Sunday, 28 October 2007

dogs digging to bury bones

This afternoon I was at a weekend craft workshop and spent some time sharing anecdotes about Penny with another dog lover. We agreed that it is quite amusing that our dogs love to dig in the garden to bury bones.

I'm proud of myself that when I got home and saw the hole where my thyme plant used to be, I was still able to raise a chuckle.

Penny got a smaller evening meal than she might have, because I believe that if she's burying her meaty bones then we're feeding her too much. However, I got to wondering if that is true, or whether she might be placing her bones in the garden for another reason. I thought of three aspects: the sheer pleasure of digging holes; the possibility that the taste is better if meat has 'matured' in the ground; an instinct to save food in case of future famine.

At Old English there was a discussion of dogs that bury their rawhide bones in the couch. Everyone seemed strangely cheerful about dogs burying potentially smelly objects under the cushions on the furniture. I guess it wouldn't seem quite so amusing if it were meat that was being buried.

I think bones buried in plain air would rot more quickly than meat in the soil. The other day I was gardening and dug up a whole joint that Penny had buried the week before. It looked awful when it came up on my shovel but when I washed the dirt off and pulled it apart to smell it, it was quite fresh. I took a chance and left it for Penny to discover and she ate it. No bad reaction, thank goodness.

I've heard it said that meat/bones buried in soil don't rot as they would in the air and that this partly accounts for the fact that dogs can safely eat old buried bones. I don't know whether it is a myth or a fact. One interesting discussion has been collected by Mark S. Harris. It's a conversation about whether medieval cooks had a recipe for 'rescuing' rotting meat and whether that recipe included burying the meat for a time. One section says:
As I recall, the recipe is for a haunch of venison, which is a rather large piece of meat. Large pieces of meat may experience localized decomposition rather than general decomposition. Obvious tainted areas are removed and the bones and tissue around them are removed. Bones and connecting tissue tend toward early decomposition. The meat is then buried for a time, which exposes it to various nematodes to remove any remaining decomposing meat (think of treating a wound with maggots to remove gangrenous tissue). After being dug up, the meat is cleaned, trimmed, and cooked (which kills off parasitic nematodes). As long as the meat isn't too far gone to begin with, the recipe might work

It occurred to me that perhaps dogs can dig up and eat bones because when meat begins to rot in the ground, organisms in the soil eat the bad part. But that wouldn't explain the horrendous smell when Penny sneaks back into the house with a disgusting meaty bone from the garden.

At Barfworld there is a discussion of dogs' ability to eat food that would make a human ill.
The presence of bacteria in raw food often worries pet owners and vets. They assume these bacteria will make pets sick. However, dogs, being scavengers, have evolved to eat and thrive on bacteria laden food, requiring them for immune system maturity. Wild dogs eat the gut contents of their prey, and the feces of many different animals. They eat soil, contaminated meat, buried bones, infected meat and so on. These are all a source of microbes and any toxins they might produce. That is why the bacteria in raw meat are of little to no consequence to ninety-nine plus percent of dogs. This does not mean we recommend bacteria laden food for our pets.

Tom Lonsdale, in his book 'Work wonders; feed your dog raw meaty bones' says on page 55:
Dogs, like people, enjoy fermented foods. Bones fermented in the garden bed are a firm favorite - with dogs if not with humans. Soil bacteria seldom give rise to health problems. Although rare, the bacteria in putrefying meat can create digestive upset. Decomposing carcasses of chickens and ducks can be a source of botulinum toxin. Sufferers become weak and paralyzed and need urgent veterinary attention.

A chapter on 'The Dog's Digestive System' is available as an excerpt from 'Raw Food For Dogs - the Ultimate Guide for Dog Owners', by Morgens Eliasen. I found it an interesting read - it deals with the structure of the dog's mouth and the composition of dog saliva and dog stomach juices.

At Dogster Video I came across a cute video clip of a dog burying his bone. It was just like the way Penny does it. We think she looks hilarious when she comes in with a black face after using her nose to cover up the hole in the ground. She generally has a drink of water afterwards and I wonder if it is to wash her face.


Anonymous said...

Yep, Penny, I have buried bones in Mum's bed, down the back of the couch, in the laundry(clean) as well as in the rose garden and pot plants and they do taste much better when "mature". If I notice Mum watching me bury a bone, I immediately dig it up and hide it somewhere else (in case she steals it!)

Johann The Dog said...

What a great post! Very interesting thoughts. When Mum gives me a bone or high value large treat, I run around the house trying to find somewhere to bury it. But then within minutes I'm devouring it. Mum gets a chuckle sometimes out of my frustration in finding just the right spot to bury...Woofs, Johann

parlance said...

Jabari, Penny doesn't like people watching where she buries her bones, either. She is very good about listening to the humans saying 'uh uh!' at every spot she thinks of, and goes off to another, more acceptable spot. Then she sneaks out and buries it where SHE wants to.

parlance said...

Johann, that's interesting. So, you do what Penny does? You panic a bit about the best place to hide it and then you eventually eat it? I was thinking I was over-feeding Penny. Maybe it is just a normal reaction to having a high-value meal?

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