Dogs and bones go together, right? Unfortunately, not always! Since my partner and I are vegetarians, my dogs don’t come in contact with a lot of bones at home. But living in NYC means coming across discarded chicken bones on sidewalks. One of the first things I teach any dog entering my life is “leave it” and “drop it.” But what happens if training fails and your dog eats a chicken bone? I spoke with Emmy-award winning veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber about the dangers of chicken bones and what to do if your dog ate a chicken bone.
What to do if you dog ate a chicken bone
If your dog ate a chicken bone, contact your vet immediately. Your vet will tell you if your dog needs to go to the clinic. Dr. Werber also recommends “feeding the dog something very bulky like bread to cover around the sharp edges, and it will begin to soften. Also, the digestive juices do a wonderful job softening the object even more, getting the bone to go through the intestines and out the other end.”
Dr. Werber advises that you shouldn’t induce vomiting if your dog ate a chicken bone. “Once a bone gets safely down the esophagus and into the stomach, we do not recommend having the dog throw it up because we don’t want to risk a sharp sliver of bone cutting the esophagus on the way up and out,” he explains.
While it’s scary to realize that your dog ate a chicken bone, it’s likely that your dog will be okay if he didn’t choke while eating the bone. “In most cases, the bone will be eliminated safely through the intestines,” Dr. Werber explains. “In the rare instance that surgery is required, it is preferable and safer to retrieve bones from within the stomach as opposed to in the esophagus. However, these surgeries are not often needed.”
Wait — Why are chicken bones bad for dogs in the first place?
Unlike the large, hard bones many of us buy for our dogs to chew “chicken bones are very soft and often leave very sharp edges when broken,” Dr. Werber says. This is what makes them especially dangerous for dogs. If your dog ate a chicken bone, he “run[s] the risk of tearing the esophagus or tearing somewhere along the intestinal tract, ” Dr. Werber says. This is why it’s so important to make sure dogs don’t have access to chicken bones.
The difference between safe and unsafe bones for dogs
Most bones are actually fairly risky for dogs. Although frequently marketed to dog parents, even beef bones aren’t always safe. “[They] tend to be a bit safer than chicken bones in the sense [that] they usually can’t break them down to create a sharp edge,” Dr. Werber advises. “However, if one gets small enough to be swallowed, it becomes a choking hazard.”
Beyond the risk of choking, Dr. Werber also warns that “the bone marrow has high fat content, so dogs love it, but too much of it can create the risk for pancreatitis.”
There is also a risk of dogs becoming injured on bones. “Knuckle bones, that have a hollow center like a donut, can wrap around the lower jaw and get stuck,” Dr. Werber explains. “Also, rib bones can often get stuck on the roof of the mouth between the molar teeth”
So, Dr. Werber advises that dogs stay away from all-natural bones. “The best kinds of bones to give a dog are the ones manufactured for dogs to be eaten, such as Dreambones or Smartbones,” he says. “These bones are made of chicken and vegetables and are fully digestible, so you don’t have to worry about the hazards.”
First aid for a choking dog
Let’s say your dog ate a chicken bone … and he begins to choke on it. In this situation, it could be up to you to save your dog’s life. “Choking dogs are treated very similarly to humans who are choking,” Dr. Werber says.
Here are his step-by-step instructions for how to help a choking dog:
- “You want to first check the airway. You will need to open the mouth, cup your index finger (for smaller dogs, use your pinky) and go to the back of the throat to feel if there might be something obstructing the airway.”
- “If that fails and the pet is still struggling to breathe, you need to perform the Heimlich maneuver. The goal is to give a sharp burst of pressure onto the chest wall to dislodge anything blocking the airway. In checking for obstructions, you may feel little bones in the throat area. [These] are normal and known as cartilage bones; don’t pull those out. You can get behind the dog, wrap your arms around the dog’s chest, like a bear hug from behind, and bring your hands together at the xiphoid process (the point just below the end of the sternum) and then, give a really quick pull toward you through the dog. The technique is similar to performing the Heimlich maneuver on a human.”
- “As you are doing this, it is important to continually check the mouth because you may be getting something out from the trachea and it’s important to remove what’s coming up.”
Other tips on first aid for dogs:
Whether you are a pet professional or a pet parent, you can take classes in pet first aid and CPR from The Pet Health and Safety Coach Arden Moore. Sign up for classes at Pet First Aid 4 U. Or you can sign up for CPR classes at your local Red Cross.
Originally published in 2018.
Top photograph: simonmayer/Getty Images