You've probably heard it a million times before--you can't give dogs chicken bones, but have you ever considered why? Out in the wild, wolves and coyotes, and yes, stray dogs will often kill a chicken and might chew or eat the bones too. If the behavior is okay for wild animals, what is the harm in feeding chicken bones to our dogs? The truth is that feeding any cooked bones to your dogs is something you need to avoid.
Why Can't I Feed My Dog Cooked Bones?
Cooked chicken bones and other types of cooked bones can splinter and break apart causing damage to a dog's digestive system. Raw bones usually do not splinter and are safer for dogs to eat; however raw bones can have salmonella, e-Coli, or other harmful bacteria.
What Do I Do If My Dog Eats Chicken Bones?
Dogs love chicken bones, and they will do whatever they can to sneak one away if you aren't looking. If your dog happens to snag a chicken bone and eats it there are two options you have:
- Take them to the veterinarian
- Monitor the dog carefully, then take them to the vet if they become distressed
A trip to the emergency vet is costly and unless your dog is showing signs of discomfort or choking you should go with option two. Most of the time when a dog eats a chicken bone, they are fine; however, four things could happen as a worst case scenario:
Harmful Effects of Eating Chicken Bones
Chicken bones may get stuck in the roof of your dog's mouth. When this happens, they will paw and their snout, drool heavily, and probably wine or show you other signs of their discomfort. When this happens, see if you're dog will let you open their mouth and dislodge the bone. If the dog has swallowed the bone and it is stuck in their throat, the dog will have breathing troubles and make choking or gagging noises. You should try to open your dog's mouth and see if the bone is retrievable
2. Gut or Intestine Blockage
If your dog has eaten a lot of bones there is a risk of gut impaction which is when the bones get all knotted up inside the intestines and create a blockage. Blockages stop food from passing and cause vomiting and dehydration. The bones caught in the intestines can become stagnant and release bacteria into your dog’s bloodstream which can cause death. Gut impactions can be life-threatening if they are severe and not removed. Your veterinarian will need to do an x-ray to determine if surgery to remove the obstruction is necessary.
If dogs eat bones frequently their stool will become hard and difficult to pass. This can cause constipation and be dangerous if not treated. Constipation may cause your dog pain and eventually lead to vomiting and toxins in the bloodstream. Constipation in dogs can usually be relieved with enemas or laxatives, but occasionally a veterinarian intervention is necessary.
Another risk is that the chicken bones can tear or stab at the stomach wall or intestines. When a tear or hole in the intestines occurs, the dog’s gut contents will leak into their body and can poison them. Emergency surgery to repair the tear is the only treatment option, and even this may not always work.
Luckily these extreme reactions are rare. You will still need to look for signs of these complications to eating chicken bones for 48 hours after your dog eat them.
Monitoring a Dog That Eats Chicken Bones
If your dog has eaten chicken bones, you must watch them for signs of complications from eating chicken bones including choking, blockage, constipation, and peritonitis. If your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms within three days of ingesting chicken bones, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- Choking or gagging that results in difficulty breathing
- Blood in stool
- Vomiting with or without blood
- Whimpering or whining when going to the bathroom
- Hard, difficult to pass stool
- Lethargy, disinterest in play
- Stops eating or drinking
- Restlessness or pacing
- Excessive drooling
- Excessive panting
- Any other behavior that is unusual for your dog
Many people think that they should force their dog to vomit if the dog swallows a chicken bone. Do not do this. Forcing a dog to vomit up chicken bones can be more harmful to the dog than letting them pass. When throwing up the bones, the bone can break or splinter resulting in tears to the dog’s esophagus.
Chicken bones will usually pass within three days, and in many cases, the bones are digested safely.
Helping Your Dog Pass Chicken Bones
Your veterinarian may suggest some natural remedies to help your dog pass the chicken bones safely. First, taking your dog for extra walks during the first 12 hours after ingestion will help your dog digest and pass the content of their stomach. If your dog seems to be uncomfortable or in pain on these walks, call your veterinarian.
You can also feed your dog fresh or canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) and papaya or sweet potatoes. Add Metamucil (1 teaspoon per 22 pounds). Metamucil helps draw water to the stool and make the stool bulkier to making passing any undigested bones easier. Feed the mashed veggies with Metamucil to your dog to help aid in passing the bones naturally through stool.
If you don’t see any bones in the stool, do not worry! Most dogs will digest the bones, and there will not be any large chunks or apparent signs of bone.
Making sure your dog doesn’t have access to chicken bones is the only way to prevent any of the terrible outcomes of eating cooked bones (or raw). Don’t forget, if you are ever unsure of what to do or if your dog is okay or not, call your veterinarian or the emergency animal clinic nearest to you.