Can dogs eat chicken bones? A vet answers...

Beagle dog chewing on chicken bone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can dogs eat chicken bones? The answer to this question is a resounding “no!” Whether you offer chicken bones as a special treat or your dog drags rotisserie chicken leftovers out of your trash can, eating chicken bones can pose a number of significant risks to dogs. 

Instead, avoid chicken bones in favor of the longest lasting dog chews that are designed for dogs, and ensure that your trash can is secured to prevent accidental chicken bone ingestion. 

Below, we walk you through everything you need to know about chicken bones, including why dogs can't have them, what to do if your dog eats one, and which toys are the safest for dogs who like to chew. 

Why can’t dogs have chicken bones?

Ingesting any sort of animal bone can be risky for dogs. (For more information on the risks associated with bones, see can dogs eat bones?) However, chicken bones are considered to be one of the most dangerous bones that you can feed to a dog. Chicken bones are structurally different from mammal bones, and their unique structure poses special risks to dogs.  

Although the chickens we eat have little in common with songbirds that you might find in your backyard, chickens are still birds. All birds, including chickens, have hollow bones to allow for easy flight. Once cooked, hollow chicken bones (along with the bones of turkey and other birds) can easily break and splinter when chewed. 

A dog that eats a cooked chicken bone can end up with bone splinters in their throat, esophagus, and even intestines. Splinters in the throat can serve as a painful source of infection, while splinters in the intestines can penetrate the intestinal wall, allowing intestinal contents to leak into the abdomen. These complications can be potentially fatal, if untreated. 

Can you give dogs raw chicken drumsticks?

While cooked chicken bones are more likely to splinter, raw chicken bones carry their own risks. First of all, even raw bones can splinter when chewed. Raw bones that do not splinter or break can lead to an intestinal obstruction if swallowed. Perhaps the greatest risk associated with raw bones, however, is the risk of food poisoning. 

One study published in Food Control (opens in new tab) found that over 40% of chicken drumsticks for sale in grocery stores contained salmonella. If your dog eats uncooked chicken drumsticks, they could develop salmonellosis (salmonella infection). Salmonellosis in dogs can cause a severe upset stomach, with signs including vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, fever, and abdominal pain. Additionally, infected dogs can transmit salmonella to you and other people and pets in your home. 

Are there safer options for dogs that love to chew?

Dog on couch chewing toy

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chewing is a natural canine behavior, so it’s important to provide your dog with consistent access to chew toys. However, it’s also important to select safe chew toys that will minimize health risks to your dog. 

Many owners turn to options like antlers for dogs, rawhides, and cow hooves. While these options are certainly safer than chicken bones, they carry their own risks. These chew toys can lead to tooth fractures, intestinal obstructions, and splintering. 

Instead, veterinarians often recommend Nylabones (opens in new tab), Kongs (opens in new tab), and other commercially-available chew toys as a safer chew option for dogs. While there is no such thing as a completely safe chew toy, Nylabones and Kongs are lower-risk options that are available in many pet stores. This is especially true if you are careful to purchase the correct size for your dog and allow your dog to only chew their toys under direct supervision. For more information, see our article addressing the question are Nylabones safe for dogs?

What if my dog ate chicken bones?

Dogs that have eaten chicken bones should be monitored closely for vomiting, diarrhea, straining to defecate, and abdominal pain. Any of these signs could indicate an emergency and warrant urgent veterinary care. You should also watch closely for coughing or gagging, which could indicate bone fragments caught in your dog’s throat. 

If your dog develops any signs of illness, your veterinarian will likely recommend a physical exam and radiographs (x-rays). These images will allow your veterinarian to see whether there are bone fragments visible in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Your veterinarian may recommend a variety of treatments, such as a high-fiber diet to add in passing remaining bone fragments, hospitalization for intravenous (IV) fluids and supportive care, or surgery to remove pieces of bone that are trapped in the intestines. Your dog’s treatment and prognosis will depend on their clinical signs, radiographic findings, and overall condition. 

How long after eating chicken bones would a dog get sick?

If your dog has already consumed chicken bones, you may be wondering when you will be able to safely consider your dog “out of the woods” after a chicken bone ingestion. 

Bone splinters that lodge in the mouth or throat typically  cause signs of discomfort within a few minutes. You may notice that your dog is pawing at their face uncomfortably, salivating excessively, coughing, or gagging. 

When chicken bones affect the intestines, however, it can take several days for signs of illness to develop. Bone splinters that penetrate the stomach or intestines may not cause pain or other signs until an infection sets in, and an intestinal obstruction often is not apparent for several days. Therefore, if your dog has eaten chicken bones, you should monitor your dog closely for the next five to seven days, because signs may develop at any point during that period. If your dog has not shown any symptoms after a week, they probably are not going to have any significant issues. 

Summary

Can dogs have chicken bones? The answer is no. Giving your dog chicken bones can lead to a number of serious effects, including injuries to the mouth and throat, intestinal obstruction, and perforation of the intestines. Keep chicken bones away from your dog at all times, regardless of whether the bones are cooked or raw. If your dog does accidentally manage to access some chicken bones, monitor them closely and contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice signs of illness. 

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.