Spend enough time around dogs and you’ll surely see them eat a few questionable things.
Some will slurp up bugs without a second thought, while others will gladly gnaw on the rancid food they find near trash cans or under picnic tables.
My dog tries to sneak a mouthful of mud from time to time, and others will even eat poop they find during walks (or when they sneak into the cat’s litter box).
These types of items can all be problematic, but there’s one thing that dogs frequently sample that really freaks owners out: raw chicken.
Whether they find it in your kitchen’s trash can or they gobble up dropped pieces that hit the floor, many dogs seem to love eating raw chicken.
This can cause many owners to worry, given the obvious dangers raw chicken presents to people. But fortunately, raw chicken rarely causes as much trouble for dogs as it does for people.
We’ll discuss some of these potential issues further below and explain what you need to do if you observe your dog eating uncooked chicken.
In short, most dogs can digest raw chicken without suffering any negative symptoms. So, you probably won’t have to worry very much about your dog’s most recent dietary indiscretion.
In all likelihood, she’ll act perfectly fine and show no signs of being sick at all. Nevertheless, you’ll want to be sure to monitor her closely and watch for any troubling symptoms.
Some dogs may experience minor intestinal disturbances (including vomiting or diarrhea) in the hours or days following a raw-chicken incident. But, as long as these symptoms resolve within a day or two and your dog appears fine in all other respects, veterinary attention is probably unnecessary (although you should always trust your instincts and err on the side of caution).
However, this all assumes that the raw chicken your dog ate was of the boneless variety. If your dog manages to swallow any bones, you’ll need to ensure she isn’t choking and keep your fingers crossed that the bones won’t cause an obstruction.
If you notice your dog experiencing any abdominal pain, if she seems unable to go to the bathroom, or if she appears to be panicking, you’ll want to head over to the vet to make sure none of the bones are blocking up her plumbing. Intestinal obstructions are a veterinary emergency, and they may necessitate surgery.
At the end of the day, the bones are probably a bigger threat to your dog than the raw chicken is.
If you’ve ever seen a dog eat, you know that it is rarely a tidy affair. Accordingly, you’ll want to be sure you clean the area in which she went to town on the raw chicken.
Start by cleaning up your dog – you don’t want her rubbing her chicken-juice covered snout all over your home and family. Just use a little soap and warm water and be sure to rinse her off well (use care to avoid getting soap in her nose, mouth, or eyes).
You’ll also need to disinfect anywhere that may have become contaminated by the raw chicken. Just use a pet-safe disinfectant and plenty of paper towels to make the area safe again.
Raw birds form a significant portion of the diet of many wild canids (such as wolves, coyotes, foxes, and feral dogs). Clearly, if raw poultry routinely sickened dogs and other canids, they’d have probably died off a long time ago.
But people who eat raw chicken rarely fare so well. In fact, many people become very sick from eating undercooked chicken; completely raw chicken is even more dangerous.
This begs the question: Why are dogs capable of consuming raw birds without getting sick?
The answer isn’t entirely clear, although canine physiology offers a few clues. Dogs have a few adaptations that help them consume raw chicken without getting sick, such as a relatively short digestive tract, which doesn’t provide the bacteria very much time to wreak havoc.
Many people also believe that dogs have stronger stomach acid (that is, their stomach acids have lower pH values than human stomach acid does) too.
And while stronger stomach acids may be able to kill bacteria more effectively than weaker stomach acids, the pH of your dog’s stomach acid varies wildly, depending on how recently he’s eaten and several other factors. So, don’t automatically assume your dog’s stomach acid will eliminate all threats.
Dogs also have different bacteria living in their intestinal tracts than humans do, which may provide them with additional protection. These beneficial bacteria may be able to outcompete pathogenic bacteria, thereby neutralizing the threat and minimizing any negative symptoms.
Nevertheless, some dogs – particularly those who are old, young, or sick – can become unwell (sometimes seriously so) after eating raw chicken. So, you’ll just need to watch your dog and be ready to seek veterinary assistance if he becomes ill.
Over the last decade or so, a number of owners have begun to feed their dogs raw chicken as a matter of practice. However, this is a very risky strategy, which the AVMA and CDC both strongly discourage.
Part of the reason they do so relates to the increased risk this practice presents to dog owners.
Cooking chicken dinner for your family is one thing, but handling raw meat on a regular basis is risky business. Any time you feed your dog, you’ll be slinging bacteria-laden chicken juice around your kitchen, which will eventually catch up with you and cause cross-contamination problems.
Even if you manage to maintain strict food-safety practices, your dog will also end up spreading raw chicken juices around your house. Do you really want your dog licking and slobbering on you or your kids right after eating raw chicken?
But aside from the risk raw chicken poses to the humans in your house, it can make your dog sick too – even if this doesn’t happen very often.
If you feed 100 dogs a plate full of raw chicken, most would probably digest it without problem and feel just fine. But, some percentage of these dogs are likely to get sick. Most of these will probably only become mildly ill and experience some minor intestinal upset, but a small number will likely become very sick.
Every dog owner will need to make their own decisions regarding the relative amount of danger they’re willing to accept on their dog’s behalf, but most would probably agree that this kind of raw chicken dinner-time Russian Roulette is unnecessarily risky.
There’s nothing inherently dangerous about raw chicken. The health risks it presents are the result of pathogens that typically coat the meat.
Raw beef, raw pork and other raw proteins are also frequently contaminated with bacteria, but because of the particulars of chicken biology and the typical farming techniques used to raise them, raw chicken is typically tainted with more bacteria than these other meats.
There are a number of potentially problematic pathogens lurking in a piece of raw chicken. Some are particularly common in raw chicken samples, while others are broader threats, which may coat just about any raw meat.
Some of the most noteworthy threats include:
Salmonella bacteria are typically the most notable pathogens found in raw chicken. Although dogs usually don’t suffer serious illness from these bacteria, some strains can cause very severe illness.
Serious salmonella infections can cause the same type of intestinal distress than many other bacteria do, including diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, nausea, and a loss of appetite. However, if the bacteria invade the bloodstream, they can cause septicemia (blood poisoning), which can quickly become life-threatening.
Healthy adult dogs usually have immune systems that are strong enough to fight off the bacteria, but young, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals are at increased risk of serious illness. Some dogs can even develop a chronic form of the disease, which comes and goes without apparent reason.
Treatment usually involves withholding food for about 48 hours and taking steps to rehydrate your dog. In some cases, medications are also used to help eliminate the bacteria. Salmonella bacteria can be transmitted to humans, and it can be especially dangerous for young children.
Escherichia coli (typically abbreviated as E coli) is a ubiquitous group of bacteria that occurs in several different forms or strains.
Several strains are native to the intestinal tracts of mammals, where they often form a normal part of the gut flora for healthy animals. However, some strains of the bacteria can cause severe illness in humans and dogs.
When pathogenic strains of E coli infect dogs, the condition is known as colibacillosis. It usually afflicts puppies, but it occasionally causes sickness in adult dogs too. Symptoms of colibacillosis usually include diarrhea, weakness, rapid heart rate, and vomiting.
E coli infections can also occur outside of the digestive tract. Bladder infections, for example, are often caused by various E coli strains. People can become seriously ill from E coli infections, so it is important to practice good hygiene if your dog exhibits any symptoms of an infection.
Campylobacter bacteria can cause relatively serious illness in people and it can occasionally make dogs feel pretty terrible too. However, it doesn’t usually sicken dogs as often as some other bacteria.
Many dogs actually test positive for the Campylobacter bacteria without displaying any obvious signs of illness. However, even though dogs rarely become seriously ill, they can still spread the bacteria around their living environment, so you’ll want to take every step possible to prevent your dog from contracting the illness.
Most dogs appear to contract the illness from infected feces rather than undercooked meat. When symptoms do occur, they usually consist of things like mucus-laden diarrhea, lethargy, low-grade fever and abdominal pains.
Campylobacter is pretty tough to treat with canine antibiotics, but most vets will still prescribe them, as they’ll reduce the number of bacteria your dog sheds into the environment.
Although raw chicken probably won’t make your dog sick, it’s never a bad idea to contact your vet after catching your dog munching on uncooked meat.
Most vets will probably advise you to take a wait-and-see approach, telling you to look out for a few troubling symptoms. If you note any of the following, you’ll want to seek immediate veterinary assistance:
Note: If you are unsure how to proceed and can’t get in touch with your vet, you could consider using JustAnswer – a service that connects you directly with online veterinarians who you can live chat with to explain your pet’s potential problem.
Has your dog ever eaten raw chicken? I’ve had more than one pup help themselves to a bit of raw poultry, but none have ever seemed to suffer ill effects after doing so.
If I cook some chicken and it turns out a little undercooked, I’ll toss a bite or two to my pooch without worrying. I wouldn’t give her a significant quantity of raw chicken, but I don’t worry about feeding my 90-pound pup an ounce or so from time to time.
Let us know your experiences in the comments below!
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.