So you’ve googled “My dog ate chicken bones” and you are worried sick. I completely understand.
First things first.
A clear head will help you understand all the relevant information and make the best decisions, and chances are your pooch is going to be fine.
Look at your dog
Is he gagging or choking? If yes, can you see the bone in his throat and remove it safely?
If not, get on the phone to your veterinarian. Let him know you are on the way, stop reading this, and get the dog to the vet.
In most instances, thankfully, your gastronomically curious pup is not gagging or choking.
More often than not the bone is now sitting happily in your dog’s stomach. And of course that is still a worry, because we’ve all heard that “Dogs should NEVER eat chicken bones!” (more of that in a moment).
Look at your dog again
Is he looking back at you with his head tilted to one side, licking his lips as he remembers the pleasure of swallowing the remains of your roast dinner?
Is he wearing his normal cheeky grin, tail wagging vigorously?
If your pup is acting much like himself then the bone is likely already well on it’s way to his stomach.
But you are still going to have the concerns of any good pet parent, right?
Good news is, if all appears fine you have lots of time.
My dog ate chicken bones. What happens next?
Once ingested there are only three ways the bone will leave your pup’s system.
Firstly, he may vomit up the bone. Happily this is unlikely and you should never try to induce vomiting (more on that in a moment).
Secondly, a vet could surgically remove the bone via an incision in your dog’s stomach.
And lastly, and more commonly, the bone could pass through the dog via the natural digestive route. Hopefully being digested on the way.
This is by far the safest, least invasive option barring any incidence in which the bone starts to cause a problem.
For that reason, a veterinarian is only going to consider operating if the dog is showing signs of distress.
Again, don’t try make your dog vomit!
Trying to induce vomiting could do more harm than good because it gives the bone another opportunity to damage the dog’s stomach or throat on the way back up.
What you should do once you’ve assessed that there is no immediate danger, is give your vet a quick phone call, let them know what has happened, and confirm that they don’t need to see your dog.
Your vet will in all probability advise you to “watch and wait.”
Let’s just quickly talk about the difference between cooked bones and raw bones because it does in fact make a difference.
Should dogs eat chicken bones?
The answer depends on whether or not the bones are cooked.
If your dog ate chicken bones that were raw, you can probably relax. Many dogs are fed on raw chicken, bones included, and it is very rare indeed for those bones to cause a problem.
In fact dogs have a digestive system that is designed to process bones, especially if they are consumed as part of a meaty meal.
It is important to note however that bones eaten on their own instead of as part of a meal, may be more problematic depending on the size of both the sneaky pup and the bone itself.
As a precaution, if your dog has snuck a raw chicken bone, it may be good idea to feed him a meal so the bone isn’t being digested by itself.
A meal will also induce the production of stomach acids, which will aid in dissolving and digesting the bone.
Also, though it is rather uncommon, there have been instances in which dogs have become ill from ingesting raw chicken infected with salmonella.
The illness mimics the same symptoms as seen in humans including: cramping, fever, vomiting and diarrhea with blood or mucous.
So what about cooked bones?
Many people consider the consumption of cooked chicken bones, or cooked bones of any kind, to be more dangerous than raw bones.
The theory is that cooked bones are more brittle, and will therefore splinter more easily than raw bones potentially causing damage to the dog’s mouth, throat, stomach or intestines.
It is widely accepted that cooked bones are dangerous and because dogs don’t need to eat them, it is better to simply avoid them.
But that information is for future reference. For now you have a pup who’s had a bone, and he does not seem bothered at all. What do you need to know?
What to do if your dog eats chicken bones?
Speak to your vet in case he advises differently, but in most cases, all that remains is for you to keep a close watch on your dog and monitor his poo habits.
You will just need to be sure he digests the bone in the way that dogs typically easily digest raw bones.
Be sure to pay attention for any changes in your dog’s demeanor or behaviour.
What you are looking for, are signs that he is in pain. This would indicate that the bone has become stuck somewhere along the digestive tract or has caused some internal injury.
In either instance, it would be time to go in to the vet.
Below is more information on just when that trip would be necessary.
Should you take your dog to the vet?
There is no point in breaking the speed limit racing to the vet’s office with a perfectly happy, healthy dog who just happens to have eaten a bone.
Provided that the bone isn’t causing a problem, the trip would likely be unnecessarily stressful for both you and your dog.
Here are the signs you need to watch out for:
- Vomiting or retching
- Excessive drooling or panting
- Restlessness and looking uncomfortable
- Tiredness, reluctance to move
- Refusal to eat
- Stretching repeatedly or moving oddly
- Whining, crying when his abdomen is touched
- Bleeding from his bottom, diarrhea, or straining to empty his bowels
- Other behavior that you don’t normally see in your dog (such are growling) and that might indicate pain or discomfort
You know your dog best, and will best be able to tell if he is behaving normally. If your dog displays any of these symptoms take him to your vet without delay.
What if my dog needs surgery?
Once at the vet, they will conduct a visual inspection of your dog. If the bone cannot be seen simply by looking in the dog’s mouth then they will need to take images–typically in the form of x-rays.
These x-rays will then be used to aid in the extraction of the bone. Extraction is usually done endoscopically–using a flexible tube fitted with a camera inserted through the dog’s mouth.
Endoscopic interventions are incredibly successful in either removing the bone through the dog’s mouth or pushing it into the dog’s stomach where it passes through the digestive tract without issue.
It is only if endoscopic removal is deemed dangerous that an incision is made to access the bone. This option is used in only a very small percentage of cases where a dog ate chicken bones.
Prevention is better than cure
The best way to prevent any kind of worry is to avoid exposure all-together.
Ensure you never feed your dog table scraps and that kitchen trash bins are fitted with a secure lid.
Check your yard frequently for foreign objects and monitor your dog whenever you are in outdoor spaces.
Always monitor your dog while they are eating bones.
If you’re interested in introducing a raw food diet, with or without bones, you can consult your veterinarian as well find additional information here.
My dog ate chicken bones – Summary
If your dog ate chicken bones the first thing you should do is remain calm.
The general consensus is that cooked chicken bones are dangerous for dogs, and as such should be avoided.
However, it is clear that many dogs do swallow cooked chicken bones each year without coming to any harm.
If your dog ate chicken bones, then telephone your vet to let them know, and keep an eye on your dog for the next 48-72 hours to make sure he doesn’t suffer any ill effects.
The outcome of surgery, if needed, is often positive and a non-invasive approach is usually available.
You should always supervise your dog while they are eating bones.
Further Reading and Resources
Preliminary assessment of the risk of Salmonella infection in dogs fed raw chicken diets. Daniel J. Joffe and Daniel P. Schlesinger (2002)
INPACTION OF THE PHARYNX, LARYNX, AND ESOPHAGUS BY AVIAN BONES IN THE DOG AND CAT Victor T. Rendano VMD, MS , James F. Zimmer DVM, PhD, Marc S. Wallach DVM, Robert Jacobson DVM, Irving Pudalov DVM (1988)
Oesophageal foreign bodies in dogs: factors affecting success of endoscopic retrieval Florence Juvet, Manuel Pinilla, Robert E. Shiel, Carmel T. Mooney (2010)
“Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats.” Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN; Marjorie L. Chandler, DVM, MS, DACVN, DACVIM; Beth A. Hamper, DVM, PhD, DACVN; Lisa P. Weeth, DVM, DACVN (2013)
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019