Dogs and Chicken Bones

Kelly Roper
Contributor: Mychelle Blake
Dog licking his lips at bone

Few pet topics generate such heated debate as 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.

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 the 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 and 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 him closely for any signs of distress.

  • Does the dog hack as though he has something caught in his throat?
  • Does his abdomen look bloated?
  • Is your pet lethargic?
  • Is he straining to pass a stool?
  • Do you see any rectal bleeding or blood in his stools?

Call your vet right away 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.

Two experienced veterinarians examining an x-ray image

Quantity of Chicken Bones

Obviously the more your dog has eaten, the more likely he is to experience problems with chicken bones. If your dog has eaten one you can check with your veterinarian and observe him over the next few days to make sure he is 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, he should be ok. Look for signs of the bones in his feces during this time period as you should see them pass within that time frame. You may also notice that the dog's feces appears a white, chalky color. However, if after 72 hours you haven't seen any bone fragments in his 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.

Dirty plate with leftover chicken bones

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 or cooked bones. Raw bones are somewhat flexible, and dogs are usually able to grind them down small enough to be digested without much difficulty. 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.

Pros

According to veterinary surgeon Tom Lonsdale, eating raw bones is natural 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 their pets.
  • The carcasses of low-fat game animals, like chickens, provides some of the best food for meat eaters like dogs.

Cons

According to the FDA, which issued and 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 at 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 dogs like this 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.
  • Making your dog vomit if they have eaten a cooked bone is another common myth. Never try to make your dog vomit as the sharp pieces of bone can damage your dog's stomach, esophagus or throat as they come back up.
Funny dog eating appetising treat

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.

Dogs and Chicken Bones