By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Homemade bone broth has been cooked and consumed by people since the dawn of time, but only recently has it experienced a major resurgence among the general public. As a doctor, I find this thrilling! Any time you can make something at home, from scratch, it will not only be tastier but far healthier too.
Bone broth does in fact have many health benefits. I’ve been making it for years—for my human and furry family members.
That’s right…bone broth isn’t just for people! One of our family dogs has been enjoying it regularly since we discovered how much she loves it.
We never intentionally planned to make it part of her diet. But watching her sniff the scent wafting from the stove and looking at us with such pleading eyes (she was clearly tortured by the aroma), we had to give her a bowl of it too. She couldn’t get enough!
The good news is, bone broth is perfectly safe for dogs and cats alike (with a few caveats discussed below) and makes a wonderful addition to their regular diet.
Bone Broth Health Benefits & Nutrition
Bone broth contains many unique and important nutrients:
- Minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, and silicon
- Amino acids, the building blocks of protein that are involved in countless bodily processes
- Collagen, a type of protein and a main component of joint cartilage and connective tissue
- Glycoaminoglycans (GAGs), compounds that help maintain cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues
Here are the ways bone broth may be beneficial for your pet…
- Immunity. Bone broth contains the amino acids glutamine, cysteine, and arginine, which not only work to fight inflammation, but also bolster the immune system’s ability to fight infections.
- Digestion. The amino acids in bone broth may help strengthen and protect your pet’s intestinal lining. Glutamine, in particular, is known to help preserve gut barrier function and help keep pathogens and toxins from leaking out into the bloodstream. When the gut lining is strong, the risk of leaky gut and other digestive issues is reduced. Glycine, another amino acid which has anti-inflammatory properties and protects cells against oxidative stress, is also thought to help protect the gut lining. Bone broth is especially great for animals with allergies or sensitivities to certain ingredients. It is easy to digest and can be customized to your pet’s particular needs. (For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken, broth can be made with beef or fish bones.)
- Joints. As with humans, animals’ joints and cartilage wear down with age. Collagen, which is in bone broth, helps maintain existing cartilage and boost production of new cartilage. In several clinical trials with osteoarthritic humans, supplementation with bioactive collagen has been shown to have a positive effect on joint pain and mobility. Although forms and dosages of collagen in supplements and bone broth differ, one can extrapolate that some potential for pain relief and improved mobility exists with bone broth consumption. Furthermore, bone broth contains the GAGs glucosamine (which regulates the production of collagen) and chondroitin (which helps to stop destruction of joint cartilage).
- Bones. The minerals in bone broth, including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, can help keep your pet’s bones strong and resilient.
- Skin & Coat. Collagen is what keeps skin supported and firm. As pets age, collagen loses its strength and skin starts to wrinkle and sag. The collagen in bone broth may help with skin repair and the formation of new collagen.
- Appetite Boost. If your pet is a pickier eater (yes, they do exist!) or a senior with little interest in food, a little bit of delicious bone broth can be added to regular kibble to stimulate appetite.
- Hydration. Cats, especially, are prone to dehydration, which can lead to urinary tract issues. If your cat likes bone broth, it could be a good way to help keep them hydrated. Just don’t salt the broth or use minimal salt (if also making bone broth for yourself).
Bone Broth Precautions & Caveats
While bone broth is generally safe for both cats and dogs, it is still wise to discuss its use with your veterinarian. And while generally well tolerated, adverse reactions may develop, so keep an eye out for any digestive issues like diarrhea or vomiting.
Introduce bone broth slowly and gradually, and watch for any side effects. If you notice anything, stop feeding the broth.
And remember, bone broth should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet, but rather an addition or supplement. Pour some on top of kibble, for instance. Or give a little bowl as “dessert.” Just as you would with treats, adjust portion based on your pet’s size.
Finally—and very importantly—simple is the way to go when making bone broth for your dog or cat. While I encourage people to include a variety of vegetables and spices into their bone broth recipes, dogs and cats don’t need any of these extra ingredients.
In fact, as obligate carnivores, cats’ diets should consist mainly of meat. Dogs do well with many different vegetables, but even so, there is no need to include them—and doing so may in fact make them sick. (Onions, garlic, and other allium vegetables are toxic to both dogs and cats.) Trust me, they just want the good stuff—pure broth made from only the bones!
With that said, here is how I recommend making bone broth for your pet:
- Add beef, chicken, turkey, or fish bones (as well as feet, hooves, etc., preferably from grass-fed, pasture-raised, and/or wild-caught animals) to a pot or slow cooker. Choose appropriate animal bones based on your pet’s specific allergies or sensitivities.
- Fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover the bones.
- Add 2–3 tablespoons of red, white, or apple cider vinegar (these natural acids break down the bones, allowing the release of nutrients)
If using your stovetop, bring the broth to a boil. Once it’s boiling, reduce to low heat, cover, and allow it to simmer for at least 12 hours. The longer you simmer, the more nutrient-rich the broth will be.
If using a slow cooker, cook on low for at least 8 hours.
Pour the broth through a strainer into a bowl and discard any strained solids. The broth can be stored in the refrigerator 7 days, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Should You Give the Cooked Bones to Your Dog?
You may be wondering, after reading this, whether you can give cooked bones to your dog to gnaw on after making bone broth. We advise against doing so. Veterinarians do not recommend giving cooked bones to dogs, because they can become brittle and break easily. Cooked bones can cause choking and can splinter and cause serious damage to the digestive tract. Additionally, veterinary dentists do not recommend giving these types of bones to dogs due to risk of tooth fractures. So while gnawing on bones can help clean dogs’ teeth, the risk of serious problems is too great.
*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners.
- Blumenstock K. Bone Broth for Cats: Benefits and Preparation Information. BeChewy.com, last updated January 28, 2021.
- FirstVet. Can Dogs Drink Bone Broth? Firstvet.com, last accessed February 8, 2022 at https://firstvet.com/us/articles/can-dogs-drink-bone-broth
- Oesser S, et al. Efficacy of specific bioactive collagen peptides in the treatment of joint pain. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2016 Apr;24(1):S189.
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- Rao, RadhaKrishna, and Geetha Samak. “Role of Glutamine in Protection of Intestinal Epithelial Tight Junctions.” Journal of epithelial biology & pharmacology vol. 5,Suppl 1-M7 (2012): 47-54. doi:10.2174/1875044301205010047
- Razak, Meerza Abdul et al. “Multifarious Beneficial Effect of Nonessential Amino Acid, Glycine: A Review.” Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity vol. 2017 (2017): 1716701. doi:10.1155/2017/1716701
- Proksch E, et al. Oral supplementation of specific collagen peptides has beneficial effects on human skin physiology: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2014;27(1):47-55.
- Rozi, Parhat et al. “Isolation and Evaluation of Bioactive Protein and Peptide from Domestic Animals’ Bone Marrow.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 23,7 1673. 9 Jul. 2018, doi:10.3390/molecules23071673
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