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Is 10% Bone Content Enough? And What Did Dr. Ian Billinghurst Say?

Updated: Feb 6

Many pet parents who have experience in feeding raw diet (BARF) would probably heard Dr. Ian Billinghurst's theory which was written more than 30 years ago. The theory is that


“Approximate biological balance is achieved so long as meat alone is not the principal dietary component. That job must be left to the raw meaty bones (RMBs). When a young and growing dog eats RMBs, if the bone to meat ratio of those RMBs is around 1:1, then the balance of calcium to phosphorus is appropriate for bone mineralization and formation.”


The proportion mentioned above is solely the proportion of meat and bone in Raw Meaty Bone (RMB) such as chicken thighs, chicken wings, chicken necks, etc.

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Dr. Ian Billinghurst also added that adult dogs need less calcium. Giving RMB to young, adult dogs, they only digest and absorb calcium that is needed for use in the body. Excess from necessity will be left in the intestines and excreted in feces. Notice that if dogs defecate and it comes out looking white, this means that your dogs probably eat too much bone in their diet.


But hey...... the 1 : 1 ratio we're talking about does it mean giving 50% meat and 50% bones in the entire meal? The answer is that if you interpreted it that way, it would be incorrect. Because according to the theory - to clarify this, the 1 : 1 ratio, Dr. Ian Billinghurst speaks only of the Raw Meaty Bone (RMB) ratio. It does not refer to the entire meal. Because in one meal dogs need not only bones and meat, but also organ meats, vegetables, fruits, and various nutritional supplements. There are many other types of components that need to be carefully calculated in food proportion to make sure that the meal is complete or even make the nutrients complete according to AAFCO FEDIAF or NRC standards (we will try calculating the amount of pure bone or Bone Content in Raw Meaty Bone in the next section)


It's All About Balancing ความสมดุลต้องมาเป็นที่ 1

Dogs will need a balance of calcium to phosphorus at approximately 1 : 1 and no more than 2 : 1 ... but preferably with slightly more calcium than phosphorus. The most appropriate amount of calcium will be 1.25 g. - 4.5 g. per 1,000 Calories of food [AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles1]. This ratio is very important for growing dogs. A diet that is too low in calcium can cause bone problems, especially in the pelvis and spine. While foods that are too high in calcium may interfere with bone mineralization and growth. This is especially true in large breed dogs, they are more likely to develop bone diseases such as osteoporosis. or abnormal bone growth


Meat is high in phosphorus and low in calcium.

Bones are higher in calcium than phosphorus.


So, is 10% Bone Content in BARF Enough?

A research data from the Institute of Nutrition Mahidol University Whole chicken bones without meat (bone content) contains calcium content at 5.5g/100g (wet basis, as fed) and the calorie content is 298 calories per 100g. This means that 1,000 calories of pure bone will contain calcium about 18.46 grams and if we use only 10% bone of the total calories, the meal will provide calcium at 1.846 grams per 1,000 calories of food, which is at an appropriate level indicated by AAFCO.


In general, the amount of bone without meat or what we call Bone Content should be 10% in each meal. That's enough... and it shouldn't be more than 15% because dogs need other nutrients as well. 10% Bone Content will provide enough calcium and the calcium to phosphorus ratio will meet the requirements of AAFCO, FEDIAF, and NRC just right! Adding more bones will cause the meal to lose other important nutrients that dogs should get from meat, organ meats, vegetables, and fruits.


Let's Calculate Bone Content

When sourcing bones for your dog’s diet, it’s important to know the approximate amount of bone in foods. Here is a quick guide to help you keep your dog’s bone content in the right range: between 10 and 15%.


Chicken

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

  • Leg quarter: 30%

  • Split breast: 20%

  • Thigh: 15%

  • Drumstick: 30%

  • Wing: 45%

  • Neck: 36%

  • Back: 45%

  • Feet: 60%

  • Head: 75%

Duck

  • Whole: 28%

  • Neck: 50%

  • Feet: 60%

Beef

  • Ribs: 52%

  • Oxtails: 45% to 65% (the percentage goes up as the tail gets thinner and less meaty)

Rabbit

  • Whole rabbit: 10%


Let's look at an example: Let's say your dog eats 100 grams of BARF per meal. You give chicken wings a total of 60% (60 grams) of the meal. The remaining 40% (40 grams) can be meat, organ meats, and other fruits and vegetables. In chicken wings, the amount of bone or bone content is 45%. So in this case, to put it simply, the dog will eat 45% of the bones in 60 grams of chicken wings (multiply 0.45 by 60 = 27%). When you calculate, you will see that your dog eats almost 27% of the bones, which is too much!


Now let's try again. Switch to 30% (30 grams) of chicken wings and the remaining 70% (70 grams) of meat, organ meats, and other fruits and vegetables. Your dog will eat 45% of the bones in 30 grams of chicken wings (multiply 0.45 by 30 = 13.5%). Now he will eat 13% of the bones! Which is not a bad proportion at all, the bone content is between 10 - 15%!


Feeding a diet that has a good balance of calcium and phosphorus is easy… To make sure your dog eats between 10% and 15% bones, feed your dog RMB somewhere between 25% - 60% of the meal (depends on the type of RMB). For example, if you choose to use chicken thighs, which have a low bone content of 15%, you may have to give your dog 70% of the chicken thighs. Your dogs will get the bone content of 10.5% (0.15 x 70 = 10.5%), which will be sufficient for the body.


So, we have always misunderstood that bone to meat ratio must be 50 : 50 in a meal?

It's not too late to recalculate the bone content in your dog's meal. During the past 30 years since Dr. Ian Billinghurst's theory, there have been many research and studies whether from organizations, universities, or even international animal feed control institutes. who took part in developing, organizing, and providing knowledge about BARF feeding (Click to see examples of research)

Leading international BARF brands have also changed their recipes to control calcium intake, increase brand transparency and ethics by providing less bone and do not reduce costs by using too much bone beyond the standard maintaining the amount of bone between 10 - 15%. Examples of brands are as shown in the picture below.


However, not only calcium and phosphorus that are important in developing a complete and balanced diet but there are nearly 40 other nutrients that also need to be focused. Making meals that are diverse and complete according to nutritional standards can be difficult to do at home. This is because of the complexity of calculating nutrients and nutritional testing that need to be done in laboratory and may require a large amount of capital. However, when you're tired from preparing food at home you can rest your body and mind and let Hound Origin take care of your pet!



[1] Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats, National Research Council of The National Academies of Science, Washington, D.C. (2006), Table 15-5 “Nutrient Requirements for Growth of Puppies After Weaning”, Wasington, D.C., page 357



Written and composed by

Khemisara Itthisithawong

Certified NAVC Pet Nutritionist

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