A Guide To Ox Hearts for Dogs (by Jo the Vet)

hearts for dogs

Are you looking for a new, nutritious treat for your dog? Or maybe you’re exploring natural feeding options, such as raw food diets? Ox hearts might be worth considering for your dog.

But maybe you’re wondering about the benefits and the risks of ox hearts? And in what ways can they be prepared? Here we will discuss the answers to all these questions and more.

Key Facts

  • Ox hearts can be fed as fresh, as part of a raw food based diet, or dehydrated to form jerky or training bites.
  • Ox hearts are high in protein, and rich in many minerals and vitamins, many of which boost your dog’s immunity.
  • Ox hearts are very rich and can cause diarrhoea if introduced to your dog’s diet too quickly.
  • Some alternatives to ox hearts include ox liver, beef tendons and chicken hearts.

What Are Ox Hearts?

Ox hearts are by-products from cows which have been slaughtered for meat. In some areas of the world, they are considered delicacies, however in the UK they are often used in dog food or even discarded.

You can buy ox hearts in a variety of different forms. Your butcher is likely to have some fresh ones in his cold storage, which if you ask him nicely, he might cut up into chunks for you. This is the most popular option for if you want to feed your dog a raw diet or make your own treats. If you are feeding ox hearts as part of a raw diet, some people categorise them as offal, and others as muscle meat. Even though a heart isn’t exactly offal, as it isn’t a secreting organ, it should be fed like offal and not muscle, as it is extremely rich. In other words, a raw diet should consist of no more than 10% offal and the remaining amount should be meat, bones, grains and vegetables. Heart shouldn’t take up more than 10% of the diet, like offal, but it doesn’t have to comprise of the offal portion.

However, you can also buy dehydrated ox hearts, in the form of training treats or jerky strips, which can be enjoyed by both raw fed and commercially fed dogs. Dehydrated ox hearts are usually air-dried without smoking over many hours to remove all the moisture. You can easily make them yourself in a dehydrator. This way you can ensure that you have sourced an ox heart from a local, organic farm, to ensure the best welfare. Once dehydrated, they become hard and chewy, making them into long-lasting enjoyable treats for your dog.

One of the many benefits of ox hearts is that they are very nutritious. They are high in protein, low to medium in fat content, and full of vitamins and minerals. Of those minerals and vitamins, it is a particularly good source of coenzyme Q10, zinc, selenium and phosphorus. 

So what does this mean for your dog? Dogs thrive from a nutritionally balanced, high-protein diet. Protein is important for strengthening muscles, building DNA and producing enzymes and hormones. It is an essential nutrient which must be gained from the diet.

Vitamins and minerals are also essential. Zinc improves the immune system. Selenium is used for DNA production, thyroid gland function and acts as an anti-oxidant. Phosphorus plays an important role in the formation of bones, as well as the growth and repair of body tissues. And coenzyme Q10 is neither a mineral or vitamin, but a compound which acts as an anti-oxidant that fights free radicals, potentially preventing cancer and improving immunity. It is also used for growth and maintenance of the body.

The nutritional constituents of ox heart vary widely, especially between raw and dehydrated products. An approximate guaranteed analysis looks something like this:

Dehydrated

Fresh

Protein %

65

25

Fat %

12

6

Fibre %

2

1

Moisture %

10

75

Calories kcal/kg

4000

1150 

Note: The percentages don’t add up to 100% as they are averages from multiple sources of data.

As you can see from the figures, fresh raw heart contains a significant amount of moisture, meaning you need to feed a lot less dehydrated heart to give your dog the same amount of protein. It’s also important to note that you can easily, and quickly, give your dog a lot of calories with dehydrated heart (or any dehydrated food for that matter). Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean it’s not healthy. It just needs to be fed in moderation, especially since it is also a very rich organ meat.

Not only are ox hearts healthy, but they also provide other benefits. The dehydrated jerky-style ox heart requires a bit of chewing time before it can be swallowed. This is perfect if you need your dog to be distracted for a short period of time. It won’t keep him busy for hours, but it might keep him going for a few minutes; enough time for you to slip out the door without him noticing! 

Dehydrated heart is also excellent as a training treat, as it can be cut up into nutritious bites which are high reward. Dogs love the taste of heart, and you can feel more relaxed about giving your dog a healthy treat, rather than commercially produced training treats with questionable ingredients lists.

So, how much ox heart can your dog have? That depends on how you are feeding ox heart and what size dog you have. An ideal weight dog being fed a raw food diet should receive a total of 2-3% of their bodyweight in raw food. This includes muscles, bones and organs. Of this total, ox heart shouldn’t constitute more than about 10% of it. However, dogs should be introduced very slowly to ox heart as part of their diet, as it is extremely rich.

You should also be careful about introducing dehydrated ox heart as a treat to your dog. Even though your dog is likely to want to eat the whole packet at once, introducing it too fast will result in a gut upset. Instead, initially save it for special occasions, or only for training, making it even more rewarding. Once your dog is used to it and has not shown any side effects, you can give a piece of jerky several times a week, or a few training treats daily.

Are Ox Hearts Safe for Dogs?

The most common associated side effect when it comes to feeding ox heart is diarrhoea. Ox heart is extremely rich, and can make your dog’s stools become very loose. Therefore, introducing it slowly helps to mitigate this risk.

In addition to that, all raw meat has the potential to contain parasites and bacteria. Dehydrated ox heart has been dried at a temperature which kills these, but feeding fresh ox heart carries this risk. It is advisable to deep freeze ox heart for a few days before thawing to feed, as this kills many of these pathogens. You can also reduce your risk by purchasing ox heart from a reliable source where you can be confident that the cow was healthy and the heart has been kept cold in a hygienic environment. Nevertheless, when handling raw meat and offal, regardless of how well it has been sourced, always ensure you clean the environment where it was handled, as well as your hands, thoroughly.

Are Ox Hearts Unpleasant to Have in the House?

Ox hearts do have a distinct smell to them, but they won’t drive you out the house like many offal foods. Dehydrated ox heart treats are not particularly unpleasant to have in the house, as they don’t make a mess. Raw heart you might want to feed outside though, as raw food on your floor is not only messy but also unhygienic.

Ox Hearts for Puppies

Ox heart can be fed to any dog of any age with a few caveats. Dehydrated ox heart training treats are absolutely perfect to train your puppy with, and he’s sure to go crazy for them. You can also occasionally give your puppy some ox heart jerky as a special treat to chew on to soothe those irritating teething gums.

However, we do not recommend feeding raw food diets to puppies, especially ones that contain ox heart as a major food source. Puppies need a fine balance of calcium and phosphorus in their diets. An imbalance can result in life-changing bone development abnormalities. It is extremely easy to upset the fine balance of these minerals, especially by feeding raw heart, as it is high in phosphorus. Therefore, it’s best to stick to nutritionally balanced commercial puppy foods, until at least your puppy is fully grown.

FAQs

Can Ox Hearts Cause Diarrhoea in Dogs?

Ox hearts commonly cause diarrhoea due to how rich they are. It is recommended that ox hearts are introduced gradually to your dog’s diet to ensure they don’t upset his stomach.

In addition to that, contaminated raw ox heart can cause bacterial or parasitic infections which could also cause a gastrointestinal upset. Ensuring the heart has been frozen and then thawed, and kept cold at all times can help reduce the chances of this. 

If your dog develops severe diarrhoea after eating ox heart, it’s important to discuss it with your vet.

Can Ox Hearts Cause a Blockage?

Ox hearts don’t carry the risk of causing blockages because they are completely digestible in the stomach. They are also relatively easy to chew and not hard or sharp like bone can be.

How are Ox Hearts Harvested?

Ox hearts are by-products of the meat industry, and are often considered waste products. Sometimes they are thrown away, while other times they are made into dog food. But in general, using a heart ensures a nutritious part of the cow doesn’t go to waste.

The beef industry can vary in husbandry types and welfare, so be careful to only purchase free-range organic ox heart to ensure that the cow has been treated well and the meat is not full of antibiotics and hormones.

Alternatives to Ox Hearts

Thinking about ox hearts but not quite sold on them yet? Why not try one of these alternatives?

  • Ox liver: Like ox heart, liver is a nutritious organ which can be fed raw or dehydrated to form jerky or training bites. It is high in minerals and vitamins, however cannot be fed as regularly due to the very high vitamin A content.
  • Beef tendons: If you’re looking for a healthy chew treat, tendons provide a perfect alternative to ox heart jerky. They last a bit longer, and provide other benefits too, such as improving dental health and improving joint health.
  • Chicken hearts: Chicken hearts pack in plenty of nutrients, just like ox hearts do. They are perfect for little dogs, and can be fed raw or boiled as part of a meal. However, they won’t last more than a mouthful for larger dogs.

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