Is it wrong for domestic cats to eat bones?

I think that some of the advice on the Internet may be less than wise. I have doubts whether it is sensible for domestic cats to eat the sort of bones that are commonly available to cat owners. We have to go back to the wild to answer the question. In the wild, the ancestor of the domestic cat and now domestic cats eat whole mice as the perfect diet. The cat needs to eat the bones of a mouse in order to have a whole and complete diet.

This is a slightly different take on a cat eating a raw diet. It shows a feral cat eating a chicken. No doubt the cat is eating bones as well and the bones are quite big. At least it is raw and therefore the bones are uncooked and should not splinter. The photograph is by Shaun Miller on Flickr and was taken in 2014.

Small raw bones

The tricky aspect of this is that mice bones are very small and of course they are raw. They’re quite flexible it seems to me and a domestic cat can chew through all the bones of a mouse relatively easily. My cat starts at the head and works his way down towards the tail. He eats absolutely everything normally and occasionally leaves the bile duct and the gallbladder. No bones are left. There is no possibility of my cat being injured by splinters from bones. I guess they are too small and the bones themselves are inherently flexible, to a degree, which stops them splintering.

I have read that domestic cats can eat bones provided they are not cooked. When they are cooked they tend to shatter when bitten into. This may result in a shard of bone going into the gut, lacerating it and causing an internal injury. The issue here, though, is that the sort of bones a domestic cat might bite into could be one from a chicken leg or wing and these are very large bones relative to mice bones.

Therefore, if you want your cat to eat bones the logical conclusion is that the cat has to eat a whole mouse. This doesn’t work out for a lot of cats because a lot of them are indoor cats only, some don’t hunt or hardly hunt and some owners don’t want their cats to bring in eat mice. Then there is the issue of worms.

Raw foods

This leads to the conclusion that you will have to make up some sort of raw cat food with ground down bones in it, which is tricky and I think requires the advice of a veterinarian or feline nutritionist. If you do choose to go with a raw diet you really need to consult a veterinary nutritionist for guidance. And if you cook homemade meals for your cat you will also have to take the advice, ideally, of a specialist nutritionist.

Savannah cat breeder

I do have to admit, though, that when I stayed at A1 Savannahs, near Ponca city, Oklahoma, USA, they fed their cats treats by throwing into their enclosures frozen chicken legs which thawed out and upon which the cats gnawed to have their dinner. There was no issue or discussion of bones or shards of bone harming the cats that I recall. A1 Savannahs created Magic, at the time the world’s tallest domestic cat to the shoulder. It is an impressive cat breeding facility.

However, I think it is about taking sensible precautions and minimising risk. Personally I would not feed my cat a thawed out chicken thigh even if I had added some supplements which made the diet balanced. Chicken thighs per se are not a balanced diet for obvious reasons. You may have trouble getting your cat to eat it anyway.

Hygiene

If were talking about domestic cats eating bones then we are also discussing a raw diet. Critically, there are issues of hygiene and providing a raw diet. Raw meats must be handled very carefully to prevent bacterial diseases such as salmonella which can affect cats and people. You need careful storage, thawing and handling. Parasites can be a problem with raw meat and you have add supplements because muscle meat alone is not enough. Remember that domestic cats eat the whole mouse which is the fur, the bone, the stomach contents, the internal organs, the brain, the eyes, the tail and so on. It is this which makes for a balanced diet not simply muscle meat and thigh bone which may splinter.

Conclusion

I have written about the complications as I see it. I’m not saying that I am 100% correct. I’m sure that there are people, competent cat owners, who provide their cat with chicken wings in which the bones are not that large and add a supplement. This may work for them and they are happy with it. Once again is about risk and benefit. Personally I am marginally against the process. You just have to be careful because it can go wrong. But on the risk versus benefit scale, if your cat has IBD, for instance, and is suffering then a raw diet might resolve that problem in which case it may be worth taking the risk of a bone splintering. There are stories of cat owners who have successively resolved IBD in their cat by feeding a raw diet. I’ve also read about Bengal cats who have had smelly poo benefiting from a raw diet. Cat allergies can sometimes originate in the artificiality of commercial cat food. Reverting to a natural diet i.e. a raw diet can resolve problems of feline food allergies. Once again veterinary advice is the sensible way forward.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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