Bone Broth For Pets
This article is written by our qualified in-house veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.
No doubt, you've already heard of bone broth. An emerging superfood craze, bone broth seems to be popping up in hipster cafe menus far and wide. And if you've got any paleo or clean-eating friends, you'll no doubt have already heard them rave about it.
But have you thought about feeding bone broth to your pets? Is it possible that they, too, can reap the claimed benefits? And more importantly, is bone broth actually safe for our furry friends?
What is Bone Broth?
Bone broth is made from animal bones, connective tissue, and cartilage, slowly boiled in water on a low simmer for a a long period of time (generally 10-20 hours). It is typically made with common meats such as cattle, chicken, or fish, and often includes fresh herbs, vegetables, and spices.
Bone broth is nothing new; humans have been making bone broth for millenia. It's believed that early hunter-gatherers made bone broth as early as 500 BCE. And it's easy to understand the attraction for our caveman forefathers: bone broth makes use of the entire body of the prey animal, creating a nutritious meal out of inedible parts such as hooves, bones, knuckles, and gritty connective tissue.
Is bone broth the same as stock? No; bone broth and stock are not the same thing. Typically bone broth is made with boiled bones as well as vegetables, herbs, and spices, whereas meat stock is made with boiled bones and soft tissue for a thicker, more concentrated flavour. Plus, meat stock is usually boiled for 1-2 hours, whereas bone broth is cooked for a much longer time; up to 20 hours or more.
The ultra-slow, low-heat cooking method is necessary in order to extract the collagen, minerals, and gelatin out of the bones and tissue. It helps extract these compounds and also makes them more bioavailable and easier to digest.
The Benefits of Bone Broth
So, what's so great about a soup which essentially just sounds like 'meat water'?
Advocates of bone broth claim that it can relieve joint pain and arthritis, detoxify the liver, help speed up wound healing time, promote digestive health, increase energy, support strong bones, and boost immune function.
Are the benefits of bone broth supported by science? While studies to support these claims in humans have yielded mixed results, scientific data around bone broth's benefits in pets is unfortunately limited and non-existent. As yet, the jury is still out as to whether eating bone broth can truly benefit your pet's health!
However, one indisputable benefit of bone broth is its palatability. Dogs and cats love the taste of bone broth. It can be used to tempt fussy eaters, or to help stimulate the appetite of sick or unwell pets. (Just be careful in pets with upset tummies though, as the rich, fatty gelatin might not be what they need!)
Bone broth is often described as high essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. However, most recipes of bone broth are not found to be remarkably high in calcium at all. In fact one study found that Calcium in bone broth is actually quite low1. In general, the claim that bone broth is high in calcium - akin to the levels found in milk - is mostly considered to be a myth.
Another claim is that bone broth is quite high in protein. For this claim, it really depends on the specific recipe itself. One study found that the levels of protein in a number of different commerically-product bone broths were markedly varied.2 Some recipes are high in protein, and some are not. Always check with the label if you're after a nutritious, high-protein broth.
Other attributes of bone broth include its high levels of collagen and gelatin, as well as essential amino acids. While many people rave about gelatin's effects on their gut health, it generally doesn't ring true that eating collagen translates to healthier collagen in the body (such as healthier joints or stronger skin). Collagen eaten in the food is broken down by the body into amino acids, which means it is effectively used as a source of protein (and not a very efficient source, unfortunately).3
What are the risks of bone broth for pets?
In general, a bone broth recipe that is designed specifically for cats and dogs is quite safe and shouldn't do any harm. However, bone broth is generally not recommended for pets with a history of pancreatitis or sensitive stomachs. The high content of fatty, marrow-derived gelatin may be too rich if your doggo has a sensitive tum.
Store-bought or restaurant bone broth for humans is also not recommended as it frequently contains garlic and onions, which are toxic to pets.
What about lead poisoning? There is some evidence to suggest that bone broth contains high numbers of heavy metals including lead. The theory is that because most animals store 90% of lead in the bones, it is drawn out by the slow cooking process alongside all those other minerals.
One study4 demonstrated that a broth made from organic chicken boiled in tap water contained 7-10 times more lead (depending on the part of the chicken used in the broth) than boiled tap water alone. Slow cooked broth made from chicken skin and cartilage contained 9.5ug/L, and broth made from chicken bones contained 7.01ug/L, which is astoundingly higher than the lead found in the same tapwater boiled (0.89ug/L). However, these levels are still less than the legal limit for lead in tap water (which is 15ug/L).
Some scientists argue that the calcium in bone broth can help reduce absorption of lead, however it's likely that there isn't actually enough calcium in bone broth to handle the levels of lead.
There is also some dispute over the reliability of the data, due to the small sample size and lack of variables reported. Read more about this here.
Why should you buy a special 'pet' bone broth?
The major benefit to buying a bone broth made specifically for pets is that you can guarantee the safety of ingredients. As mentioned, human bone broths often contain garlic and onions. These ingredients may create a lovely aromatic flavour for us, but are toxic to our furry friends.
Another benefit to buying a pre-made bone broth for pets is simply the convenience. Sure, you can make your own bone broth at home, but with a 10-20 hour cooking time, it's a long endeavour! A premade pet bone broth is ready-to-go and will save you the hassle.
What is the best bone broth for pets?
Celebrity chef Pete Evans (known for his role on My Kitchen Rules and controversial pro-paleo stance) has recently released a line of pet food called Healthy Everyday Pets. It includes a ready-made bone broth designed specifically for cats and dogs. Paleo Pete's pet food is as close to the paleo diet as possible, with a focus on meat proteins and superfoods, and utilises tapioca in place of grains or other carbohydrates.
Now, say what you like about the paleo diet for humans (as a die-hard fan of all things bread, I just couldn't do it myself...) the diet actually makes a lot of sense for our mostly carnivorous furry friends. Cats are obligate carnivores, and dogs are omnivores but have a higher requirement for meat than plant-based sources of protein.
How do you feed your pet bone broth? While most pets will happily lap up bone broth from a bowl, you can also pour bone broth over their regular food to increase palatability or soften the kibble. Using bone broth as a means of tempting fussy eaters to eat their kibble is a great, nutritious trick!
Shop Healthy Everyday Pets bone broth below:
You might also be interested in...
1. McCance RA, Sheldon W, Widdowson EM. Bones and vegetable broth. Arch Dis Child. 1934 August : 9 (52) 251-258
2. Gimbar M. A Sip Above The Rest... Is Bone Broth All It's Boiled Up To Be? Journal of Renal Nutrition, Vol 27, No 6 (November), 2017: pp e39-e40
3. TIME magazine. January 2016. Science Can't Explain Why Everyone is Drinking Bone Broth.
4. Monro, JA, Leon R, Puri BK. The risk of lead contamination in bone broth diets. Med Hypotheses, 2013 Jan 30. pii: S0306-9877(13)00013-3. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2012.12.026.