Can Dogs Live on Chicken Alone?

Dog eating chicken drumstick.
Dog eating chicken drumstick.

Table of Contents:

  1. How Much Chicken Can My Dog Eat?
  2. Is It Safe To Cook a Homemade Diet for My Dog?
  3. What Is the Best Way To Prepare Chicken for My Dog?
  4. What Are the Risks of Feeding My Dog Chicken?
  5. When Should Chicken Be Used as a Treat?

On occasion, veterinarians are asked by patients why their dog can’t exclusively eat chicken. This question usually stems from a finicky dog that is given chicken to help encourage eating, resulting in them only wanting chicken and not the food items that make up a balanced diet. Exclusively feeding chicken meat to dogs does not provide a nutritionally adequate diet.

Dogs have a daily nutritional requirement beyond protein and amino acids, including essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. While chicken meat, cooked or raw, will adequately fulfill a dog’s protein and amino acid requirement, and a portion of their essential fatty acid requirement, their diet will be lacking in vitamins and minerals. For example, 2 cups of boiled, chopped, boneless, skinless chicken breast per day will fulfill the caloric needs of a neutered, ideal body-weight dog at 16-19lbs. However, this diet is lacking in the following nutrients recommended by The Association of American Feed Control Officials 2016 guidelines for adult maintenance:

  • Folate
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • Chloride
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Manganese
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

Nutrient deficiencies can place an animal at risk for numerous nutritionally-mediated diseases. The most vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies are growing animals. Puppies require higher concentrations of nutrients in their diet to fulfill the needs of their growing bodies. Feeding an unbalanced diet to a puppy most often contributes to orthopedic disease, leading to skeletal abnormalities and fractures.

How Much Chicken Can My Dog Eat?

If chicken meat is added to your pet’s complete & balanced commercial diet, you need to ensure that it and other table foods or treats do not exceed approximately 10% of your pet’s total daily caloric intake. This is to ensure that their diet remains complete and balanced. The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) provides guidelines on how many calories (kcals) a dog needs to consume daily. For example, the WSAVA guidelines recommend approximately 640kcals per day for a dog with an ideal body weight of 33lbs. This means no more than 64kcals should come from treats and table food, which adds up to under 1/3 cup of chicken breast per day with NO other treats.

Is It Safe To Cook a Homemade Diet for My Dog?

For owners who wish to home prepare their pet’s food, it is important to know that most of the diets found online or in books are not complete and balanced. A study of 200 published home-prepared recipes for adult maintenance in dogs written by veterinarians and non-veterinarians revealed multiple nutrient deficiencies in the majority of homemade diets. A consultation with a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist® is recommended for pet owners wishing to home prepare their pet’s food. You should also consult with your dog’s veterinarian prior to starting your dog on a home-prepared diet.

What Is the Best Way To Prepare Chicken for My Dog?

If you are cooking chicken at home for your pet, make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F to destroy any harmful bacteria. Avoid adding oil or butter while cooking, as this may cause gastrointestinal upset and, in severe cases, pancreatitis. Some dogs may be more sensitive to fat in their diet and, generally, chicken breast meat without skin is recommended. Avoid adding seasonings, salt, or sauces on the chicken.

What Are the Risks of Feeding My Dog Chicken?

The main risks of feeding your dog chicken include:

  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Choking, if bones are included
  • Nutritional deficiencies, if not fed a balanced commercial diet
  • Foodborne illness (salmonella in particular) from improperly cooked chicken

When Should Chicken Be Used as a Treat?

Chicken can be a valuable food for pets. It can be used as an incentive or for training purposes. Some owners may choose to top dress their dog’s diet to entice them to eat or to enhance the diet’s flavor. This may, however, cause negative behaviors when it comes to feeding, for example, your pet may only eat the chicken and leave behind or refuse items from their regular diet. If treats are needed for training purposes, consider using a treat that is “complete & balanced,” which will be stated on the pet food label. If chicken is used as a treat, it is recommended that the calories from chicken do not exceed 10% of the pet’s diet.