I have always recommended feeding raw meaty bones to cats. They really need to do some serious gnawing and chewing – using those side teeth – to keep their teeth and gums in top shape. If you have read my previous blog posts, you’ll know about Thodin and her amazing teeth. She is over ten years old and has been a raw meaty bone-eater her whole life. Her teeth are plaque-free and the gums are in great shape. She’s never needed a dental and likely never will. This is how a cat’s mouth should be. The scraping action that occurs when a cat uses those side teeth to slice through skin, sinew, cartilage, and small bones is what keeps the teeth clean and gums stimulated. The lack of carbohydrates also helps keep plaque at bay. It is the feeding of inappropriate food that sets a cat up for dental disease. Feeding foods that require a cat to use their teeth as nature intended can make all the difference in their dental health.
I’ve often written that you should keep an eye on your cats when feeding meaty bones. Kitties are pretty good at not tackling something that’s too much to handle. But, accidents can happen, although they are rare. Just to prove my point – not really, she didn’t plan it – Thodin had an incident recently while eating bone. I feed her chicken drumsticks. She absolutely loves them. She will beg for them and thinks any bag taken from the fridge is a drumstick for her. She gets one almost every day. She eats nearly all of it, leaving only small parts of the large bone.
After giving her a drumstick one morning, I saw she was pawing at her mouth and acting distressed. I picked her up and managed to get her mouth open. She had a small piece of bone wedged between her lower side molars. Oh no! She couldn’t fully close her mouth and there was a little blood. I pushed at it a little as best I could to see if I could dislodge it, but it was pretty firmly wedged in. Plus, I couldn’t really get a grip on it as I needed one hand to hold her mouth open. This was definitely going to take three or four hands.
I jumped into action! I grabbed a carrier and rushed Thodin to our vet, calling as I drove to let them know what was happening. This wasn’t life-threatening, but I’m sure it hurt like hell! The heroic techs at the vet removed it in a jiffy and there was no damage to her teeth or gums except for a small abrasion. She got some antibiotics just to be sure. She seemed to forget all about it and wanted a drumstick the next day. I waited a couple days to let her mouth heal before resuming feeding bones, but she is back to daily drumsticks now.
To put this into perspective, Thodin has been eating meaty bones, including chicken drumsticks, wings and necks and some rabbit, for a long time. To make a conservative estimate, if she got bones three days out of four for the last ten years, that means she’s had over 2700 meaty bone meals. This is the first time there was ever a problem. I have had people tell me feeding bones is risky. I disagree. The benefits far outweigh the risks. Because Thorin eats bones, she has never had to be put under anesthesia to get her teeth cleaned. I view anesthesia as far more risky than that drumstick. Keep in mind that dental disease affects more than just the mouth. Bacteria from dental disease get into your cat’s system, affecting other organs such as the kidneys and liver. The tiny risk that bones pose is a good trade-off for some protection from that harm.
If Thorin had been a wild cat without someone looking after her, how would this have turned out? This sort of thing must happen to predators in nature. She likely would have managed to claw it out herself or it would have worked itself out eventually. It would have been painful and have interfered with eating, but it wouldn’t have been fatal.
My message in telling this story is that you should understand that feeding bones is not completely risk-free, but that the risk is small and the benefits are enormous. Just use some common sense and keep an eye on your bone-eaters. Bear in mind that eating bones is completely natural for cats; they have been doing it forever. It’s part of being a cat. I can see that when I watch Thodin go at a drumstick. This is cat-ness at its most elemental.