. Cats can become addicted
2. They evolved in arid climates where they wouldn’t have had much access to fish, so it’s not a natural part of their diet
3. Depending on where the fish comes from, it may have mercury in it
Eggs are an alternative. I would recommend feeding the whole egg. In Mr. Fluffy’s case, I hardboiled the free-range chicken eggs that I fed him because he didn’t care for the texture of raw egg.
Raw goat's milk, if you can find it, is another alternative. However, organs other than liver, e.g. brain, spleen, kidney, pancreas, would be better options if you can find them. The general rule when feeding raw is that 5% of the organ is liver, the other 5% should be some other secreting organ. Heart is considered a muscle meat.
I also wanted to add raw goat's milk, for the nutrients and good fats which he'd need to absorb the minerals, though I'm thinking the broth might have been sufficient, since he would have eaten the bones in the wild, but it's less likely he'd have raw milk unless he was a barn cat.
One other note: if you feed raw, try to make sure that the meat is grass-fed (e.g. beef, lamb, etc.) and/or free-range. The prey animal should have also eaten a species-appropriate diet, so they have the proper ration of Omega 3 to Omega 6. What the prey animal eats is just as important as what's being fed to your pet, because it will have a direct impact on your pet's health. However, grass-fed and free-range are more expensive. While I believe you either "pay now or pay later," I also believe that you should do the best you can. If those expensive meats are outside of your budget, that's okay. The priority is to feed a diet that's as balanced and species-appropriate as possible.
Raw meat is one part of a balanced diet for a carnivore.
Bone broth is a good source of nutrients, including minerals.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and fat-soluble vitamins.
Raw goat milk is another good source of fat-soluble vitamins. It's more digestible that cow's milk.