Strong Bones: What Should I Feed My Dog?

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Besides proving energy for basic metabolic functions and movement, food can help support (or hinder) the body’s ability to maintain a strong muscular-skeletal structure, support organ health, enhance the immune systems, and basically ensure that the body is running on “all cylinders”. Active dogs (and humans) require high level function and overall strength with regard to their bones, muscles, joints, lungs, and digestion in order to deal with the physical stress of being active. Each of these areas can benefit from specific micronutrients so it is important to understand how a dog’s diet can impact the overall function of their body. Today, we will focus on the nutrients that are needed to support strong and healthy bones.


What are Bones Made of?

Bone tissue is comprised of a mixture of minerals (for structure and hardness) deposited around a protein matrix (i.e. collagen) for flexibility. It is a bone’s flexibility that allows it to bend slightly but not break under most normal levels of stress.

healthy bones

According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, about sixty-five percent of bone tissue is made of mineral. The major minerals found in bone are calcium and phosphorus. Magnesium, sodium, and potassium are also present in various degrees.


The remaining 35% of bone tissue is an organic protein matrix, almost 95% of which is type I collagen. Collagen fibers twist around each other and provide the interior scaffolding that supports the layers of bone minerals to form the bone.


Minerals that Support Bone Strength

The primary minerals that are key to bone health include calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Each of these minerals need to be available to the body as part of the bone regeneration process. They all provide additional health benefits as well.


Calcium. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and serves many functions to support overall health. Calcium is the building block for bone growth and regeneration. Calcium also helps the body contract its muscles, supports proper nerve transmission, and blood coagulation (clotting), among other things.


If a dog’s diet is calcium deficient, their body will use calcium from the bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones. Calcium deficiency can also lead to nervous system problems such as irritability, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.


It is important to note that overloading a body with calcium can cause symptoms similar to calcium deficiency. The interaction between calcium and phosphorous is critical and there needs to be a balance between these two minerals in the diet. Somewhere around 2 to 2.5 times calcium to 1 times phosphorous is considered optimal for dogs. The upshot? Don’t blindly use calcium supplements without considering the overall diet and balance of other minerals.


Foods high in calcium and that are included in some dog food formulas include sardines and salmon, green leafy vegetables including kale, dandelion greens, and broccoli, as well as nuts and seeds, including almonds and pumpkin seeds.


Magnesium. Magnesium helps the body absorb and retain calcium, which helps support bone health. It also helps the body to convert calcium in the blood into usable form for muscle and nerve function, as well as to generally support the central nervous system and cardiovascular health. Magnesium deficiency can lead to weakened bones, nervous system issues including anxiety and irritability, a lowered level of stamina, and an overall lower resistance to stress. A 1988 study showed that magnesium deficiency was shown to raise the aggression levels in mice.


Foods high in magnesium and that are included in some dog food formulas include vegetables like spinach, squash, and green beans, seafood, flax, and nuts.


Phosphorus. Phosphorus supports healthy bones, directly aids in calcium metabolism, and supports the nervous system. It also aids in cellular repair and improved digestion. Phosphorous deficiency can lead to weakened bones and joint pain, as well as autonomic nervous system issues leading to drooling, watery eyes and nose. Lack of adequate phosphorous can also lower the metabolism and reduce stamina.


Foods high in phosphorus and that are included in some dog food formulas include salmon and other fish, meats including pork and beef, and seeds including flax, pumpkin, and squash seeds.


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  1. Great post, since I have large breed dogs I have to be careful and make sure the calcium phosphorus ratio is correct so that my guys don’t grow to fast and have bone issues which can be quite common if you feed foods that aren’t balanced. I remember long ago at a clinic I worked at a client brought in a kitten that wasn’t able to walk right, we took a xray and you couldn’t even see it’s bones come to find out they were only feeding it chicken.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Cleaning The Pipes~Monday MischiefMy Profile

  2. thanks for this post, I’m always unsure when it comes to supplements and I always bug our vet with my questions :o) btw: we bought chicken liver for easy, but I read too much vitamine a can be dangerous too, do you know where we can find a formula how much we can feed? or is it better to avoid things like liver generally?
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog TV TUESDAYMy Profile

    • Liver and other organ meats are really good foods for most normally healthy dogs. Because it provides ‘whole food’ nutrition, it is far better than using supplements.

      According to, the Vitamin A requirement for dogs is 2272 IU/lb of food consumed on a dry matter basis, with a maximum daily does of 113,600 IUs / lb. AAFCO guidelines are reported in KGs but are essentially the same. A minimum of 5000 IUs per kg of food with a max of 250,000 IU/kg of food.
      steve recently posted…SlimDoggy Jack | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

  3. Well, I think my food is good, but I just got a bag of salmon bites, so that should add to the phosphorus! So much to think about. One needs to be a scientist to read the labels and figure it all out.
    Emma recently posted…My Hankering For FishMy Profile

  4. Just like we read ingredients in our human food, we should do the same in our pets’ food. Great post.
    –Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats
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  5. Very informative, thanks for this!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Imagine your dog feeling like a puppy againMy Profile

  6. Thank you for all the information! Our pups absolutely love salmon 🙂
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Homemade Dog Food With Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl Grain-Free Pre-MixMy Profile

  7. Honey’s breeder warned us against feeding her puppy food because they believed it encourages too rapid growth for proper bone development. Now I’m curious about the mineral balance in puppy food.
    Pamela recently posted…Today Is The TRUE Puppy DayMy Profile

  8. We give some of those foods, like green beans and broccoli as treats and added to the dogs’ food. Well, mostly Luke’s food, because the girls don’t like it as well. I’m going to plant kale in my garden this year too as I had heard that is good for dogs too, and you confirmed that. Now, does salmon oil have these same benefits, or is that different?
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  9. Liver is becoming more and more a part of our diet- but geez – there’s so much to keep up with. Oh My Doodle 🙂
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