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I sometimes cook chicken broth in my Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker), using chicken carcasses from free range birds.

Yesterday I was picking the cooked meat (aka pet treats or diet food) from the bones and noticed that after four hours of pressure cooking the bones were almost mushy - the ribs crumbled between my fingers and I had to be very careful when separating meat and bones, sometimes I couldn’t and discarded meat with embedded bone material, just in case.

Of course I am well familiar with the never feed cooked bones, especially bird bones to a pet rule. But I was wondering whether that rule still applies for bones that have literally become soft and mushy. There’s nothing that could splinter and cause mechanical injuries?

Provided that I cook the broth without salt and spices, could I feed the soft bones (not larger, more substantial bones) to my cat and dog, together with the leftover meat? What if I ran the meat and tiny bones through a food processor?

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  • I took the liberty of adding strays as a tag because you didn't specify it. My answer covers information about stray animals. Feel free to remove the tag. – C.Koca Oct 20 '20 at 9:45
  • @C.Koca Sorry, but I’d rather not have the tag. The question is about a domestic situation where I can and want to control my pets’ diet. Note that the question is also not about feeding bones in general, but the very specific case described in the question. To achieve a comparable softness of the bones, one would probably have to cook chicken carcasses for eight hours or more, which most cooks won’t do. – Stephie Oct 20 '20 at 9:59
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In general, feeding cooked bones is not advised. If you chose to feed cooked bones anyways, you should keep the following aspects in mind:

Splintering

This is the main reason why pets shouldn't eat cooked bones.

A raw bone is a solid mixture of minerals like calcium that give it strength and stability, and softer organic material like cartilage that make it ever so slightly flexible. Cooking destroys the organic material and leaves the minerals behind without the flexible scaffolding it was embedded in. That makes the bones prone to splintering, which can cause serious internal injuries.

By the way, all bones of all animals become prone to splintering when cooked, not just bones of birds.

If the bones are so brittle you can crumble them in your fingers, the risk of injuries is very low.

Seasoning

Pets shouldn't eat any additional salt because it can cause dehydration and urinary tract diseases. Some seasonings and vegetables like onion or garlic are even toxic to cats.

If you cooked your broth exclusively from bones and didn't add any salt or other seasoning, it should be fine. If you added vegetables or any other ingredients, please make sure they are safe for your pets, even if you think something as common as onions cannot harm them.

Constipation

The chemical composition of the bones (a lot of minerals with little organic material) makes them hard to digest. You can often see dog's feces become chalky grey when they ate bones. The minerals aren't absorbed into the body and must pass the digestive tract, almost as if the dog ate a handful of sand instead of bone. This often leads to constipation, followed by diarrhea (to clean the obstruction out) and discomfort. In the worst case the colon can become completely obstructed and a vet must intervene.

If you feed your pets bones, feed only as much as they would naturally eat. Feral cats eat several rodents or small birds a day, but the bones of those prey animals are tiny compared to a chicken. Wild dogs may catch a rabbit or similar sized animal, but they wouldn't eat all the bones.

Without having any objective numbers, I would feed my dog or cat no more than a few chicken ribs a day and no more than two consecutive days. Feeding an entire carcass (like after Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners) is definitely too much.

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  • Thanks for the quite elaborate answer. The question is explicitly focusing on the very narrow case of bones that are already disintegrating. I know about the side effects of dogs eating too many bones and yes, I am talking about pure carcasses in water, no salt, spices or vegetables added. – Stephie Oct 20 '20 at 7:46
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    @Stephie It's quite clear from your question that you're already aware of the splintering and overfeeding, but I wanted to include this information anyways for other users that might read the answer but don't bother to read the whole question. – Elmy Oct 20 '20 at 7:50

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