Should I Feed Raw Chicken to my Dog?

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Back in 1993 a veterinarian here in Australia named Ian Billinghurst decided that pet dogs would benefit from a raw-based diet. Working dogs, such as racing greyhounds and sled dogs, have been fed raw-based for decades and he thought that house dogs would be healthier on a similar diet. Thus, the BARF – Bones and Raw Food – diet was born.

Since then, there has been huge debates on the safety of different aspects of raw diets (BARF or otherwise), especially when it comes to bones, chicken in particular.

If you are thinking about feeding chicken bones as a supplement to your dog’s diet, here are things to consider.

The Benefits

Billinghurst first decided to develop a raw feeding plan because he truly believed it would benefit household pets to have some raw food in their diet – after all, they are descendent from wolves, which only eat raw. Even if you feed kibble, which is far easier and cost effective than a 100% raw diet, many veterinarians and nutritionists recommend adding fresh veggies and fruits to your dog’s meal, as well as raw meaty bones, due to the benefits.

Nutrition. Raw chicken bones are full of minerals, including calcium phosphate, which your dog needs for proper skeletal system growth and repair. And, the calcium found in bones is four times more digestible than those found in supplements, so it’s a far more effective way to make sure your dog is getting enough calcium (Stay Loyal already has calcium from bones in the Chicken meal.).

Teeth Cleaning. Chewing on raw bones helps clean your dog’s teeth in a natural way that kibble does not. Fed after a meal, they stimulate saliva enzymes that break down tarter build-up and trapped food particles, which cause gingivitis (80% of dogs over 3 years old had dental disease!) and bad breath.

Helps Dislodge puppy teeth. A lot of dental issues due to puppy teeth not leaving the gums can be avoided by giving puppies raw meaty bones to chew on while teething. They help get the dead puppy teeth out, allowing the new teeth to grow in the right position.

Satisfies the Need to Chew. All dogs need to chew, it’s part of their DNA. Giving them something appropriate to chew on saves your shoes, books and furniture.

The Risks

First, while this is an article on RAW chicken bones it’s important to note that COOKED chicken bones are far more dangerous. Cooked bones become hard, which can break teeth, and are brittle. Brittle bones can easily splinter, causing not only choking hazards, but if swallowed can puncture internal organs and are more likely to get stuck in the throat due to their sharp edges. Raw bones are soft, and less likely to splinter, break teeth or get stuck on the way down.

Choking. That said, your dog could still choke on a raw chicken bone, though most stories in articles on chicken bones either do not mention if the bone was raw or cooked, or it ends up being that it was a cooked bone that the dog got out of the trash or was fed as a left over after a human meal. The main thing about choking is to make sure you are giving your dog an appropriately sized bone. As an example, a larger dog is more likely to choke on a bone they try to swallow whole that was maybe too small for them. It’s also a good idea to supervise your dog while he is eating, so you can notice if he is trying to gulp, rather than chew, the raw bone.

E. coli, Salmonella, etc. Another risk often mentioned are the risks of the dog getting sick from bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, on the meat. And it is possible for even humans to get sick while handling the bones, dishes, etc. This is true. However, dry and canned dog food can also have these bacteria, and many health experts recommend people (especially children, those with low immune systems and the elderly) exercise the same cautions of washing after handling their dog’s food and dishes, even with a commercial dry or canned diet. In 2006, a study was done to see if E. coli and salmonella were more prevalent in commercially packaged raw meat diets vs. commercially canned food. In the 20 raw meat diets they sampled, they found 7.1% contained a type of salmonella and 59.6% contained E. coli bacteria. The study found E. coli in 100% of the commercially processed, cooked foods during one of the four sampling periods and in one commercial dry food.

Acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN). APN is a rare inflammatory condition where the back end of the dog becomes weak, eventually becoming paralyzed. It can move into the front of the dog, including legs, head and neck. Dogs can die from APN should their chest become paralyzed. However, with treatment, most dogs recover in about six months. In the United States, it’s referred to as “coonhound paralysis” because it was believed to be contracted through racoon saliva originally. Though many cases have been found where dogs did not have contact with raccoons, the term is still used.

The University of Melbourne has been working on what causes APN. Matthais el Chevoir, chief investigator on the project at the University says they see about 30 cases a year, with 3 in 10 not recovering. The University has been working on whether dogs fed raw chicken are more at risk for APN, because raw (undercooked) chicken contains the bacteria Campylobacter, which has been found in 40% of humans with the same disease (Guillian-Barre Syndrome). It’s also found in unpasteurized milk products and contaminated water. Their sample study included 27 dogs with APN Symptoms and 47 dogs without. They found that dogs showing signs of APN were 9.4 times more likely to have Campylobacter in their body, then the dogs without any APN signs. As a side note, they also found that smaller dog breeds seem to be more likely to have the disease, they believe it’s because dog owners are more likely to feed them small chicken bones, versus other raw meats.

So What’s the Verdict?

Like most things in life, there are risks and benefits to feeding raw bones. For the most part, if you are making sure your dog is eating a RAW, appropriately sized bone and is truly chewing, not gulping, he should avoid any risks associated with choking or splinters, while reaping the benefits of cleaner teeth and stronger bones.

Salmonella and Camplyobacter are bacteria found everywhere, Camplyobacter is actually found in intestinal tracts of cats, dogs, poultry, cattle, swine, rodents, monkeys, wild birds, and some humans.

Salmonella is found on living animals, including reptiles and amphibians, as well as eggs, and even fruits and vegetables. So you really can't escape these bacteria even if you don't feed your dog any raw meat. And, remember your dog’s stomach and immune system is much stronger than yours, they are made to deal with more bacteria than ours. While APN is a risk, it’s a rare one that can come from other sources as well.

In the end, it’s up to you to weigh the risks and benefits and decide what is best for your dog.

Jacqui

Raw Bones. I think depends upon the size of the dog. My GSD would literally swallow a chicken wing whole thereby not getting the teeth cleaning and enjoyment benefits/enjoyment of the chewing.

I agree raw bones are good for the teeth and digestion, but I use lamb instead of beef as beef bones are too hard and hurts her gums. Raw lamb bones she can chew and eat all.

Thanks so much for your blog :)

Jane Robinson

Really appreciate the information from this article, and rather than calling it 'fence sitting' think it was useful in giving the whole spectrum of debate re feeding raw chicken. My two standard poodles eat raw chicken wings/drumsticks/frames as well as raw (human grade) beef mince, beef (vertebrae) bones, also vegetables, dried fish and Stay Loyal (in lesser quantities). I feel concerned that there are some risks but every time I see an overweight dog in the street I'm reminded that there are far more problematical issues for our dogs in feeding commercial foods than feeding raw. I'm also very grateful that there are good products like Stay Loyal out there.

RobertJane Robinson

Thank you Jane, and yes, having an overweight dog is a guaranteed way to decrease a dogs quality of life and life span. So the most important feeding choice any dog owner has is "How Much Will I Feed Today?"

Margaret

I would often feed my dogs chicken necks, then, after eating them for years, my Dalmatian (at the time) began being sick after eating them. I gave her a few weeks off before trying them again and it was the same result. So now I feed my dogs, Kelpie X; Red Kelpie; and Dalmatians x 2 (who incidentally seem to be sensitive to certain food products) are all able to eat them without any problems, Chicken Wings, or Turkey Wings, or Brisket bones. Turkey wings are great as they are large and need to be chewed rather gulped down and they all settle in for a good chew. Just my experience.

Nancy

Hi Robert,
Thank you for the interesting article about feeding raw bones and chicken.
I always freeze raw bones, chicken and turkey products for a few days before giving them to my dogs. I've been advised that this period of freezing would kill off any harmful bacteria. I do hope this is correct as I haven't had any problems yet.
My two Westies love your kibble for breakfast with grated apple and home made yoghurt.
Thanks again for your informative articles.
Nancy

Peter Gote

I feed my German Pinscher some turkey breast mince with her Stay Loyal dry food. Hopefully that is ok

Trish

Thanks for the interesting article. I feed both Poppy & Biskit chicken v wings twice a week for their teeth & have done so since they were quite young pups, they both love them. I keep an eye on them both while eating them. On reflection, will keep doing soon.

Nancy Shinn

My Frenchie is a gulper so I’ve always been afraid of this.

John

Thanks for that, very interesting article. Good to keep up with the latest developments & research for the well being of our pets.
Cheers John

Patrick

I used to feed my cavoodle frozen chicken necks in the hope that she would chew them rather than swallow them down whole which she did with room temperature ones. Then a vet dental check found that she had a couple of broken teeth and some loose ones also. So now I give her chook necks which have been in the frig overnight- she chews them a little but still tends to barf them down too quickly. Dogs!

Liz

Surely you can get rid of bacteria in meat and bones by freezing for 2-4 weeks?

Sandra Bracey

Thanks Robert for once again providing a well informed article about pet nutrition. So many dog owners are grossly misinformed by deceptive marketing regarding their dogs diet. It's a true credit to you that you continue to educate the public with your newsletters in such an unbiased fashion. It's clear that you have the best interests of the dogs are at the forefront of your mind, a great tribute to you and your company.

Ewen Edwards

I've always been taught ANY cooked bones are dangerous to dogs, so only feed RAW, have seen several dogs die in awful distress with cooked bone punctures. good article. Ewen

Mike

In all honesty I feel no more educated to make a decision than before I read this article. Is this author and article falling in to the recent trend of 'Its safer to sit on the fence and give equal voice to both sides rather than take a position or proffer a view'?
That being said I do appreciate the flow of articles.

RobertMike

Hi Mike, this article is only meant to open peoples minds to what is possible. Whether you feed raw chicken or not to your dog is your choice. I will still feed raw chicken bones to my dogs as I feel the benefits outweigh the risks but every dog and owner is different so I will leave the decision making to them.