My dog ate chicken bones, what should I do?
a) Do nothing and chalk it up to experience
b) Blue light the dog to a vet
c) Monitor the dog for signs of distress and see a vet as necessary
Dogs are attracted to chicken bones like kids to candy. But are chicken bones bad for dogs?
Whether it’s a chicken carcass in the trash or chicken wings in a raw diet, if there are bones about the dog will find and eat them.
If your hound chows down on chicken bones the first thing is: Don’t panic.
Instead, the best option is answer c) – Monitor the dog and if they become distressed, see the vet.
This article is a dog owner’s guide to tell you what to do if your dog eats chicken bones, the warning signs to watch for, and which chicken bones are most problematic.
My Dog Ate Chicken Bones: The Horror Stories
Let’s start with the elephant in the room… or the chicken in the trash can… with a few horror stories of what happens when a dog eats chicken bones.
‘My dog swallowed a chicken bone.’
No doubt friends will throw their hands up in horror. OK, they have a point, there are hazards linked to eating chicken bones. But these are pretty rare.
The potential problems include:
- Gut impaction
We’ll look at these in more detail shortly, but first… take a deep breath. The chances are your dog is going to be fine.
People repeat horror stories they heard second hand. But ask if their dog was made sick by chicken bones and most owners reply, “No.” This is because serious complications are rare. Phew!
So don’t worry, be sensible and follow a few basic guidelines to keep your four-legger’s tail wagging.
Bones can get stuck.
Sometimes they get stuck across the roof of the mouth. This causes the dog to paw at their face and drool heavily.
More worryingly, they can lodge of the back of the throat. The signs of this include breathing difficulties, choking noises, and heavy salivation.
If the dog will let you, open their mouth. Can you see the bone? If possible, carefully remove it with your fingers or plyers.
If the dog struggles, stop trying to help as there’s a risk of pushing the bone deeper. Instead, phone ahead to the vet and then go straight to the clinic.
Sometimes sedation is required to remove a bone stuck at the back of the throat.
When a dog eats a lot of bone, there’s a risk it knits together inside the intestine. That ball of bone then forms a blockage, much like hair clogging a drain.
But the consequences of a blocked gut are more serious. Firstly, food can’t pass along so the dog vomits and becomes dehydrated. Then the stagnant gut contents release toxins, which poison the dog. And finally, the gut wall can die off.
The worst impactions can be life-threatening. The vet will x-ray or scan the dog’s tummy. Surgery may be required to physically remove the obstruction and avoid irreversible harm.
A high percentage of chicken bones in the diet create a hard dry stool. This is difficult to pass and causes constipation.
Enemas and laxatives may help get things moving. Severe constipation can require an anesthetic to allow the vet to physically break down the blockage and give the dog relief.
This serious condition is an infection within the tummy. It can occur when bone shards pierce the intestinal wall, which allows gut contents to leak into the abdomen.
Emergency surgery is essential, and even then, things can be touch and go.
Can dogs eat chicken bones?
With all the horror stories, can dogs eat chicken bones?
Yes and no.
Some bones, such as cooked chicken bones, are more worrisome than others.
Can dogs eat cooked chicken bones?
No! (But will if given half a chance, so be careful!)
Cooked chicken bones lose their natural elasticity and become brittle. This means the cooked bones often splinter when chewed.
Splintered bones are like shards of glass and cause havoc with the gut wall.
Think of a stomach full of coarse sandpaper and sharp nails to get an inkling of the damage done… and that’s not the worst of it.
Sharp shards of bone with pointy tips can pierce the gut. Some even travel right on through into the belly cavity. This causes a serious infection called peritonitis.
Can Dogs Eat Raw Chicken Bones?
Raw chicken bones are more supple than cooked bones.
Can dogs digest chicken bones? Only partially, with the residue passing out harmlessly in the dog’s stool.
In theory, raw chicken bones could cause problems but in reality these are rare. Why is this?
Raw Feeding and Chicken Bones
Should you be worried when your dog crunches down on an uncooked chicken thigh bone as part of a raw food diet?
In theory, there are risks, but in practice there’s rarely a problem. There are several reasons for this.
Remember how those raw bones are less brittle? This means the bones are less likely to shatter into shards. Plus, the raw bones are gentler on the digestive tract than cooked bones.
Another important factor is the meat on the bone. A bit like swallowing a dry cracker with a drink of water, the meat on the bone acts as a ‘cushion’ and makes it easier to digest.
So the safest way to feed chicken bones to a dog is:
- Make sure the bones are uncooked
- Feed meaty bones
- If in doubt, feed the bones with other food to act as a buffer for the bowel
What Happens when a Dog Eats Chicken Bones?
OK, so your dog scavenged a Southern Fried drumstick, bones and all. What should you do?
The best option is to wait and see if there’s a problem.
There’s a good chance the bone will pass through uneventfully. Indeed, for a dog that seems otherwise well, no vet is going to rush into surgery.
Instead, wait to see if the bone gets stuck. When something goes wrong, the signs should develop within 1 – 5 days.
Be vigilant for the following:
- Appetite loss
- Lack of energy
- Straining or constipation
Any of these signs should trigger a trip to the vet.
However, whilst the dog is eating and pooping as normal, sit tight and keep monitoring.
My Dog Swallowed a Chicken Bone: Should I Make them Vomit?
What NOT to do if your dog eats chicken bones is to make the dog vomit. It’s likely the bones will scrape and scratch, causing further distress.
Worse still, on the way up the bone could lodge at the back of the throat. There’s every chance of making matters worse, so leave the dog be.
Alternatively, if the dog scavenged a bone and has an empty stomach, then feed them a meal. Food surrounding the bone may help drag it safely through the digestive tract.
A Hidden Risk of Feeding Raw Chicken?
The safest way to feed chicken bones is with chicken meat attached. But, as final food for thought, researchers in Australia are less than comfortable about dogs eating raw chicken meat.
Work at the University of Melbourne Veterinary Teaching Hospital points to a link between raw chicken and the paralytic dog disease, Coonhound Paralysis.
Also known as acute polyradiculoneuritis, this condition damages the nerve supply to muscles so the dog cannot move and has difficulty breathing.
Although an uncommon disease, of those cases treated at the University of Melbourne, 96% were fed a raw food diet. Of these cases, all the patients ate raw chicken.
Research is ongoing and there’s no conclusive link. But it’s sufficient for those researchers to conclude that feeding raw chicken raises a dog’s risk of developing Coonhound paralysis.
Don’t panic if your dog eats raw chicken and bones, this is a rare condition. All the same, it’s worth keeping an eye out for further developments.
My Dog Ate Chicken Bones! The Wash Up
What happens if a dog eats a chicken bone?
This may depend on whether the bone is cooked or raw.
If your dog ate cooked chicken bones these are more likely to splinter and irritate the gut. Monitor the dog for signs of discomfort or distress. Contact a vet if you’re worried.
Raw chicken bones for dogs are less of a problem, but watch out for choking.
My dog ate chicken bones: Watch them carefully. Be alert for vomiting, lack of energy or straining and if in doubt ask a veterinarian. But paws crossed, they should be fine.
References and Further Reading
- Investigation of the Role of Campylobacter Infection in Suspected Acute Polyradiculoneuritis in Dogs. JAVMA 28 January 2018
- Dog chicken bone horror. Vets Now
- Dog is choking and struggling to breathe. Vets Now
- Exercise caution when giving your dog a bone. American Kennel Club
- Symptoms of an Intestinal Blockage in Dogs. Vet Info