Feeding chicken bones to your dog

Chicken Bones
By Joanne Blair and Lydia Driscoll (as posted to the Wellpet List)

Hello all,

Its been ages since I’ve posted to the list, but I have been on Wellpet now for nearly a year. I’ve been feeding a la Billinghurst for over a year to my four Great Danes. This post is most pertinent to those of you that feed your dogs large chicken pieces (or any turkey pieces) such as thighs and drums. PLEASE, do not allow this post to start any flame wars. I am not blaming anyone but myself. I would never criticize another’s choice in what they feed their dogs. This is meant to start a calm, well-reasoned discussion, to open all of our minds a little further, and to add another piece of information into our “information tool boxes”.

This past Friday night and well into the early hours of Saturday, I spent in the emergency room of the local veterinary teaching hospital waiting to see if my 6.5 year old Dane bitch would make it through surgery for gastric torsion. Thankfully, she did…I caught it very early and rushed her in. People with breeds prone to bloat, PLEASE know the symptoms of bloat like the back of your hand. PLEASE know WHERE you will take your dog if this horrible thing should happen to you. You literally have minutes to get your dog to the emergency room. After surgery, the weary surgeon told me she was 99% sure what caused my bitch to bloat and torse. Chicken bones. Chicken bones I had purposely fed my bitch about one hour prior to symptoms. Chicken bones I have been feeding her, and her 3 other Dane buddies for the past year. Chicken bones in the form of chicken thighs and drums.

I saw these chicken bones with my very own eyes after they had made an incision into my bitch’s stomach and removed them. They were horribly sharp, not in the least bit digested….the chicken skin was leathery….like rawhide, heck, even the chicken meat was intact. The surgeon felt they had impacted in her stomach which did not allow accumulated “gas” (I put gas in quotation marks as I’m well aware that research has shown it is in fact plain old room air which is found in bloat patients) to escape, causing bloat, and finally gastric torsion. My bitch is still in intensive care, but she is one of the very lucky ones and will make it (bloat surgery and the following post-operation complications are extremely dangerous …. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I remember the survival data is about 60% — that is, around 40% of patients don’t make it — they die.

Now, 3 days later I am able to sit back and am willing to take an objective look at all of the above. I’m hoping some of you might be able to help me out here, sort through the events and potentially reach a conclusion. What bothers me the most, in the “blame the chicken bones theory” is that why, after an entire year of this raw chicken feeding schedule, did my bitch bloat now? If her stomach had been opened up x hours after eating chicken drums and thighs (x being the number of hours after her Friday meal of chicken, that the surgeon opened her up) on any day of the past year, don’t you suppose they would find lots of chicken bones that had yet to be digested? (Honestly, I can’t believe I’m saying this….must be the researcher in me ;-)).

Another important point (I think) is that my bitch is a “wolfer”….she only chews what must be reduced in size to pass through her throat. My other 3 Danes chew their chicken. Perhaps it was just my turn.
I’ve had Danes for 11 years without a single bloat incident. In addition to seeking unbiased, calm, opinions, I do think our incident should be a warning. For the past year, I along with everyone else on this list have read nothing but…”I have been feeding large pieces of chicken to my dogs for X amount of time, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEMS”. I even recall folks stating that their dogs also swallow chicken pieces whole, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEMS”.

In his book, Ian B. says something to the effect “I have observed hundreds of dogs on this diet for many years…dogs that are regularly fed whole chicken’s, WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEMS”. These kinds of statements can create a false sense of security in some people….people only looking to provide their dogs with the best possible food they can. In effect, we’re all experimenting on our dogs with this “new” way of feeding. We hope the risks we take in our experimentation will outweigh the benefits. I’m so very sorry my bitch had to pay for my “experimentations”. In the least, perhaps people who feed “wolfers” raw chicken pieces should have enough money set aside for emergency bloat surgery — my estimated bill is $1,000.

FWIW, I intend to plunge ahead with the “natural” foods for my dogs. However you can bet your bippie it won’t include any more raw chicken bones (to answer the inevitable question that wings and/or necks probably wouldn’t cause this problem — wings, at $1.08/LB are out of my budget with 4 Danes and necks are unavailable in my area. Besides, I don’t think I could even take the slight chance that wings/necks might cause this problem again).
Joanne Blair

I, for one, greatly appreciate and commend you making this post! You bring to realistic light some very important issues. Feeding a raw food and especially raw bones diet requires a lot of relatively intense involvement on the part of the owner/feeder. This list has been good at reiterating that the raw diet is not without risk, but we consider the consequences and accept the risk as worth the results and better than the alternatives. I agree with your statement about those “absolutely no problems” statements creating false security. Only ONE problem would be too many for me since it only takes once (and I have only one dog).

It’s important we continually consider the risks when we feed. By that I mean that we really know our pet and continually watch and learn. Watch your dog and know what kind of an eater each one is. Watch the food you choose to feed.

It took me a long time to finally take the risk and give my IG a chicken wing. I cautiously gave in to the “it’s completely safe” statements and tried it, twice. Guess what? NO problems. She did fine. But I didn’t. What I learned from that brief “experiment” is that my little toy dog is also a “wolfer.” She broke a section in half and swallowed it. The wing was gone in 3 cracks, in 6 pieces. No crunching up the bones here. I took a look at the other half about to be swallowed and it was indeed very sharp. It was not crunched. She digested it just fine but I couldn’t do it again. I wasn’t comfortable with how she ate the bones. I could have just kept on feeding them, because, you know, there were absolutely NO problems, but I think that would have been wrong on my part. My dog didn’t eat the bones the way I believe she should to remain safe. I know lots of people with toy dogs feed wings. Great! My IG will never get a wing again. NOT because there were any problems, but because I think the potential was there.

As long as there are other ways of feeding those fabulously healthy chicken bones, why push the package? I DO feed chicken necks. I watch her every feeding and see she does crunch those up. If I ever feel uncomfortable with that, I’ll quit necks. If I were in Joanne’s position, I’d do the same. There are alternative ways to “feed” bones. I started grinding up the whole chicken (as well as rabbit and lamb riblets), bones and all, to supply other nutrients not in the necks. So I have to brush her teeth every day – big deal. Small price to pay for a safely healthy dog.

BARF diet is wonderfully healthy. I’m convinced of that. But not every dog can do it right. Regardless of what they are “designed” to eat, some do it carelessly. Regardless of others success, as your dog’s caretaker you need to know more than what you are doing, but also what they are doing. Know your dog. You need to know what risk you can tolerate, but more importantly you need to know your pet.
I used to feel like maybe I chickened out on the chicken wings. But thanks to Joanne’s post, I’m happy I did! And thanks, Joanne, for sharing a tough story.
Lydia Driscoll

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