Maybe your dog just ate a rogue piece of raw chicken that slid off the cutting board or counter. Or, perhaps you are thinking of trying the growing trend of feeding your pup a raw-food diet and want to try chicken.
We know that it’s dangerous for humans to consume raw chicken because of all the bacteria inhabiting the uncooked meat – but is it unsafe for dogs, or can dogs eat raw chicken? The quick answer is maybe. Healthy adult dogs have pretty strong stomachs, but in some situations can develop a food-borne illness from eating raw chicken.
Find out more about when it could affect your pup, why, and what types of symptoms and behavior to watch for to make sure your furry friend stays in the best health.
Is Raw Chicken Dangerous to Feed Dogs?
In the wild, wolves, coyotes, foxes, and many other animals eat raw birds as part of their regular diet. If raw bird meat was dangerous, these species would’ve been affected, or have died off, a long time ago. On the other hand, humans don’t fare quite as well. Many people get sick just from eating chicken that hasn’t been cooked well enough. You can probably imagine how bad things would get if people were eating completely raw chicken.
Although science doesn’t have a complete picture of why many dogs eat raw chicken and don’t get ill, some theories do exist. For one thing, dogs have a much shorter intestinal tract than humans, so even if they do eat a bacteria-laden raw drumstick, it passes through their system fast enough that the bacteria don’t have time to multiply to the point that they can cause illness.
Some also feel that the higher acidity level of a dog’s stomach juices plays a role by creating a less hospitable environment for harmful bacteria. Additionally, just like we have all kinds of beneficial bacteria in our gut, dogs may have other types of bacteria in their intestines that offer additional protection by outnumbering the bad bacteria and neutralizing any illness-causing effects.
However, raw chicken actually does cause some dogs to get ill, so it pays to be extra careful. If your dog is older, sick, or a young pup, it may have trouble fighting off pathogenic bacteria. If you choose to feed raw chicken, keep an eye on your pet and contact your veterinarian if you see any symptoms of illness (more on this below).
One more thing to consider is that, just because your dog ate raw chicken and shows no symptoms, it doesn’t mean all is fine. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), pets might not show any symptoms of being sick but could pass foodborne bacteria and illnesses on to their human owners.
Raw Food Diets are the Latest Pet Trend
Over the past decade or so, feeding your pets a raw diet has become an increasingly popular practice. Not all new pet diet trends are bad, but the AVMA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) advise that in this case, you could be putting yourself and your family in danger. Using proper food-handling methods when preparing raw meat for your family isn’t typically an issue, but handling raw meat every single day for your dog can lead to less-than-perfect food-handling protocols and foodborne illness.
If you work with raw chicken daily, the probability of raw chicken juice dripping or smearing increases dramatically, and your kitchen counters and cutting boards could become constant breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Maybe this seems like no big deal, especially if you take special care to wash up thoroughly. However, Fido just might lick your or your child’s face to say thank you after enjoying his raw chicken meal, and now you or your child has been exposed to the bad bacteria. It’s not easy to stay vigilant every day, on an ongoing basis.
If you feed your dog a raw diet, it might be fine the majority of the time, or occasionally, your furry friend could experience mild symptoms. But it just takes that one time, when a raw piece of chicken has an overload of invisible yet dangerous bacteria, that your dog can become seriously ill.
One other consideration worth noting is the nutrition profile of a diet based on raw chicken. While feeding raw food may seem like it mimics the way wild dogs eat in nature, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says that dogs can become deficient in important minerals by consuming a raw diet. It’s likely that dogs in the wild get minerals’ from eating things that aren’t being added to commercial or home-prepared raw dog food diets, which could make them actually quite unhealthy for your pet. The ASPCA also states that no scientific evidence exists to support the claim that raw food diets are safe for domestic dogs and cats.
How Can Chicken Make My Dog Sick?
The meat from a chicken has nothing inherently wrong with it. The bacteria that coats the outside of the meat causes all the trouble. Other raw meats such as beef, pork, and lamb also have bacteria on their surfaces, but because of how chickens are raised and processed, their meat tends to have more bacteria than that of other proteins.
A number of possibly pathogenic bacteria that live on chicken also inhabit other raw meats, but you might find a few additional bacterial strains on raw chicken. These include the following:
This bacteria causes gastrointestinal upset in humans and affects dogs in similar ways. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, stomach pain, and loss of appetite. Most dogs won’t fall ill if consuming meat contaminated with salmonella, but a small minority can show mild distress and a few may become very ill. If the bacteria enter a dog’s bloodstream, it can cause septicemia, which is a blood infection and life-threatening medical emergency for your pet.
Treatment for a salmonella infection usually consists of withholding food for 48 hours and providing plenty of fresh water. Observation is key, and your dog should visit the vet if symptoms continue or worsen. Your vet can prescribe medication for more severe symptoms, although some pets can have salmonella infections that come and go for some time. Your pet can also pass this infection on to humans, so it’s best to keep children, elders, and immunocompromised individuals separate from an ailing pup.
Escherichia coli, usually abbreviated to E. coli, represents a group of bacterial strains that range in terms of pathogenic potential for dogs. Some strains of E. coli live in a dog’s intestinal tract all the time with no ill effects. Other strains can cause an infection called colibacillosis, which has some symptoms that look like salmonella poisoning. Puppies get sick with e. coli more often than healthy adult dogs, but occasionally adult dogs become ill as well. An E. coli infection can also cause rapid heart rate, dehydration, depression, and weakness in your pet. Other strains of E. coli cause bladder infections in both dogs and humans. It’s best to limit contact between yourself, family members, and your dog if you suspect an e. coli infection.
Roughly 80 percent of campylobacter infections come from chickens. The bacteria live in a chicken’s gut and end up in its feces, then make their way to dogs and humans via raw chicken. Like the other forms of bacteria, campylobacter can spread from putting raw chicken on a cutting board, and then reusing the board without proper or thorough washing before using it for other food preparation.
This pathogen can make humans pretty ill, and also infects dogs, but much less often. Many dogs carry campylobacter in their system but never have symptoms. If any symptoms develop, they typically include diarrhea with mucus, stomach pains, lethargy behavior, and slight fever. Even if your dog has no symptoms, a vet might give medication to prevent your dog from spreading the bacteria to other animals or humans.
When to Bring Your Dog to the Vet
Most chicken will probably make it through your dog’s digestive system without causing any illness. Even if your dog does show some symptoms, your vet will probably advise you to observe your dog and wait to see how things play out before taking any next steps.
If you happen to notice any of the following signs, it’s probably wise to bring your pet in for a visit:
- Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than one or two days
- Loss of appetite for more than one or two days
- Swollen, stiff, or rigid stomach
- Pacing or other evidence of anxiety or panic
- Signs of abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, or inability to have a bowel movement
- Signs of choking (wheezing, coughing, irregular breathing, panic behaviors)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Can a dog get sick from eating raw chicken?
You wouldn’t want to feed your dog raw chicken on purpose, but an accidental bite or two won’t likely cause any serious sickness. Most dogs with symptoms will experience little diarrhea, then be fine in a day or so. Watch for other symptoms, or any signs that last for longer than 24 to 48 hours, then contact your vet as necessary.
2. Can I feed my dog raw chicken from the grocery store?
Chicken from the grocery store has the same bacteria that you’ll find on raw chicken from other sources. If dogs eat raw chicken it’s not the chicken on its own that causes the problem. It’s the bacteria coating the chicken that makes both humans and dogs ill. Salmonella, certain strains of E. coli, and Campylobacter exist in and on chickens and are the most likely bacteria to make your dog sick.
3. Do dogs prefer raw or cooked chicken?
Most likely, dogs will take any chicken they can get! But to answer whether dogs can eat raw chicken, it isn’t the best for them, while cooked chicken with no bones or seasonings can make a safer, nutritious meal for your pup. Take care not to give your dog any cooked chicken bones, as they become brittle after cooking and can splinter and puncture your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, get caught in their throat, or cause choking.
4. What raw meats can dogs eat?
If you want to explore feeding your pup raw food, some safer options to try include organ meats, such as as as livers and kidneys. You can also feed them whole or ground bones, raw eggs, and muscle meat, usually still attached to the bone.