Whether something as innocent as a chicken bone can kill a dog is something that can cause a lot of worry to dog owners. Perhaps your dog stole some cooked chicken bones from the thrash or maybe you intently fed him some left overs and your dog just wolfed them down. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana shares the risks of dogs eating chicken bones and how to recognize signs of trouble.
When Dogs Eat Chicken Bones
There are two scenarios in which dogs can get their teeth on chicken bones: owners voluntarily feeding them or dogs scavenging them. Let's take a closer look at both scenarios.
Scenario 1: The dog parent feeds them – many dog parents are unaware of the risks associated with chicken bones. The old-fashioned depiction of a dog holding a bone is really messing with our concept of what is right or not.
Many cartoons and commercials have reinforced the presence of that image in our minds, so most dog parents do not even question bones' safety – they just assume it is okay to feed bones (and they are not to blame).
Scenario 2: The dog finds the bones on his own – or better said, the dog steals them from the table, gets up on the kitchen counter, or feasts in finding the disposed of bones into the trash can.
Risks of Chicken Bones
When it comes to feeding chicken bones to dogs, the general rule of the thumb is that most raw bones are relatively safe, while cooked bones must be avoided at all costs.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. Namely, chicken bones are always dangerous and must always be avoided. Regardless of whether cooked or raw, chicken bones must not be fed to dogs.
Chicken bones are too brittle and prone to splintering. Plus, they have very sharp edges likely to cause tearing someplace along the digestive system.
Basically, there are two main dangers associated with chicken bones. If swallowed, the chicken bone's splinters may puncture or tear the digestive tract walls, leading to life-threatening internal damage. On the other hand, if accidentally inhaled, they pose a choking hazard.
What to do if a Dog Eats a Chicken Bone
If your dog happened to eat a chicken bone, do not panic. Stay calm, call your trusted vet and follow her/his instructions. The first aid for dogs that ate chicken bones includes two steps:
Step 1: Do NOT induce vomiting – if the chicken bone or splinters made their way safely down the esophagus and into the stomach, you do not want them to cause damage on their way back up. Therefore, vomiting must not be induced in dogs that ate chicken bones.
Step 2: Feed your dog something bulky, for example – bread. The bread will coat the bone's sharp edges and decrease the risk of internal damage.
If everything goes right, the digestive juices will soften the bones, and they will be eventually eliminated via the feces. However, you should update your vet frequently regarding your dog's status. If there is any sign of distress, make an immediate appointment and have your dog checked.
If there is internal damage, the vet will have to surgically repair the damage and retrieve the bones/fragments to prevent further complications.
What to Do if a Dog Chokes on a Chicken Bone
If your dog is choking on a chicken bone, follow these steps:
Step 1: Check your dog's mouth – sometimes it may seem like the dog is gasping for air while, in fact, it is trying to get rid of a bone lodged at the roof of its mouth or a splinter pierced between the teeth.
Step 2: Check your dog's airway – since only a small portion of the airway is actually visible, this is easier said than done. However, you should open the mouth and see as far back as you can. If there is a bone within your visual field, try removing it with your fingers.
Step 3: Perform the Heimlich maneuver – if the mouth and throat are clear and your dog is still choking, it is time to perform the Heimlich maneuver. Here is a guide: how to help a choking dog.
While doing this, you need to frequently check your dog's mouth – maybe something came up the windpipe, and now it needs to be removed from the mouth.
Meanwhile, have someone call your trusted vet and inform her/him that you will be coming for a checkup.
Can a Chicken Bones Kill a Dog?
Sadly, yes. Although rare, chicken bones can cause death in dogs. The most common complication that leads to death is a pierced esophagus. The esophagus links the mouth with the stomach, and after the oral cavity, it is the first portion of the digestive system that comes into contact with the bones.
Like any other part of the digestive system, the esophagus is considered to be dirty – it has plenty of bacteria, some are just typically found there, while some others are introduced with the food. Therefore, when the chicken bone or splinter punctures or tears the esophagus, the bacteria will enter the chest cavity and cause a potentially life-threatening infection.
Since the esophagus is positioned alongside the heart and lungs, the bone shard can damage these vital organs once again, causing life-threatening complications.
Is Eating Chicken Bones Dangerous in Dogs?
Not necessarily. Some dogs eat chicken bones regularly without experiencing any issues. However, some dogs develop complications even after one single and accidental episode of eating chicken bones.
This is not about getting a dog used to eating chicken bones. The dogs that eat chicken bones without having issues are, simply put, lucky. Sadly, not all dogs are always lucky.
Whether your dog will have problems or not, is something you cannot predict in advance. Since the risk is still present, do not test your dog's luck and stay clear of feeding chicken bones to your dog.
Feeding Dogs Raw Chicken Bones
As already mentioned, raw chicken bones are generally safer. However, do not be confused by the raw chicken bones dog parents use for their dogs while feeding raw diets. In these cases, the chicken bones are often bones that are ground up sufficiently, thus minimizing the risks for issues.
The Bottom Line
There is a generally preconceived misconception that eating bones is natural to dogs. While it is true that eating bones was natural for the dog's ancestors, it is definitely not natural for modern dogs.
Modern dogs must be fed complete and well-balanced meals. Those meals contain all the necessary nutrients. Bones hold no nutritional value. They are an amusing entertainment form and provide substantial chew time, but the risks outweigh the benefits.
Finally, while all bones are associated with certain health risks, chicken bones are definitely the most dangerous due to their fragility.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.