This is Jack. In a former life, he was a starving stray, running around the wooded mountains of New York, apparently eating whatever he could find. When he became part of our pack after being scooped up by a dog catcher, he was emaciated and ill, and although he has been healthy and well-fed for almost a decade now, his scavenger instinct still holds powerful sway over him.
On a regular basis, Jack eats roadkill, trash, bones–really anything he finds in the backyard or along the sidewalk while we’re out for our daily walks. He knows commands like “drop it” and “leave it,” but sometimes the smell of meat is too delectable to “drop” or “leave,” and in those instances, his instinct to scavenge wins over his training. It probably comes as no surprise, then, that Jack has enjoyed his share of chicken bones, a particularly dangerous indulgence.
While some controversy exists over whether raw bones and the raw food diet might actually be beneficial for your dog’s health, everyone seems to agree that cooked bones pose a threat. Once cooked, bones become brittle, and they can splinter in your dog’s throat, or digestive tract, causing choking or perforations. If your dog ate chicken bones, there is no need to panic. There are five easy step-by-step instructions you can follow to help protect your dog:
- Check for choking and chewing
- Call your vet
- Watch and wait
- Learn and prevent.
If you notice that Rufus has gotten a hold of a cooked chicken bone, the first step you should take is to employ his training. If he knows a command such as “drop it,” “leave it,” “out,” or any other command you have taught him and use regularly to tell him to spit an object out, use it. If he is like Jack, there is a 50/50 chance he will elect to obey (after all, chicken bones are a delicacy).
Even if your dog refuses to drop the bone, you may want to avoid attempting to pry it from his teeth or mouth, as some experts believe this type of action can lead to food aggression in some dogs, conditioning them to believe that at any point, someone could try to remove their food source, and that food is something to be guarded and protected.
If your dog listens and drops the bone, praise him for listening (do not punish him), and immediately dispose of the cooked bone. Next, make sure the area is clear of any other hazards. Consider rewarding your dog with jerky pet treats, but avoid chicken jerky treats as they may cause confusion. How would you feel if you were told you couldn’t eat chicken bones and then were given something that tastes like chicken wings?
If your dog does not listen and ate the chicken bone, move on to Step Two.
Step 2: Check for Choking and Chewing
If your dog is not chewing the cooked chicken bone but is instead it swallowing whole or gulping, this is can cause problems, as the bone could splinter or become lodged in the throat. If this is the case, be aware of the signs of choking, which can include: gagging, coughing or wretching, drinking excessively, throwing up, an inability to sit down comfortably, anxious pacing, and licking lips. If you notice any of these signs of choking, call your vet right away. If your dog cannot breathe, dog owners may also want to take steps to save their dog.
If your dog chews and swallows the bone, and does not exhibit any of these symptoms, move on to Step Three.
Step 3: Call Your Veterinarian
If your dog ate chicken bones, call your vet right away. You will want to describe the situation in detail and ask your veterinarian for step-by-step instructions to follow over the next few days. If your dog has chewed and swallowed the bone without difficulty and appears to be behaving normally, your vet is likely to give you advice similar to Step Four below.
Step 4: Watch and Wait
The next step is to be aware of your dog’s behavior over the next 12 to 72 hours. You may also want to give him a little white bread to help coat any sharp edges of the bone as they pass through his digestive tract and prevent a puncture of his intestines.
Over the next 12 to 72 hours, if any of the following symptoms occur, take your dog to the vet immediately: bloody stool, difficulty sitting comfortably, difficulty passing stool, abdominal swelling, anxiety, panting, shallow breathing, whining, lethargy, vomiting or dry vomiting. Any of these can indicate internal bleeding, which may be a sign of perforation in the stomach, intestines or other areas of the digestive tract caused by the sharp edges of bone fragments.
Step 5: Learning and Prevention
While Fido might want to eat a cooked chicken bone again, chances are, you’re not as enthusiastic. Here are some ways to prevent future chicken bone incidents:
- invest in a dog-proof trashcan.
- keep all table scraps out of reach.
- be extra mindful when you have chicken wings or avoid having cooked chicken with bones in the house.
- give your dog pet treats or other raw bones (such as knuckle bones or rib bones) to keep them busy while snacking.
- maintain a keener eye.
If a dog eats chicken bones, it is not an ideal situation for concerned pet owners. Eating cooked chicken bones has the potential to seriously injure or even kill your dog, but most dogs can chomp up a chicken bone without incident. As for the controversy about raw bones, raw meat, and the raw food diet, that’s a whole other story.
Provided your dog chews the bone adequately, chances are the pieces will be small enough for him to safely pass without any problems. That said, do your best to prevent Rufus from every getting a hold of a cooked chicken bone, as prevention is the surest form of protection. Remember, a good boy deserves a raw meaty bone to chew on every now and then, just don’t share your chicken wings.