Bone broth is a delicious addition to any dog’s diet. It’s full of vitamins and minerals to support your dog’s health, plus lots of amino acids and gelatin. And, the best part, dogs love it — which is one of the reasons Dr. Dressler includes it in his list of yummy “cheat treats” in chapter 2 of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.
If you’ve never made broth from scratch before, don’t sweat it — it’s hard to get this wrong. Bone broth is not a fancy soup — in fact, it’s not soup at all, although it can be USED for soup. It’s extremely simple to make and requires very few ingredients. You and your dog will enjoy the smell while it’s cooking — and probably will both be impatiently waiting for the delicious homemade broth.
Benefits of Bone Broth
There are many benefits of bone broth. The most well-known benefits include:
On top of these benefits, bone broth has a wonderful meaty flavor, and many dogs who you might call “picky” will eat their food — any food — once the bone broth is added to it.
Nutritionally, bone broth can also be very beneficial. As the bones stew over a long period of time in the weakly acidic water, they leach all of their minerals, vitamins, and amino acids into the broth. The resulting liquid — which is more like a jelly, in the end — is delicious, but also an extremely easy-to-digest nutritional superfood.
So, let’s get cooking.
Ingredients of Bone Broth
First, you will want to gather the ingredients. Don’t worry, there aren’t too many ingredients to get together. All you need is:
- a clove or two of garlic (not pre-minced), unpeeled (this tiny amount is safe in general, but skip this if you are at all concerned about anemia in your dog)
- chicken feet (We like chicken feet because they have a lot of joints, and therefore, a lot of high-quality gelatin for our bone broth. Ask your butcher for them if you don’t see them. And yes, most supermarkets have them in the back, even if they don’t put them out!)
- beef marrow bones (or other — see list below for ideas)
- apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- filtered water (if you don’t have a filter on your home tap water, use reverse osmosis filtered water, available in the supermarket)
That’s it. Dead simple.
There isn’t really an exact amount of bones and feet you need. You can just grab as many you think will fit in your crock pot. No one will be eating the bones or leftovers from the feet, because they are just used to make the broth. I would use at least 3 chicken feet, and at least 2 pounds of bones — but that’s for my pot. And if you don’t want to make a ton of broth, just use fewer bones. However many you use, the timing and method is the same.
It’s best, of course, if you use bones from pasture-raised animals.
The best bones will have lots of cartilage and joints — think knuckle bones. And don’t feel like you have to use beef bones only — those are probably just the most widely available. You can use any bones, and/or any combination of bones. All of the following make excellent broths:
- chicken or turkey necks (but no organ meat!)
- pig (and you can use a pig’s foot instead of chicken feet for that good gelatin!)
- crab shells
- lobster shells
The bones you use will affect the flavor and color of your broth — it can be really fun to see just how different all of these combinations are!
Some people save all their bones from their meals, dumping the carcasses in freezer bags and storing them in the freezer until they are ready to actually make the bone broth.
You can also add a bay leaf and black peppercorns, for a little extra flavor. Don’t add salt — it will concentrate over time and make your broth too salty. And while bone broth for humans could also include onions quartered with the peels left on, or carrots, if you’re giving this to your dog with cancer, leave those out. The carrots have a fair amount of starch (a no no for dogs with cancer) and onions can make dogs sick.
Remember, this stuff is delicious — so plan on having a cup for yourself, too. (You can add salt and other flavors later, after the broth is made, to your taste.) As you continue to make broth, you’ll want to try new combinations. Go ahead!
Directions for Making Bone Broth
The most important thing to do before you start is determine the time you will start your broth. Keep in mind that it will cook for a long time, so plan ahead.
The second thing to decide is how to cook your broth. A stainless steel-lined slow cooker or crock pot is the easiest way to go, and we are HUGE fans of the Instant Pot. (If you need a pressure cooker, this device is a slow cooker, pressure cooker, oatmeal maker, rice maker, and yogurt maker. Yes, all in one. It’s awesome. Here’s the Instant Pot we like the best.*)
You can also use a stainless steel stock pot on your stove, set to the lowest setting, but we find it’s not as easy to keep the liquid just below a simmer this way, and many people don’t like leaving a stove on over night or while they aren’t home.
Once you have your pot, here’s how to start your broth:
Step One: Fill your crock pot or stock pot full of the chicken feet and beef marrow bones. We like to use 3-4 chicken feet, and the rest bones. Add garlic cloves. No need to peel — those peels have lots of lovely nutrients! (I told you, this is dead simple.)
Step Two: Add the filtered water to your bones, and let it cover them 100%, and then, if there’s room, just about a 1/2 inch more water.
Step Three: Add some acid to the water. You need at least 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. No need to mix the acid in, just add it to the water.
Step Four: Let the pot sit for an hour at room temperature.
Step Five: Take a look at the water. You may see a film of sudsy or scummy … stuff … floating on top. Take a spoon and carefully remove this scum from the broth. You’ll want to do this several times over the first few hours of your broth brewing, because that stuff is full of impurities that have been released from the bones. It’s not so much that it’s super-unhealthy, as that it just makes the broth taste less good. (If you ever have bone broth that has a bitter flavor, it’s probably because it wasn’t skimmed adequately.) Either way, remove them as much as you can.
Step Six: Turn your crockpot on low and cook it for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you brew, the more good stuff is in that broth — but if you are not using organic bones, keep it to shorter timeframes. The thinner the bones, the less time you need. Keep it on low, which should barely simmer the broth. You do not want the broth to boil — you want it to “brew.” It’s the long, slow, cooking time and low, low temps that make all the chemicals interact the way we want them to, and extract the nutrition from the bones. High temps aren’t useful, and they won’t “hurry up” this process.
Step Seven: As your broth brews, periodically skim the top for scum. This is especially important in the first three hours — after that, you’ll see a lot less come to the top. Also, check to see if the bones come up above the water. Sometimes, as the broth turns into a thicker gelatin, it shrinks a little, and then you might want to add just enough water to cover the bones again. It’s only under the water that the magic happens!
Straining Bone Broth
This might be the hardest thing bout bone broth: getting the liquid out of the pot. But it’s not really a big deal. Here’s what you do:
Step One: After your broth is brewed, you’ll need to take the bones and the meat out of the broth. Tongs are usually the best method, but don’t be too surprised if what was a solid bone yesterday is a soft, weird clump now. It won’t look appetizing, and won’t taste it, either — you have no use for them. Remove as many solid objects as you can with tongs. You can dispose of these solids in the garbage.
Step Two: Let the broth sit for a while, then you’ll be able to use a ladle to scoop out the clear broth into containers. We like using quart-sized Ball jars with lids to store our broth. If you plan on freezing your broth, keep in mind that it will expand in the freezer, so only fill the jars to about 2/3 of their capacity. Some people strain their broth before they put it in a container — using a strainer lined with cheesecloth. This makes a really clear, lovely broth, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
Step Three: Refrigerate your broth and let it sit for at least an hour. Once your broth is cooled to a lower temperature, you will see the layer of fat on top. The longer you leave it in the fridge, the more firm it will get. Once you have a layer of fat, open the jars and scoop it off. You can save it to cook with, or throw it away.
Step Four: Take a look at the bone broth you have left. It should look a lot like jelly! If it does, that’s a sign you’ve made a good batch, because all that gelatin that was in your bones and knuckles, is now in the broth. (That gelatin is what helps your dog’s joints and gut health.) Now, if your broth doesn’t look like jelly, that’s okay — you didn’t mess up. Next time, just add more vinegar or lemon juice to draw out more gelatin. This batch is still delicious and nutritious, and your dog will still enjoy it!
Step Five: Store your broth. It can keep for about four days in the fridge, and can be frozen for at least a month.
Step Six: Feed it to yourself and your dog. We like to add bone broth to our dog’s meals, just a little bit. Sometimes we just put a bowl down with a heaping tablespoon and let them lap it up. You can also freeze the broth in ice cube trays to make “popsicles” or to store the broth. (This is particularly nice for small dogs, because one ice cube is probably as much broth as they need at a meal.)
How Much Bone Broth Is Enough for Your Dog?
Is that a trick question? Your dog is likely to love broth so much he will want it ALL, NOW. But a few heaping spoonfuls on her food will do it. You don’t have to get too precise about this — it’s a food, not a supplement, and it’s so easy to digest, that you don’t have to worry about it interfering with digestion. (In fact, bone broth usually improves digestion, especially for dogs who are sick.)
You should try some, too. One of our favorite healthy habits during the winter’s cold and flu season is to drink a cup of broth — yes, just put it in a mug. You will probably want to season it with salt and pepper, because broth is never made with salt (it would get way too salty if you added it while brewing). And feel free to add any herbs, spices, or other flavorings that tempt you. Drinking a warm mug of bone broth makes you feel safe and cozy, and heals YOUR gut and feeds YOU really well, too.
If you want to learn more, more, more, and get wonderful recipes for broths, we highly recommend reading Nourishing Broth: An Old-Fashioned Remedy for the Modern World, by Sally Fallon Morell.* It’s the most comprehensive resource we’ve found, and this and her other cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, are amazing.
NOTE for dogs with mast cell tumors: the longer you brew your broth, the higher the histamine content is. So if your dog is actively itchy, you might not want to give her bone broth until her inflammation calms down, as pointed out in this article.
*If you purchase items from links clicked on our site, we earn a very small referral fee. The price is the same for you, we just get a tiny percentage of the sale. This helps us to keep up this site and keep bringing you more information on a regular basis.
Amber L. Drake has been working with dogs for over 10 years. Throughout this time, she has served as a Canine Behaviorist and Canine Nutritionist working with dogs throughout the United States. She has worked with private clients, rescue organizations, shelter organizations and corporations. She has also been an Adjunct Instructor of Biology at a local community college teaching Animal Sciences for the past seven years and Kaplan University for the past two years.
In addition to experience in the field, she has earned a Doctor of Education (ABD), a Master of Arts in Education and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She has completed coursework in Pre-Veterinary Science at Cornell University, Veterinary Technology at Penn Foster and Biochemistry at UC Berkeley. Drake is currently finishing a second Master’s Degree with Kaplan University.
She is continuously enrolling in additional courses, seminars and conferences to remain up-to-date in all dog-related topics. She has a desire to share her passion, knowledge and experiences with others.