Have you recently discovered chicken necks for your dog? Maybe you feed them raw food and want to add chicken necks as a treat or even part of their diet? Or maybe you’re looking for a natural treat with health benefits to complement a commercial diet?
Chicken necks are surrounded by controversy, and it can be difficult to find an unbiased, balanced argument for or against them. Evidence for their safety can also be conflicting. So, in this article we will investigate all the pros and cons of chicken necks so that you can make a fully informed decision for whether or not they are right for your dog.
- Chicken necks can be fed to dogs fresh or dehydrated. The dehydrated versions are usually slowly air-dried, but can also be freeze-dried or dried in an oven or in a dehydrator. Beware of dried chicken necks which have been subject to too much heat, as it can make the bones brittle and sharp.
- Chicken necks can help improve your dog’s dental health through chewing. They are also full of glucosamine and chondroitin which aids in keeping the joints healthy.
- Chicken necks are high in protein and high in calcium, but they are also high in fat which could worsen certain conditions.
- Chicken necks pose several health risks, such as choking and bacterial infections. They also might be a risk factor for developing acute polyradiculoneuritis.
- Some alternatives to chicken necks include turkey necks, chicken feet, bully sticks, sprats and antlers.
What Are Chicken Necks?
Chicken necks are the whole necks of chickens, including the spine, trachea, connective tissues and muscles. They don’t include the crop or the head. Chicken necks can come in two main forms; fresh (raw) and dehydrated.
In the UK, the traceability of farm products is usually relatively good, which means you should be able to tell from the packaging from where and what type of farm the chicken has come. Always be on the lookout for free-range, organic, British chickens to ensure they have had the best welfare. At least one or multiple quality assurance schemes, such as ‘RSPCA Assured’, ‘Soil Association’, ‘Red Tractor’ and ‘The Lion Mark’, should have their logos visible on the packaging. It is best to avoid imported chicken, as these chickens might have a lower standard of care.
Fresh chicken necks can be bought from the supermarket, butchers or farmer’s markets. They are available as refrigerated or frozen products, and need to be kept cold to prevent the harmful multiplication of bacteria. Fresh chicken necks have had no processing apart from plucking the feathers, and therefore are extremely natural additions to your dog’s diet.
Dehydrated chicken necks are available to buy from pet stores in-person or online. They are usually air-dried slowly, but can also be freeze-dried or dried using heat or a dehydrator. Sometimes it is not clear what is involved in the drying process, but it’s important you find out before buying a product, because if necks are dried at a high temperature, the bones become brittle and shatter into sharp shards. These shards can then be traumatic to your dog’s insides.
Are Chicken Necks Good for Dogs?
Chicken necks, especially dehydrated necks, provide a crunchy treat for your dog which helps to improve their dental health. They are also great for keeping your dog’s joints healthy.
Chicken necks contain plenty of connective tissue and cartilage, which are full of glucosamine and chondroitin. These act as precursors for joint cartilage and therefore helps improve the health of joints, particularly for dogs with osteoarthritis. They have been clinically proven to improve pain, weight-bearing on afflicted limbs and the severity of the condition. Unfortunately, as with all natural products, the concentrations of glucosamine and chondroitin in a chicken neck are unknown and variable from one to another, and therefore, for an accurate and clinically significant concentration, joint supplements are a better option. In addition to this, feeding supplements, whether natural or artificial, is not a substitute for seeing your vet to diagnose and treat your dog’s joint problems.
Chicken necks are relatively healthy treats, although they are high in fat. They have a high protein content and are also high in calcium. The average guaranteed analysis of a dehydrated chicken neck is:
Nutritional Content of Dried Chicken Necks
52% - 53%
23% - 27%
0.1% - 5%
6% - 12%
And as to calories, you can expect approximately 40kcal/10g.
Fresh chicken necks have a significantly higher moisture content, resulting in a reduction of the other values.
As a result of this nutritional make up, your dog will have a great protein source, which is important for DNA synthesis, hormone production and growth of strong muscles. Chicken necks also have a high fat content, which is a useful energy source for active dogs. However, treats with a high fat content should be avoided if your dog is overweight or suffering from a condition which is triggered by fatty foods, such as inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis.
Chicken necks also contain bone, in the form of the spine. Bones are rich in calcium which helps improve the strength of bones. However calcium imbalances can be very dangerous, resulting in bladder stones in adults, and bone growth abnormalities in puppies. It is a common myth that feeding chicken necks will ensure a biologically, correctly balanced amount of calcium. This myth has been extrapolated from claims about balanced nutrients when feeding raw, whole prey. Nevertheless, none of these claims have been backed up with scientific data.
But feeding the spine does have one benefit, and this is the main draw to chicken necks; it improves dental health. This is because as the bones are crushed through by the teeth, they provide an abrasive action on the surface of the tooth, resulting in removal of plaque. This is a similar concept to that of dental chews, but chicken necks are significantly more natural, and crunchier, resulting in a better end result. In addition to this, they are much lower in calories; most dental chews are between 70-100 kcal/treat, and a similar sized chicken neck is only around 40 kcal.
So, how many chicken necks can a dog have? The answer to this question depends on the size of your dog, what diet he is on, and what sort of health he is in. If your dog is overweight, then ideally he shouldn’t be getting any treats at all. However, if your dog is a medium-sized, active, healthy weight dog, he could have between one and two daily. Remember, all treats contain calories, so when you give your dog extra treats, adjust his daily intake of his regular food.
If you are feeding your dog a raw diet, and chicken necks form part of it, you should still not be giving more than two chicken necks daily. They are not nutritionally balanced, and do not provide everything that your dog needs. Dogs are omnivores, and therefore need a balanced diet of both animal and plant food sources.
So are there any special cases when you shouldn’t feed your dog chicken necks? If your dog is overweight, it is worth considering a lower fat treat. This is also true if your dog has a condition which is triggered by fatty foods. The most common of which is pancreatitis, but also inflammatory bowel disease and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency can worsen with excess fat too. Also, if your dog suffers from a chicken allergy, which is a common food allergy, chicken necks should be avoided. Allergens come from the protein component of the food, of which chicken necks contains plenty of.
Are Chicken Necks Safe for Dogs?
Chicken necks certainly have some great benefits, but there are also several downsides. Unfortunately there is a lot of conflicting evidence available about the safety of chicken necks, so it’s sometimes difficult to know how safe they really are.
However, chicken necks can certainly pose a threat to dogs. The main threat of which is choking. Choking is a reasonably common situation with chicken necks, especially if they are being fed fresh, raw necks, or your dog is medium or larger in size. Dogs are more likely to eat raw necks quicker than the harder dehydrated necks, neglecting to chew properly. This means that pieces are too big and can get stuck in the pharynx or oesophagus. It also means that the vertebrae of the spine have not been crushed appropriately, resulting in them being excessively scratchy and traumatic to the oesophagus. Finally, and less importantly, since they have not been chewed properly, there has been no benefit to your dog’s teeth, which is the main reason why most people like to give them to their dogs.
Choking is also a much more common incident in medium and larger breed dogs, since the chicken necks are relatively small for them. Larger birds, such as turkeys, provide a better sized neck if you wish to feed your dog a bird neck.
Another safety concern when feeding chicken necks is the incidence of acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN). This is a condition similar to Guillain‐Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans, resulting in immune-mediated nerve damage. It is thought to be triggered by Campylobacter spp bacteria. A study by the University of Melborne investigated the association between Campylobacter spp infections and APN, as well as potential risk factors for the disease. They found that 26/27 of the APN cases had been fed raw chicken in the form of necks and wings, and the one remaining case had contact with chickens on a daily basis, whereas in the control group, only 12/47 were fed raw chicken. In addition to that, APN cases were 9.4 times more likely to be positive for Campylobacter spp.
These results seem pretty compelling, but it’s important to closely look at the study before drawing conclusions. Many raw feeders have taken to the internet to attack the research, stating that vet schools are biased towards commercial food because a large proportion of funding comes from such manufacturers. But let’s look at it objectively.
The inclusion of a total of 74 dogs in the study is a relatively small sample size. But in a response letter to criticism about the research, the main author stated that post-hoc sample size calculations indicated that only 14 cases and 28 controls would be needed to make a firm conclusion at this level of association between risk factors and positive cases.
Another thing to consider, is that the APN dogs were all client owned, whereas control dogs were partially client owned and partially staff owned. This potentially adds an awkward confounding factor, since veterinary staff are more likely to feed their dogs high quality commercial food, due to the availability of staff discounts in vet practices, and not raw food diets. Therefore, even though some dogs were fed raw chicken in the control group, it would be interesting to know whether there would have been more if the dogs were all client owned. Nevertheless, in the response letter, it does state that ‘no staff were made aware of the hypothesis associating a diet containing raw chicken with the development of APN’. Therefore there was no chance of bias regarding diet information from staff dogs.
So, is APN a risk for dogs fed chicken necks? Maybe. A large proportion of raw chickens contain Campylobacter spp., but so do the intestines of healthy dogs, so to make the association between the presence of Campylobacter spp. in the faeces of dogs with APN and the fact they are fed raw chicken necks, could be seen as a bit tenuous. Nevertheless, the research was professionally carried out, and there was a statistical significance between dogs with APN, the presence of Campylobacter spp., and the fact they were fed raw chicken necks. So even though APN is a rare condition, it is still important to be aware that there could be a link, and ideally purchase chicken necks from sources which have tested and proved that their chicken necks are pathogen free, if you wish to feed them at all.
Are Chicken Necks Unpleasant to Have in the House?
Compared to most natural treats, chicken necks are not particularly unpleasant to have in the house. They have a low odour and are not greasy or messy. But raw chicken, in particular, does carry the risk of spreading bacteria on the floor, and therefore even though they are not unpleasant, they are unhygienic.
Chicken Necks for Puppies
Chicken necks are not suitable treats or additions to the diet for puppies. Since they are high in calcium, they can upset the balance of what a commercial, balanced puppy food would offer, and as a result, cause problems with bone growth. In addition to this, the bones would pose more of a choking risk for puppies who might not be able to adequately crunch through them yet.
Nevertheless, there are many people that advocate feeding puppies chicken necks to aid with teething. While they would be excellent for your puppy to crunch on to relieve their itchy gums, we don’t recommend it.
Can Chicken Necks Cause Diarrhoea in Dogs?
As with any new addition to the diet, if it is introduced too quickly it can cause diarrhoea. This is particularly true of treats which are high in fat, such as chicken necks. However introducing chicken necks slowly to your dog’s diet just occasionally before making them a regular thing, will reduce the chances of diarrhoea.
In addition to this, most dogs are familiar with chicken as a food source, as it is one of the most popular protein sources in both commercial dog foods and raw food diets. This means that the chances of diarrhoea are much less compared to an unfamiliar food.
Nevertheless, raw chicken is commonly contaminated with bacteria, especially Campylobacter spp., E.coli, and Salmonella, and therefore if it is not kept cool or frozen, bacteria can rapidly multiply and cause gastrointestinal infections. These infections can also affect people so it’s important to maintain good hygiene when handling chicken products, and wash hands and work surfaces frequently.
Can Chicken Necks Cause a Blockage?
Blockages due to unchewed or poorly chewed chicken necks are one of the most common problems that dogs experience. These blockages can be life-threatening. Most blockages occur before the stomach, in the pharynx (top of the throat) or oesophagus. This is because small raw bones, chicken meat and connective tissue are relatively digestible in the stomach acid, so if the chicken neck reaches the stomach, it is usually broken down enough to pass on through the rest of the digestive system without an issue.
How Are Chicken Necks Harvested?
Chicken necks are by-products of the chicken meat industry. Chicken carcasses are usually sold without necks and heads. In many cases, they are either discarded or ground up into dog food products. Since chicken meat production is popular worldwide, chicken necks can be harvested all around the world from varying degrees of welfare. That is why it’s always important to try to buy from a local, reputable supplier.
Alternatives to Chicken Necks
Like the sound of chicken necks, but not quite sold on them? Why not try out one of these alternatives?
- Turkey necks: Turkey necks are basically the same as chicken necks, with all the same benefits, except they are much bigger. As a result, they encourage your dog to chew on them for longer, and if your dog is big enough to swallow a chicken neck whole, he’ll have to think twice about doing so with a turkey neck.
- Chicken feet: Chicken feet have similar benefits to chicken necks, however the bones are much smaller and crumble more easily, rather than scratch the throat or get stuck. They are excellent for dogs with joint issues, due to the high levels of glucosamine and chondroitin.
- Bully sticks: If you’re looking for something to improve your dog’s dental health by chewing, it’s worth trying a bully stick. They are natural treats which will distract your dog with plenty of chewing time. The downside is that they are high in calories and therefore should only be an occasional treat.
- Sprats: Sprats are tiny dried fish from the ocean, which are high in omega oils. Like glucosamine and chondroitin, omega oils also aid in the maintenance of healthy joints, as well as decrease inflammation in sore joints.
- Antlers: Antlers provide an excellent alternative if your dog is overweight and needs a low calorie, low fat option. Since antlers are gnawed on and not ingested, they help provide abrasion to the surfaces of the teeth without ruining your dog’s diet.