By Richard Cross | Dog Health
Has your dog eaten raw or partially cooked chicken? Don’t panic! This article explains the risks associated with raw chicken – and what to do if your dog eats it.
If you’re in a hurry, here’s the quick answer…
Yes, a healthy dog can eat raw chicken safely in most cases (with a few exceptions explained below). So if your dog has eaten a portion of raw chicken, there is likely nothing to worry about. While the chicken may contain salmonella and other bacteria, dogs digestive systems have evolved to process raw meat (although meats such as pork should be avoided as they may contain certain parasites).
There are a few caveats though. Dogs with weak immune systems may be more at risk. You should also always keep a close eye on your dog’s faeces – especially after eating raw meat – and take him to the vet if you notice diarrhoea or vomiting. There’s also a lot of debate about whether feeding a dog raw meat regularly is healthy (this article is targeted more at owners whose dogs have eaten raw chicken by accident).
Keep in mind that your dog may develop gastrointestinal issues if raw meats usually aren’t part of his diet – especially if he ate a large amount of chicken. This is unlikely to be caused by bacteria though. Instead, this is because his digestive system isn’t used to coping with this type of food.
There are a few reasons why dogs are less likely to suffer from health problems when eating raw chicken. Dogs evolved as carnivores without the ability to cook meat, so their digestive systems are adapted to cope with bacteria such as E.Coli and salmonella. These adaptations include:
It’s still possible for a dog to contract salmonella or other harmful bacteria (see the section below). But it’s much less likely than if a human was to eat the same meat.
In fact, dogs raised for their athletic performance (such as racing greyhounds) have traditionally been fed a raw food diet by some trainers. Trainers call this a BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), as it aims to mimic the diet of a dog in the wild.
Raw food diets for pet dogs are also becoming popular. While there is fierce debate about the health of a raw food diet – many vets think it’s unbalanced and potentially dangerous in the long-term – there’s little risk of a healthy dog occasionally eating raw chicken.
That doesn’t mean eating raw chicken doesn’t have the potential to cause health problems in dogs though – and salmonella is one of the most common concerns.
Salmonella is a group of bacteria found in foods such as eggs, chicken, cheese and nuts. In humans, salmonella can lead to a variety of unpleasant symptoms that can last up to a week – so it’s no wonder most people try to avoid it at all costs.
Dogs can get a salmonella infection – and it’s often present in raw chicken. It is, however, more common in dogs that have weak immune systems (including puppies and older dogs) or those already on antibiotics (as this can reduce the amount of protective bacteria in the dog’s digestive system).
If you suspect your dog has salmonella, treatment depends on how bad it is. While mild cases can usually be treated without a hospital visit, always see your vet when your pet is unwell. It’s vital to make sure your dog stays hydrated while he’s recovering. Your vet may also prescribe antibiotics.
Severe cases may require hospitalisation of the dog. This is so the dog can be properly hydrated via IV fluid therapy. Most dogs recover well even with severe salmonella though.
While eating the occasional piece of raw chicken isn’t likely to cause a problem, many vets and organisations are against raw food diets. Here’s a quote from the AVMA:
The AVMA discourages the feeding to cats and dogs of any animal-source protein that has not first been subjected to a process to eliminate pathogens because of the risk of illness to cats and dogs as well as humans.
They also say:
Cats and dogs may develop foodborne illness after being fed animal-source protein contaminated with these organisms if adequate steps are not taken to eliminate pathogens; secondary transmission of these pathogens to humans (eg, pet owners) has also been reported.
There’s more information about the AVMA’s policy in the link above. But why are they so against it when dogs are much less likely to contract an bacterial infection from food?
Firstly, there’s evidence that raw food diets aren’t nutritionally complete. This is often due to owners not thoroughly researching the diet and what needs to be included.
Also, as we’ve found out in this article, dogs can still get food poisoning. The more you feed your dog raw meat, the more likely he is to develop a food-borne illness.
Another potential problem is the increased risk of owners getting a secondary infection. This could be via the dog’s faeces or just poor hygiene when preparing the food.
As a side note, cooked bones are dangerous for dogs to eat, as they can split into fragments and cause serious injuries to your dogs digestive system. If you suspect your dog has eaten cooked chicken bone, contact your vet immediately.
There are a few exceptions to the above advice. Dogs that have digestive problems or pancreatitis may be more susceptible to health problems caused by bacteria in raw chicken.
Also, as we mentioned earlier, dogs that aren’t used to eating raw meat may suffer from gastrointestinal issues after eating raw meat. This is normal and only indicates food poisoning if the dog has repeated diarrhoea or vomiting.
The simple answer to “what should I do if my dog ate raw chicken?” is usually “nothing.” Dogs are well-adapted to eat raw meat, and most won’t suffer serious health problems from the occasional piece of uncooked chicken.
That doesn’t mean a raw food diet is the right choice for your pet though. In fact, this type of diet may be nutritionally unbalanced and potentially dangerous. It also doesn’t mean your dog won’t get a food-borne illness – it’s just not as likely as when humans eat raw meat.
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Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports. You can find him on Facebook or Twitter.