As a vet, I am frequently asked by pet owners whether dogs can eat raw chicken and/or raw chicken bones. And, in the veterinary consult room with the time pressures of a fully booked day, it’s difficult to do this question justice.
But here on VRV, we have all the time in the world.
So, let’s take an in-depth look at whether dogs can (and should) eat raw chicken, including a focus specifically on raw chicken bones.
I want to preface this post with a shoutout.
This shoutout goes to a Reddit user, whom we’ll call “Rhetorical” (not real name), with whom I recently had the questionable pleasure of engaging in a minor digital skirmish.
If you want to bypass the preamble and get straight to the point, no problem – just use the contents table below to skip to the key info or answers you’re looking for.
But it’s a shame…you’ll miss out on the tea.
OK, so….said user had posted a query on Reddit asking “Why are so many people against raw feeding?”
Sounds innocent enough, right?
In fact, they (gender unknown) even followed this up by pondering “Is there a reason vets are so against raw feeding?”
Aha!, I thought, with a rather naive innocence. A post upon which I am well-suited to comment! I can provide an insight for this person, and possibly be helpful.
Let me explain why I (apparently mistakenly) believed my take on the above could be relevant.
I’m a veterinary surgeon, and studied animal anatomy, physiology and nutrition in great detail throughout my medical degree. Whilst at university, I undertook my dissertation on the topic of raw feeding dogs. And since graduating, it’s remained an area in which I am deeply interested and have undertaken further professional education via CPD.
However. My interest quickly backfired. Turns out it was a rhetorical question in disguise.
It was a trap. An ambush. A snare was set, and Rhetorical was lying in wait, Guerilla warpaint freshly applied, ready and waiting to bushwhack any unsuspecting anti-rawers.
Apparently what I had misinterpreted as a request for information, was in fact an invitation to do battle.
During the following tussle I iterated and reiterated (with increasing frustration) why feeding raw meat to dogs is dangerous for the pet, the owner and public health in general.
We detoured into the link between factory farming and antibiotic resistant bacteria.
We ducked and dived through the trenches of various food poisoning outbreaks, canine and human alike, each grenading the other with numbers and dates.
I cited 15+ individual scientific studies and research articles which have evidenced the known bacteriological and nutritional risks of raw feeding dogs.
My nemesis, meanwhile, provided me with one link to a picture of a dog with really pretty teeth, and another to the results of an internet survey taken exclusively by individuals who needed to be pro-raw to be included in the survey in the first place (highly objective, right?)
Perhaps the most interesting part of the entire interaction was Rhetorical’s take on my qualifications. Indeed, from the get-go they made it clear that they felt I was entirely unqualified to be commenting on the topic of raw feeding.
I listed why I believed I was.
After telling me I have a God complex and a giant ego (charming, and why? Because I defended my credentials?), Rhetorical pointed out that I am not a nutritionist.
No, I agree. I’m not.
But if I was, I doubt that would matter.
Because you see, Rhetorical – like so many with an evangelical and unshakeable passion for raw feeding, the keto diet, cosmetics containing radium, or scientology – was exactly that: unshakeable.
Frankly, I could have been a veterinary nutritionist with three PHDs and a knighthood, and I suspect Rhetorical would still not have heeded my anti-raw blasphemy.
OR I could have been a “veterinary nutritionist” whose credentials consisted of having taken a 3-month certificate with WorthlessCerts.com (not a real site)…yet if I was pro-raw I imagine that would have been sufficient to Rhetorical, to prove my expertise.
Eventually, my cyberspace combatant, my net nemesis, very maturely concluded that they were “glad I’m not their vet”, to which I somewhat hot-headedly replied that I was, too.
Why did I bother, you might very justifiably ask. Why bang my head against a brick wall, once I realised the keyboard warrior reality of the situation?
Because I can’t help but give a shit.
Maybe I know a little too much about the dangers of raw feeding, for people, animals and in terms of bacterial resistance, public health and the hastening of the post-antibiotic era (google that last one, if you want to be truly terrified).
Because I very genuinely don’t want your dog (or any dog) to get sick for no good reason (other than “the internet and/or my breeder and/or my groomer told me to).
Or for you to spend your savings on emergency surgery to fix an intestinal obstruction due to feeding your dog raw bones.
And – probably – because I’ve also always been just a little too stubborn for my own good.
So. Judge my qualifications however you see fit. Take my opinion, or leave it; that’s up to you.
But I would strongly advice each and every one of you to look for the evidence, the science, the quantifiable foundations behind any choice you make with regards to feeding your dog.
Don’t just take somebody’s word for it, or be led into making a poor decision by a pretty picture of some teeth.
Can Dogs Eat Raw Chicken?
Dogs obviously possess the physical apparatus required to tear, chew, swallow and digest raw chicken meat.
Therefore, the simplest answer to this question is yes, in a purely physical sense, they can eat raw chicken.
But really, perhaps a more appropriate question is: “should dogs eat raw chicken?”
Is it safe?
According to CDC outbreak data, chicken was responsible for more food poisoning outbreaks between 2009-2015 than any other meat, causing 3114 people to become sick.
And of course you’d never eat raw chicken yourself…but perhaps you’ve read online somewhere, or been advised by a self-proclaimed raw feeding expert that raw is safe or even beneficial for dogs. The term “natural” is also frequently thrown around.
Let me explain why feeding raw chicken meat to our dogs is not safe, beneficial, or even particularly natural.
It all starts back at the broiler farm from which your humble chicken carcasses originate.
(side note: a broiler is a chicken that is intended for meat, rather than egg production, for those unfamiliar with the lingo).
At one point, that meat was a bird. A chicken, obviously.
It may surprise some readers to learn that Campylobacter, Salmonella and E.coli are all commonly found in the guts of normal, seemingly healthy chickens. These birds often do not suffer any ill effects or signs of disease. Being gut inhabitants, it of course follows that these same “bugs” will be found in the chicken’s environment, because obviously birds poop (a lot).
In the “wild” (not that our domestic chickens resemble their wild ancestors any more than our dogs resemble wolves), where animals are able to roam freely, things stay pretty hygienic.
But where chickens are farmed in large numbers in a small space, environmental levels of feces and bacteria rapidly grow. Do bear in mind that most chickens you buy to eat (or feed your dog) will not have been cleaned out (at all) during their 6-7 weeks of life pre-slaugher.
And flock sizes of 20-40 thousand birds (in one place, at one time) are commonplace.
That’s a whole lot of bird poop (and bacteria) hanging about.
Resultantly, a very significant number of broiler farm sheds have a high level of bacterial contamination.
Doesn’t sound very “natural” anymore, does it?
One study carried out in 2016 found Salmonella, Campylobacter, S. aureus, and E. coli present at very high levels in swab samples collected from around broiler sheds. Worryingly, bacterial contamination was also found post-cleaning and disinfection, especially in shed wall crevices and in drinkers (Castaneda-Gulla et al., 2019).
Given the above, it should be less of a surprise to learn that a large number of chicken carcasses sold in supermarkets for human consumption are also contaminated.
A study carried out in the Greater Washington (D.C.) area found that 70.7% of 184 chicken samples (collected from supermarkets) were contaminated with Campylobacter, and 91% of stores visited were selling Campylobacter-contaminated chicken. And out of 212 supermarket chicken samples tested for E.coli, 38,7% were positive (Zhao et al., 2001).
But wait, that study was from 2001? Surely things have changed?
Well yes, they have. There’s some good news and some bad news.
I’ll start with the positives.
A more recent United States study by Mujahid et al. (2023) tested retailed chicken breasts (on the shelves waiting to be sold to consumers) and found Salmonella in a decidedly lower (whilst still significant) 8.6% of samples, and Campylobacter in 4.2% of chicken breasts tested.
The bad news?
Turns out these bugs have been doing some evolving.
They’ve levelled up their nasty.
In 2017, The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) found 17% of Salmonella collected from retail chicken samples to be multidrug resistant.
Then in 2023, Mujahid et al. found 76.92% of the Salmonellae isolated from retail chicken breasts to be resistant to one or more classes of antibiotics. Worse still, 48.1 % were found to be multidrug resistant, that is, resistant to 3 or more classes of antibiotics.
And the problem with multidrug resistant bacterial food poisoning is that your vet (or doctor, if you’re affected) may not be able to find an effective antibiotic to treat that infection. A very scary thought indeed!
These bacteria can of course be eliminated and infections prevented by simply cooking chicken meat thoroughly before eating it yourself or feeding it to your dog.
But if you choose to feed raw, contaminated chicken to your pet, you risk him or her contracting a nasty case of (possibly drug resistant) food poisoning.
What’s more, you and your family are at risk too: from contact with the raw meat itself; from contact with your dog (especially their muzzle and mouth right after they’ve eaten raw chicken) and any contact with your dog’s poop, because bacteria that go in one end tend to come out the other!
Vets and scientists have been aware for some time now of the human health risks of feeding raw meat (especially chicken meat) to dogs, even more so where young children, elderly or immunocompromised individuals (for example, those on chemotherapy) come into contact with the pet.
So really, given that there is no proven health benefit for your dog from feeding raw chicken, there really is no good reason to be feeding it.
Can Dogs Eat Raw Chicken Bones?
Same answer, your honor: they can, but it isn’t safe.
Many dogs get away with eating raw bones for quite some time before they are eventually unlucky and problems occur. But again, it’s a risky business.
The bacterial hazards of feeding raw chicken bones are pretty much the same as feeding raw chicken meat, as described above: specifically, the human and canine health risk of food poisoning, and an increased likelihood of multidrug resistant bacterial infections.
There are also additional, physical hazards related to the feeding of raw bone.
Whilst raw bones are definitely less likely to splinter and damage your dog’s gastrointestinal tract whilst passing through compared to cooked bones (which splinter easily and should never be fed), this can still occur in some cases even with uncooked chicken bones.
Large pieces of bone can also lodge in your dog’s esophagus (food pipe) right after being swallowed, or lodge in the stomach or intestines on their way through the gastrointestinal tract causing a potentially deadly obstruction. In some cases, emergency endoscopic or surgical removal of these bone fragments is required.
Like most vets, I have seen numerous fatal cases of bone obstruction in raw fed dogs, and it always strikes me as being particularly tragic given that there was no good reason to be feeding bones or raw meat in the first place.
What’s more, the edges of a chewed bone can be very sharp. Cooked bones are worse, but raw bones can certainly still be dangerous in this regard. Sharp edges can cut and/or penetrate your dog’s soft palate, tongue and other oral tissues.
Finally, even bone fragments that make it all the way to the rectum (the “collecting point” for poop right before the anus) can lodge here causing a nasty case of constipation.
Are Raw Chicken Bones Bad For Dogs?
They’re definitely risky.
You might get away with it. Hell, some people seem to get away with it for years before catastrophe finally strikes.
But basically, whenever you feed your dog raw chicken bones you’re rolling the dice in regards to the problems previously mentioned: bacterial infections, bone blockages, bone injuries to soft tissues and constipation.
And whenever you feed your dog raw meat in general – but especially raw chicken – you’re rolling the dice with regards to food poisoning.
You’re also undoubtedly contributing to a growing public health crisis by helping to encourage and spread around those nasty drug-resistant bacteria (via the carcasses themselves, and your dog’s poop), when those bacteria could otherwise be destroyed by simply cooking the meat.
So, by sticking to cooked dog foods you’re not only doing your dog a favor; you’re also doing mankind in general a massive solid by helping avoid the spread of bacterial resistance.
I hope you found this article helpful, and that it helps you make a more informed decision with regards to feeding your canine family member.
More Information On Risks Of Raw Feeding:
- Castaneda-Gulla, K., Sattlegger, E. and Mutukumira, A. (2019) ‘Persistent Contamination of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia Coli, and Staphylococcus Aureus at a Broiler Farm in New Zealand’. Canadian Journal Of Microbiology. Available at: https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/cjm-2019-0280 (Accessed 15 June 2023).
- Dewey-Mattia, D., Manikonda, K., Hall, A.J., Wise, M.E., and Crowe, S.J. (2018) ‘Surveillance for Foodbourne Disease Outbreaks – United States, 2009-2015’. MMWR Surveillance. Summ., 67 (1-11). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30048426/ (Accessed 20 June 2023).
- Mujahid, S., Hansen, M., Miranda, R., Newsom-Stewart, K. and Rogers, J. (2023) ‘Prevalence and Antibiotic Resistance of Salmonella and Campylobacter Isolates from Raw Chicken Breasts in Retail Markets in the United States and Comparison to Data from the Plant Level’. Life, 13(3). Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2075-1729/13/3/642 (Accessed 19 June 2023).
- National Antimicrobial Resistant Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS). Available at : https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/national-antimicrobial-resistance-monitoring-system/narms-now-integrated-data (accessed on 27 July 2021).
- 5. Zhao, C. et al (2001) ‘Prevalence of Campylobacter spp., Escherichia Coli, and Salmonella serovars in retail chicken, turkey, pork, and beef from the Greater Washington, D.C., Area’. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 67(12). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC93326/ (Accessed 15 June 2023).