Can Dogs Eat Chicken Bones?

The one piece of advice humans consistently hear is: eat less processed food, eat more fresh food. Yet we pour dry and canned junk into our best friends’ bowls daily and expect no health consequences.

The fact there is any confusion at all around the question “can dogs eat raw chicken bones?” is revealing. That so many owners are left to wonder “Is raw chicken bad for dogs?” shows how far we’ve strayed from a natural canine diet.

So, can dogs eat bones from chicken? Yes, dogs can eat chicken bones — as long as they are raw.

In the wild, dogs consume loads of raw, meaty bones.

Dogs should never eat cooked bones.

Cooked bones for dogs are a disaster. Why? Because cooked bones can splinter and cause gut perforations.

This post is for general informational and educational purposes only. I encourage readers to see my full disclaimer here.

What do dogs eat in the wild?

A dog’s natural diet, the one it has evolved to thrive on, is primarily what? Whole animal carcasses. Raw ones.

Is raw meat good for dogs? Unquestionably, yes. It’s the healthiest food for dogs.

Benefits of raw chicken bones for dogs

“Most of the disease problems we vets see are caused by only one thing – poor nutrition.”

That’s what Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst says in his bestselling 1993 book Give Your Dog a Bone. It’s an easy read and a great guide to raw feeding for dogs — not only what to do, but why. Besides being a vet, Dr Billinghurst breeds great danes and rottweilers.

He recommends feeding 60% raw meaty bones, which he says are a complete food for dogs.

“When I began feeding my dogs this way about nine years ago, I was amazed at how well they did. I found that most dogs could eat practically one hundred percent raw meaty bones and remain in perfect health.”

Can puppies eat chicken bones too?

Dr Billinghurst describes raw chicken carcasses as an excellent raw meaty bone. In fact, the first solid food he feeds puppies is minced chicken wings and necks.

He says raw meaty bones have an excellent balance of essential amino acids. Dogs cannot suffer mineral imbalances when bones comprise the bulk of the diet.

In addition, chicken frames are readily available and very affordable.

But is it safe for dogs to eat raw chicken?

I hear what you’re thinking. I have been there. You’re wondering: what about the bacteria?

Here’s the deal.

Dogs in the wild eat raw meat all the time. This is worth repeating. They are meant to eat raw meat. It is their biologically-appropriate diet. Canine stomach acidity means the bacteria normally found in raw meat pose no problem.

For your domestic dog, do your best to source human-grade raw meat from a reputable butcher. This way you minimize the chances of poor food handling practices introducing any bacteria that aren’t supposed to be there.

Research linking raw chicken necks to paralysis

An Australian veterinary school recently produced a scary piece of research. They warn owners not to feed chicken necks because raw chicken, particularly necks, contains a bacteria called campylobacter. They say the bacteria can lead to a debilitating and potentially fatal paralysis called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN).

(By the way, the disease is also known as “coonhound paralysis” because it can occur after a dog gets bitten by a raccoon. No raw chicken involved.)

In the same breath as advising against feeding raw chicken, the vet school recommends feeding “regular dog food”. By this you can bet they mean kibble or some kind of commercially-produced, processed pet food.

Is this sound advice?

The Australian-based vet clinic, The Natural Vets issued a response to the paper.

The Natural Vets reminded dog owners that correlation is not causation.

In other words, just because a majority of dogs in the study that suffered the paralysis had been fed raw chicken, it doesn’t automatically mean the chicken caused the paralysis.  They point out that the study framework fails to answer many important questions.

For instance, the starting hypothesis for the research was that raw chicken was a problem because the bacteria found in raw chicken is considered a major trigger for Guillain-Barré syndrome in humans. So the researchers had narrowed their view from the get-go.

Better research would consider the bigger picture

What other toxins were the dogs exposed to? What was the rest of their diet? Were there pesticides or herbicides in their environment? Were they given chemical wormers or flea and tick preventatives? What about vaccines?

The Natural Vets emphasize that polyradiculoneuritis in dogs, though very serious, is rare. The bacteria in question was found in healthy dogs as well as sick ones, which immediately weakens the notion that it is to blame. The Natural Vets suggest the bacteria is probably only a trigger for the paralysis, not the whole cause.

Here’s a lightbulb moment for you when it comes to the health of our dogs (and ourselves):

There is probably a “stacking” effect when it comes to toxic exposures. This means one or two toxins may be tolerated in a healthy dog, but ongoing toxic accumulation eventually results in disease.

The Natural Vets

The Natural Vets advise not to avoid raw chicken. Instead, they recommend minimizing all possible toxic exposures.

Chicken necks

Incidentally, The Natural Vets do not actually recommend chicken necks for dogs. But not because of bacteria. Firstly, they say the size and shape of chicken necks makes them a choking hazard. Secondly, they say the high bone and cartilage to meat ratio can lead to constipation.

However, this would depend on what else you’re feeding with the necks i.e. the overall bone:meat ratio of the entire meal. In general, you want to feed just enough edible bone so that your dog’s poops are firm. Usually this works out to be about 60% edible bone, the rest muscle meat with perhaps 10% offal but that might vary for your dog, so experiment and tweak until you get perfect poop.

Always supervise your dog eating bones and don’t feed bones that your dog gulps or one that you find give him any kind of trouble.

Vets and raw feeding for dogs

In his 2001 book Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health, British-Australian vet Tom Lonsdale gives insight into the reasons why the vast majority of vets still recommend against raw feeding.

He says he used to be one of these vets until “the hard lessons of practical experience” overturned his faith in commercial dog food.

Initially though, he was trained at the University of London where students were taught that “pet dogs and cats are best fed on processed food hygienically sealed in cans and packets”.

Dr Lonsdale also says something else:

Pet food manufacturers cultivate close relationships with vets, frequently sponsoring veterinary conferences.

Conventional vets are trained in dog disease. They are not experts in dog nutrition

Dr Lonsdale is not alone in his dim view of vets when it comes to giving advice about dog food. Here’s what Dr Andrea Tasi, an American vet with 30 years experience, told the LA times in 2017 about commercially-manufactured cat food:

“I think you have to go back to the basics and ask what veterinarians are taught in school about animal nutrition. And the answer is next to nothing.

“Most vets believe that pet food companies make good products and have pet health at interest. They’ve done the research, they know what to do and they know what’s best. And I bought it hook, line and sinker. I no longer believe that.

“Why? I’ve fed my cats exactly as I was taught. Now mind you, I’m not doing scientific research here. But over the years when I’ve fed my cats processed foods, every single cat I owned developed some sort of chronic illness. And these cats, they’re all unrelated. So what’s the common denominator? What I’m feeding them.”

Vets opposed to raw feeding

At the moment, individual vets like Dr Lonsdale, Dr Billinghurst and Dr Tasi remain the exception to the norm.

As a profession, veterinary medicine has been far less willing to challenge and reevaluate the prevailing orthodoxy. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a vet like Dr Lonsdale (he practises in Sydney) or The Natural Vets (they do long-distance consultations), there is a fair chance your own vet frowns on raw feeding, including the feeding of raw chicken bones.

The veterinary nutritionists based at New Zealand’s Masey University offer consultations to owners worldwide. They promote the feeding of home-cooked food to dogs. Their business hinges on the design of custom recipes. They also routinely recommend highly processed commercially-made dog food, but refuse to advise owners on the use of raw diets.

Something isn’t right here

The facebook community Pet Vet Corner, where vets answer pet owners’ questions is categorically anti raw feeding. They claim “the research is entirely conclusive that there is absolutely zero benefit to feeding a raw diet”.

It’s a baffling statement that is out of step with the experiences of many, many raw feeders — and demonstrably untrue.

A 2016 study out of Brazil found 3-year-old Beagles that ate beef bones experienced a 70% reduction in calculus after just 12 days and an 87% reduction after 20 days. Pretty dramatic stuff.

Vets in support of raw feeding

Many reputable sources including the American Kennel Club, the “most followed veterinarian in the world” Dr Karen Becker and even PetMD support appropriate feeding of raw bones.

In fact, there’s an association of veterinarians in support of raw feeding, called the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society. In this position statement these vets methodically counter all the “reasons” typically thrown up by opponents of raw feeding:

  • a supposed lack of documentary evidence of the health benefits of raw meaty bone-based diets
  • fear of contamination
  • risk of nutritional inadequacy/excess
  • danger posed by ingested bones

The RFVS says none of these concerns have any basis in fact, particularly compared to the evidence of health problems caused by processed food diets ie kibble and canned food.

Independent thinking

As Dr Lonsdale explains in his book, if a vet wants to openly advocate the feeding of raw meaty bone-based diets, they have to be willing to go against the grain. It’s no small thing to contradict your colleagues and your professional organizations. Dr Lonsdale says veterinary regulatory authorities have been known to deal harshly with vets who take an independent line.

What does all this mean? It means dog owners feeding raw meaty bone-based diets are basically on their own. It’s quite ridiculous. But they have each other and they can tap into a wealth of hands-on experience amongst dog owners and deep-thinking vets who have trod this path before them and for a long time.

Do your research. Consider what the vets say. Learn from the experience of other dog owners. Educate yourself on dog nutrition and physiology. Think critically about it all. Then you’ll be in the best position to make a well-informed choice.

In conclusion

The question of “Can dogs eat chicken bones?” is easily resolved.

Your dog is vastly better off if you ditch the kibble or canned, processed food and feed fresh, raw food that you buy from the butcher or supermarket and prepare yourself. There is next to nothing to do. Remove the skin, trim fat and feed.

To see exactly how to feed your dog a natural, raw meaty bone-based diet, check out this piece.

Footnote: Home remedy for bone stuck in dog’s throat

Help! “My dog ate chicken bones” is actually a popular google search phrase. So you are not alone. If your dog accidentally eats a cooked bone and seems to have a fragment stuck in his throat, give him a piece of white bread. This is the only time I would ever suggest putting this kind of thing in your dog’s mouth. But I can say this worked for us, instantly. To be clear: a dog choking on a bone is an emergency. I’m talking about when a piece is stuck and causing coughing, not choking.

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