Few pet topics generate such heated debate as to whether you should let your dog eat raw or cooked chicken bones. Some people say it's natural for dogs to eat these bones, especially raw ones. Others say they're a medical emergency waiting to happen. It's important for dog owners to know the dangers involved with chicken bones, whether they are cooked or raw, as even "safe" bones can be problematic under some circumstances. On the other side of the spectrum, it's also important to understand the benefits raw bones can offer your dog, and how to weigh the pros and cons.
What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chicken Bones
Dogs are scavengers at heart, and they will quickly swipe a chicken bone out of the trash bin or even off your plate if they get an opportunity. It's possible as well for a dog owner to feed their dogs chicken bones left over from their dinner, not realizing they are putting their dogs in danger. Young children who haven't been taught what foods to avoid can also feed dogs bones from their plate with good intentions of treating the dog.
Can Eating a Chicken Bone Kill a Dog?
While actual deaths from dogs eating cooked bones are rare, eating bones can cause serious medical complications, pain, and suffering for your dog. In some instances, these conditions can become fatal, such as an impaction in the gut and peritonitis.
Signs to Watch For if Your Dog Has Eaten Chicken Bones
If your dog eats a chicken bone, watch them closely for any signs of distress. During observation, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the dog hack as though they have something caught in their throat?
- Does their abdomen look bloated?
- Is your pet lethargic?
- Are they straining to pass a stool?
- Do you see any rectal bleeding or blood in their stools?
Call your vet immediately if your dog displays any of these signs. Your pet may need an X-ray to determine if one or more pieces of bone are causing a serious problem that requires medical intervention.
Quantity of Chicken Bones
Obviously, the more your dog has eaten, the more likely they are to experience problems with chicken bones. If your dog has eaten one, you can check with your veterinarian and observe your dog over the next few days to make sure they are OK. If your dog manages to eat an entire chicken carcass, it's best to call your emergency veterinarian immediately to get input on whether to bring the dog in, as this higher quantity of bones all at once in the stomach increases the risk to the dog.
How Long Does It Take for a Chicken Bone to Pass?
If you notice no signs that your dog is feeling ill over the next 48 to 72 hours, they are likely in the clear. Look for signs of the bones in their feces during this time period. You should see them pass within that time frame. You may also notice that the dog's feces appear to be a white, chalky color. However, if after 72 hours you haven't seen any bone fragments in their feces, contact your veterinarian as it's possible your dog may have a blockage.
Can a Dog Digest Cooked Chicken Bones?
Although the dog's stomach can help to break down and soften bones as they pass through, a dog cannot completely digest cooked bones. This is why you should observe their feces to make sure the bone fragments have passed completely through their digestive and excretory systems. If your dog consumed a raw chicken bone, and is accustomed to raw feeding, their stomach has a lower pH which means it's more acidic than a kibble-fed dog's stomach and will have an easier time digesting the raw chicken bone.
Pros and Cons of Feeding Chicken Bones
It should first be noted that there is a significant difference between feeding a dog raw chicken bones and cooked bones. Raw bones are somewhat flexible, and dogs are usually able to grind them down small enough to be digested without much difficulty. Instead of splintering, raw chicken bones will break, reducing the risk of perforation. After cooking, chicken bones become dry and brittle, and they tend to splinter as a dog tries to chew them. That's usually where the trouble comes in.
According to veterinary surgeon Tom Lonsdale, eating raw bones is beneficial for dogs. The benefits include:
- Raw chicken bones contain valuable nutrients that a dog can use, and Lonsdale believes raw, meaty bones should be the bulk of a dog's diet.
- Raw chicken, including the bones, is a staple of the healthy raw diet that some owners provide for their pets.
- The carcasses of low-fat game animals, such as chickens, provide some of the best food for meat eaters like dogs.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, which issued an advisory against feeding all bones in 2010, the possible risks outweigh the advantages of feeding bones, and this includes chicken bones. Among their concerns:
- Sharp bones can cause injury to a dog's mouth.
- The bones can become stuck as the fragments are swallowed.
- They can cause constipation and even obstructions along the digestive tract.
- They can cause rectal bleeding.
- They can cause punctures that can lead to peritonitis, a bacterial infection that can be deadly and requires emergency treatment.
Myths About Bones for Dogs
There are many myths that permeate the internet about dogs and bones.
- A common myth is that "pet safe" bones bought at pet supply stores and online are completely safe. Based on the FDA's findings, any type of bone can be potentially hazardous to your dog. If the dog is allowed to chew these bones unsupervised, they can accidentally swallow a piece or break their teeth.
- Some dogs are also possessive around bones and this can lead to fights if you have multiple dogs. Giving possessive dogs raw bones or "pet safe" bones can cause behavior problems, and therefore they are not safe.
- Another myth is the belief that cooked chicken bones are fine if they are boiled. However, any type of cooking method will make chicken bones hazardous, including boiling them. If you choose to feed your dog chicken bones, make sure they're raw.
- Making your dog vomit if they have eaten a cooked bone is another common myth. Never try to make your dog vomit after swallowing bone fragments, as the sharp pieces of bone can damage your dog's stomach, esophagus, or throat as they come back up.
A Word to the Wise
The controversy over whether it's safe to feed chicken bones to dogs will likely remain lively for a long time to come, so owners need to make their own decisions about what to feed their pets. Keep in mind that everything you feed your dog has the potential to become hazardous under the right conditions. Dogs can choke on kibble, rawhide chews can cause intestinal blockages, and some chemicals used as preservatives in commercial pet foods are suspected of being cancer-causing agents.
As an owner, all you can do is weigh the risks and choose to feed your pet whatever you believe will be most beneficial for your dog in the long run. If that happens to be chicken bones, feed them with care and make certain they are raw rather than cooked. You can also discuss how often, and how much, your dog can consume for their weight and energy level with a canine nutritionist along with the pros and cons for your individual dog.