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Natural Canine Health Symposium

Bone And Food Values For Raw Feeding Dogs

meat dog foodOne of the barriers to feeding dogs raw food is the misleading notion that balancing and creating canine diets is an exact science that must be performed in the laboratory. This couldn’t be further from the truth!  Raw feeding has a few guidelines that must be followed and the most important one is balancing the minerals calcium and phosphorus in the diet.

Meat is very high in phosphorus. The main function of phosphorus is in the formation of bones and teeth. It plays an important role in the body’s utilization of carbohydrates and fats and in the synthesis of protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. It is also crucial for the production of ATP, a molecule the body uses to store energy. Phosphorus works with the B vitamins. It also assists in the contraction of muscles, in the functioning of kidneys, in maintaining the regularity of the heartbeat, and in nerve conduction.

Bone is high in calcium. In addition to its widely known role in bone structure, calcium is used to help control muscle and nerve function, as well as to manage acid/base balance in the blood stream.

Dogs need a balance between the amount of phosphorus and calcium they get in their daily diets. In dogs, the calcium:phosphorus ratio should be  about 1.2 to 1.5:1 although a range of 1:1 to 2.5: 1 is sufficient. That means that dogs should consume a little more calcium than they do phosphorus.

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, less phosphorus is absorbed at the higher ratios, so an appropriate balance of these two minerals is necessary. Also, insufficient supplies of calcium or excess phosphorus decrease calcium absorption and result in irritability, hyperesthesia, and loss of muscle tone with temporary or permanent paralysis associated with nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. Skeletal demineralization, particularly of the pelvis and vertebral bodies, develops with calcium deficiency.

Excess intakes of calcium are more problematic for growing large and giant breed dogs. Too much calcium causes more severe signs of osteochondrosis and decreased skeletal remodeling in young, rapidly growing large breed dogs than in dogs fed diets with lower dietary calcium.

Balancing The Calcium:Phosphorus Ratio

It might seem daunting for dog owners to calculate the calcium:phosphorus ratio in a home prepared raw diet but it’s really not that complicated. Bones are a safe source of dietary calcium and if dogs consume enough of them, the diet will be balanced without a lot of difficult calculation.

Chemist Mogen Eliasen explains. “In the food we feed, we might have a deficiency of calcium. Let’s say that the food contains only half the calcium it should (50 milligrams instead of 100 milligrams), but is okay as far as phosphorous goes. We are thus out of balance – our 1:1 ratio is only 0.5:1 – which is critical.

“But, let’s say that we now feed 10 grams of raw bone. This will give us a total supplement of 1,000 milligrams of Calcium and 1,000 milligrams of Phosphorous. Add to this what we feed through the other sources of food. This brings the Calcium intake up to a total of 1,050 milligrams, and the Phosphorous to a total of 1,100 milligrams.

“Our overall balance is now no longer 0.5:1, but (1050/1100):1 = 0.95:1. We are only 5% “off”. But 5% is within the natural variation anyway, so it won’t matter… (Also: most standard chemical analyses do not give a more precise result anyway: +/-5% is pretty accurate for such an analysis…)

“If you feed 100 grams of bone instead, you will see the ratio go to 0.995:1 - less than 0.5% off the mark.”

Overall, balancing calcium and phosphorus isn’t all that difficult, as long as dogs receive plenty of bone. In general, any bone content over 10% is plenty although you shouldn’t exceed 25% because dogs need other nutrients too.

Bone Content In Raw Foods

When sourcing bones for your dog’s diet, it’s a good idea to know the approximate amount of bone in commonly sourced foods. Here is a quick guide to help you keep your dog’s bone content in the right range; between 10% and 25%.


Whole chicken (not including the head and feet): 25% bone

Leg quarter: 30%

Split breast: 20%

Thigh: 15%

Drumstick: 30%

Wing: 45%

Neck: 36%

Back: 45%


Whole turkey: 21%

Thigh: 21%

Drumstick: 20%

Wing: 37%

Neck: 42%

Back: 41%


Feet: 30%

Tails: 30%

Ribs: 30%


Ribs: 52%


Whole rabbit (fur and all): 10%

Whole (dressed): 25-30%

The bone content values in this list are an approximate but that’s really all you need to provide your dog with a safe and healthy raw diet. Avoid grocery store meats as they can be treated with bleach or enhanced with salt. You should also feed bones that are appropriate for the size of your dog. Avoid pieces that could present a choking hazard .



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25 Responses to Bone And Food Values For Raw Feeding Dogs

  1. Donna

    So, now I’m starting to read on various raw feeding sites that we should add Vitamin D to our raw fed dog’s diet. Are they not getting Vitamin D from the bone content of their raw meaty bones?

  2. Christine

    I am a little confused. I grew up being told that no dog owner should ever feed their pet bones as it cause cause choking or broken teeth or cuts in the espohagus, etc. But the raw diet really emphasizes the use of animal bones in the diet. So are the risks lower than what we used to believe or do you feed the dog small bones?

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      Cooked bones are brittle and hard and these are dangerous to dogs. Soft, raw bones that aren’t weight bearing are fine for most dogs.

  3. Barb

    While this all sounds so simple its not to pure beginners like me. You all sound like my grandma baking cakes from a recipe she’s memorized. I don’t even know the ingredients but I’m going to the store to buy them, for example sweetener. Which one? There’s honey, sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, artificial sweetener. And boy that cake is going to be really messed up if you used Equal instead of regular sugar. That’s how I feel and its paralyzing me at this point. My butcher has never done raw dog food either. They want detailed shopping list of animal, body part, and.weight.

    • Barb, I understand the feelings of a newbie, and I understand the needs of a newbie, some guidance is always good, and an interactive way of solving “problems”. I guess, if you join a nice, friendly fb group that is willing to help overcome your initial fears, you’ll be fine, and your dogie will love you for it :)
      “Butcher’s dog food mix” is not needed at all, you can do it much better, and you’d be happier to know exactly what you feed and where it came from, and all the reasoning behind.

      Btw, just a notice regarding your cake example – in my opinion, as long as you don’t reach to artificial sweeteners, but choose from raw sugar, cane sugar or honey, your cake will be fine. It might not look like “picture perfect”, but it will taste good and be a much healthier option, won’t it?

      Please join me here, to discuss your dog’s “cake” ;)

  4. Julie

    From your list, you say that whole chicken is 25% bone and whole turkey is 21% – the high ends of calcium requirement. I feed my dogs a whole animal ground product – to which the seller says is 10-15% bone. This is a confusing discrepancy!! With your numbers, I would think I would need to add more muscle only meat…. Any thoughts?


    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      I think you’re right in the range and should be fine.

    • I think that you’re right – you should add more muscle meat. You should also feed some liver (around 3-5% of the diet), and other secreting organs (kidneys, spleen, brain, thymus, pancreas, testes, all up to some 5-7%).
      It really depends what’s in the mix you buy from the butcher.
      Hearts are always declared as organs, but in raw feeding terms they belong to muscle meat, because they are pure muscle, no secretion of anything there. Same with tongue and tripe.
      In my opinion, there should always be more red meat than poultry in the diet, as it’s closer to the natural choice of what a canine would eat in freedom/wild.
      And, btw, dog poop is the best indicator of bone amount in the diet – too crumbly, feed less bone, too soft, feed a bit more, of course taking into account the whole diet in the long term, not necessarily making every single meal “balanced”. That’s easy, imo.

  5. Shelly

    Lori —To have a well balanced meal you need 70-80%meat:10-20% bones:10% organ meat & Variety is they key… Veggies & fruit is up to you- but I don’t think it hurts. I use them as treats- my crew love frozen beans & carrots. I offer mixed berries since wolves do eat berries in the wild. If you feed tripe it MUST be green not store stuff cause its bleached white- its No good. Stinky stuff but great for them :) My crew goes nuts over it. Liver is a must but should only make up 5% of your dogs diet not any more then that cause it can be toxic.
    Check out The Dog’s Dinner by Ann Ridyard- My problem when I 1st started I over thought it big time & really didn’t think I could do it- but made the switch- found the FB page and they/she taught me so much more that I can actually make my own for a lot cheaper- and walked me through everything- very thankful for their help. Glad to say my crew enjoy eating a RMB- they just love chicken legs & deer ribs even trotters and they look satisfied after their meals.

  6. Dogs Naturally Magazine

    Speaking as a breeder who’s been feeding raw for nearly twenty years, it’s really not that complicated. The longer you feed raw, the more you see that it can be safely varied quite a bit. As for vegetables, they don’t add any essential nutrients to the dog. The only vitamin or mineral lacking from the diet of a dog fed a meat and bone only diet is vitamin C but dogs have the ability to manufacture their own vitamin C.
    I’ve raised puppies on 85% raw meaty bones (way back in the day) all the way down to 50% raw meaty bones. I like my puppies on about 65% RMB but other breeders have different experiences and dogs and might like more or less. My bias is that it really isn’t all that complicated to feed and they don’t need more than meat and bone (if organ meats are included). Everything a dog requires in his diet can be had from animal sources.

    • Lori

      Thanks for clarifying, there are SOOOO many differing opinions I’m happy to hear yours. Simple is best, stop sweating the small stuff! I like it……..:)

  7. Shelly

    Great for calculating how much to feed http://www.raw4dogs.com/calculate.htm look to skinny add more- getting to chubby take away some. I feed nothing but meat for breakfast and meaty bones for supper. Started in August works wonders. Some good site on fb raw feeding uk awesome place & great help!

    • Lori

      Aren’t you over simplifying it just a bit? Especially for very young dogs, they need more than meat & bone. For puppies, you really have to know what you’re doing.
      Don’t get me worng, I think raw is the only way to go, but it’s not that cut & dried. You have to balance it out with some veg etc. At least that’s my humble opinion…:)
      But I do agree, it’s far from rocket science, nothing to be afraid of………….

  8. Mimi

    Sorry for typo, I hate auto correct in iPad, it drives me crazy!!!

  9. Mimi

    Sorry but by the time I finish calculating those numbers, it would take me the hole day, I’m bad with math.
    In Thailand, where I was born and grew up, we ad 6 dogs in our house, they never seen vet and we never calculated their meal recisely like this, it would be more helpful if you could put into something that easy for everybody to do and to promote raw diet, you really have to make it very easy. But thanks for the info.

  10. Shelly

    I feed nothing but a raw diet & I do most of my shopping at the grocery store or a butcher or what I can get from hunters.

    Breakfast: beef, Pork, Heart, Green tripe, Gizzards, Fish, Deer, Gizzard & Tongue- this is fed as a morning feeding so always getting
    something different. Try to find other types of meat- you don’t want the best slice you want that fat on it.

    Supper they get their Liver/Kidney (only so much cause to much is toxic) and they get Chicken legs or deer ribs & rabbit, fowl when I can get it.
    Plus twice a week I give them an egg. I also give them mixed berries and vegetables sometimes. Also make pure pumpkin & yogurt treats. Just don’t over think it and variety is they key to a well balanced healthy meal- To much bone causes constipation and not enough causes the diarrhea. Just have to find what works best for your crew.

  11. Jenn N

    I am afraid that I must disagree with the whole premise that the ONLY things that need to be carefully balanced in the diet is the calcium phosphorus ratio. Nutrition sadly is not that simple. If you ignore fats for example, and have too much or too little of a particular fat, you will see a difference in blood work, in coat quality, in yeast production in ears, pancreatitis, etc. That is just one example. By oversimplifying this and stating people only have to manage one ratio you are doing a disservice to dogs that will be fed meals that are lacking or overabundant in essential amino acids, fats, minerals, vitamins, etc.

    The minerals you have focused on in this article are very important, but you have left the reader with the impression that they are the only important thing to balance, which, to quote words in the article ‘Couldn’t be further from the truth’.

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      Jenn, thank you for your feedback. We certainly didn’t say that the ONLY thing that needs to be carefully balanced is calcium and phosphorus, we stated it’s the most important and focused on this dietary attribute for this particular post. This is a blog article, not a book, and the way these work is to send small snippets of information of readers, not a complete bible on everything you need to know about raw feeding. This is why there are links to other related articles so that our readers can learn more about nutrition and other holistic health topics with small, easily digested articles.

      • Ellie King

        Somebody mention books? With as much information as misinformation across the web, one can’t go wrong when following the guidelines set down in “Work Wonders” and “Raw Meaty Bones” by Tom Lonsdale. Every dog (and cat or ferret) owner really should read Tom’s books. http://www.rawmeatybones.com/

  12. Lori

    Sorry, but that was really confusing!?

    “Dogs need a balance between the amount of phosphorus and calcium they get in their daily diets. In dogs, the calcium:phosphorus ratio should be about 1.2 to 1.5:1 although a range of 1:1 to 2.5: 1 is sufficient. That means that dogs should consume a little more calcium than they do phosphorus.”

    Then you say they need 25% bone……….
    Is it just me???
    I’d love to know in simple words, what percentage of meat to bone……..

    • Dogs Naturally Magazine

      Lori, read down a couple of paragraphs:

      Overall, balancing calcium and phosphorus isn’t all that difficult, as long as dogs receive plenty of bone. In general, any bone content over 10% is plenty although you shouldn’t exceed 25% because dogs need other nutrients too.

      • Lori

        Thanks, appreciate the ratio for meat to bone.
        Jenn N., I’d like to hear your feeding theories. Mine has always been just meat, bone, organ and a touch of pulverized veg/fruit herbs etc
        I add some organic Mini Tabs ( vitamins ) and give wild fish oil……….
        I’d love to be able to afford free range or organic but that is not possible with 2 German Shepherds. I manage to feed both for under $100 a month so not too bad……….. ( my 2 cats eat Wellness No Grain canned, won’t eat raw, costs me more than the dogs!!!!!)

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