Feeding Bone Marrow To Your Dog - Is It Safe?

Feeding Bone Marrow To Your Dog - Is It Safe?

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Sep 23rd 2021

Marrow is a fat-rich material located in the central cavity of bones. It contains iron and natural antioxidants, which are beneficial to dogs (and anyone else that chooses to snack on it). However, you need to keep in mind the high-fat content. If your dog’s overweight, marrow bones require a diet adjustment to prevent packing on extra pounds (or you need to add some extra activity to compensate).

The fatty nature of marrow presents an additional concern for dogs prone to pancreatitis. If your dog has a history of pancreatic flares, marrow bones are NOT a good choice. You don’t want to cause a trip to the hospital.

Marrow 101

Bone marrow is the gelatinous type of tissue that resides in the center of our bones. Its main components -- the red and yellow marrow -- contain precious stem cells that the dog’s body turns into red and white blood cells (i.e., hematopoietic stem cells), fat, cartilage, and bone tissue (i.e., mesenchymal stem cells). Aside from these cells, bone marrow is rich in nutrients such as protein and vitamin B12, indispensable for your dog’s proper growth and vigorous health. Bone marrow is a super tissue, and harnessing its benefits for an enhanced diet sounds like a no-brainer.

Since the image of dogs chewing on bones is one of the most common canine sights to see, it’s easy to associate bone marrow with proper canine feeding practices. However, is bone marrow actually healthy for your dog? Believe it or not, not always! When consumed too frequently, bone marrow and its high concentration of fat can prove detrimental to your dog, eventually leading to medical issues like pancreatitis.

Therefore, our mission for today is to teach you all about properly balanced bone marrow feeding practices for your canine companion. We will expand your knowledge on bone marrow composition, proper feeding practices, and ways to avoid or alleviate pancreatitis with a well-balanced diet beyond the much-loved bones.

Bone Marrow Nutritional Data

Bone marrow is a superfood rich in various nutrients that can benefit your dog’s health. Amongst bone marrow’s nutritional data, you will find:

Such stats may make bone marrow sound like a nutritious addition to your dog’s food bowl. However, protein and calcium actually do not make up the majority of bone marrow’s composition. On the contrary, a 100g serving of bone marrow contains almost 85g of fats, supplying almost 800 kcal of energy. In adult animals, the percentage of fat in the bone marrow exceeds 80%.

Bone marrow can provide enough energy to your dog for a day of hiking or learning new tricks. But it’s also important to consider: will your dog’s body appreciate the high concentration of total fats in it? While some dogs will reap its nutritional benefits right away, others (i.e., smaller breeds and dogs with a sensitive stomach or weight issues) will not be as grateful for bone marrow. Rather, overconsumption of bone marrow can trigger long-term medical issues in your dog’s body, out of which pancreatitis is the most common culprit.

A Quick Look at Canine Pancreatitis

The pancreas is the vital organ on the right side of the abdomen that contributes to the food digestion process and produces enzymes and hormones such as insulin. The same organ secretes the enzymes into the small intestine and releases hormones into the bloodstream. Pancreatitis occurs when your dog's pancreas becomes inflamed due to the early activation of enzymes within the organ itself. Therefore, this premature process causes the pancreas to digest itself.

Pancreatitis can manifest in two forms: a mild, edematous form (i.e., observable through swelling from excessive fluid accumulation) and a severe, hemorrhagic form. Besides, the inflammation will cause digestive enzymes to spill into other body areas (e.g., abdominal cavity) and cause secondary damage to adjacent organs (e.g., liver, gallbladder, and intestines).

It is difficult to point fingers at a single pancreatitis cause. As a rule of thumb, an excessively fatty meal or corticosteroid administration can cause the onset of the disease. Other causes, such as obesity, hypothyroidism (i.e., underactive thyroid), medications, toxins, and genetic predispositions, can also be found on the list of potential causes.

Even your dog’s breed might suggest a predisposition toward pancreatitis. For example, Miniature Schnauzers’ issues with high blood triglyceride levels and English Cocker Spaniel’s abnormal immune system activity can put the pancreas at an elevated risk. However, that does not mean other breeds are safe; all dogs can suffer from pancreatitis, both big and small, young and old.

Symptoms of Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis symptoms mainly depend upon the disease’s potency. For example, dogs with a mild form of pancreatitis could experience:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Pain in the abdominal area

While dogs with severe forms of pancreatitis may instead experience:

  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe dehydration
  • Collapse
  • Shock

All of these pancreatitis symptoms point toward an overburdened system; feeding excessively fatty meals to your dog could eventually overwhelm its pancreas and cause pancreatitis. If your dog is struggling with pancreatitis, what it needs is a diet that can take the pressure off of the pancreas and restore balance to its internal system.

Volhard Bone Marrow Feeding Tips

#1: Sourcing Marrow Bones

The BEST place to obtain marrow bones for dogs is your local butcher, the meat counter at your grocer, or the frozen section of your local pet store. Why? Marrow bones need to stay frozen or refrigerated to prevent bacterial growth. Remember, marrow bones have meat attached to them. Meat SPOILS at room temperature. You don’t want to give your dog rotten meat.

If you’re at a meat counter, ask for the marrow bones to be cut on the vertical. This provides those typical half-circles you’re familiar with. The vertical cut is the safest for your dog to chew on. Horizontal cuts splinter.

Long femur bones prompt the most damage to teeth. Small neck bones are the most likely to get swallowed whole, causing choking or intestinal obstructions.

It sounds a little strange, but try to avoid marrow bones from older animals. The longer an animal lives, the more chances it has for exposure to environmental toxins. (You don’t want your dog chewing on that kind of thing) Lamb, chicken, and young cow bones are your best option. Try to avoid bones from pigs and ANY rib bones – they crumble easily.

#2: Prepare Your Dog for the Bone Marrow Meal

Fat on top of fat is a sure way to obesity. To avoid this, we recommend that you choose a low fat protein to pair with a raw meaty bone.

#3: Everything in Moderation

Adding a bone marrow bone to your dog’s caloric intake should be accounted for in your dog’s feeding schedule. You can add a raw, meaty bone for your dog once or twice a week at most; we can’t stress enough the raw part of that recommendation since cooked bones are a serious choking hazard and should always be avoided.

You can reduce the fat content of the bone by warming it up prior to feeding it to your canine. This process causes the fat to slide out of the bone. Once done, scrape that extra marrow off and let your dog enjoy it!

A Final Word

To sum it up, fatty foods like bone marrow should be consumed in moderation, especially for dogs with health concerns. Cooked bone marrow, in small amounts, can be served with a meal or as an occasional treat. However, dogs cannot eat cooked bones.

We hope that you have found our take on bone marrow to be helpful and instructive. We also have a homemade bone broth recipe that you might find helpful. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us or check out our blog!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!