Your dog has cancer, and you’re trying to follow Dr. Dressler’s Dog Cancer Diet. If you have always fed your dog commercial kibble, diving into a home-cooked diet can be daunting. Especially when the recipe calls for… chicken necks?
In this article we’re going to tell you:
- Why chicken and turkey necks are recommended for dogs with cancer.
- How to cook chicken necks so they are safe for your dog.
- How to prepare turkey necks if that is what you have on hand.
- Why you don’t have to worry about splintered bones with properly cooked chicken necks.
Why Chicken Necks for Dogs with Cancer?
Yeah, we know. Eating chicken necks sounds gross to many of us.
However, just because chicken necks are often considered a “throwaway” part of the chicken carcass by humans doesn’t mean they have no nutritional value!
Dr. Dressler recommends feeding chicken necks as an excellent source of calcium and other minerals.
Chicken Necks Are Dense with Calcium and Other Minerals
As Dr. Dressler has mentioned previously on the blog, many calcium supplements have been found to contain low amounts of lead. Among other bad things, lead is also a potential carcinogen.
Obviously not ideal for a dog with cancer.
Enter chicken necks. The chicken necks that you can find in the grocery store or get from a butcher consist of muscle, connective tissue, and bone.
That bone is a fabulous source of calcium, with the average chicken neck containing 900mg of calcium. Older dogs require 40-50mg of calcium per day, so a single chicken neck provides enough calcium for a 20-pound dog.
Chicken (and turkey!) necks also contain phosphorus, which helps to balance out calcium. They are also loaded with protein, glucosamine, and chondroitin — so they may be helpful for joint health, too.
Where to Get Chicken Necks
Every supermarket that features a butcher probably has chicken necks in stock – even if they don’t put them out for sale.
Why? Because butchers have to cut up whole chickens to package the breasts and thighs separately… and inside each of those whole chickens is a neck, liver, and other lovely organ meats.
In many supermarkets, these nutritious and delicious items are thrown out. In areas where folks know how good these foods are for you (and your dog), they may be packaged separately and sold in the meat area.
If you do not see chicken necks available in the meat section, ask the butcher if they have any chicken or turkey necks in the back. They will likely be very inexpensive, or even, depending upon the store, free.
In a pinch, you can always buy a whole chicken to cook for yourself and give your dog the organ meats and chicken neck inside.
How to Cook Chicken Necks
If you do a quick internet search on feeding chicken necks to dogs, you will find that the majority of the sites strongly advocate for feeding the necks raw. While this can be a good option for healthy dogs, feeding raw meat to a cancer patient is asking for trouble.
Feeding raw meat to a cancer patient is asking for trouble.
Dogs with cancer have weakened immune systems. Not only are their bodies busy trying to fight cancer, but cancer itself suppresses the immune system.
Raw chicken can develop harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella both on the surface of the meat and within the tissue. Bacteria levels that might not be a problem for a healthy dog can cause infection in a dog with cancer.
Because of this, Dr. Dressler recommends cooking all chicken all the way through to ensure that all harmful pathogens have been killed.
There are several ways that you can cook chicken necks for your dog to eat safely.
Preparing the Chicken Necks
Before cooking, remove the skin from the chicken or turkey necks and trim off any fat. This helps to limit any excess omega-6 fatty acids. Now you’re ready to cook your necks using whichever method you are most comfortable with.
In The Dog Cancer Survival Guide Dr. Dressler says about simmering, “This is the simplest way to guarantee that the temperature is not too high. Another benefit to simmering is that food becomes very tender and evenly cooked.”
- Place the chicken necks in a pot with water or low-sodium chicken or beef broth.
- Bring the liquid to a simmer, just below boiling (exact heat setting on the stove will vary depending on your stovetop).
- Simmer until the chicken necks become extremely soft. (Usually about two hours, although it may take longer depending upon the size of your chicken necks.)
- Remove all bone chunks. It’s easiest to do this by smashing them with a fork, so the bone chunks are obvious.
- Chop the necks into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces or run them through a food processor.
This method works for turkey necks as well.
Slow Cooker or Crockpot
I am a lazy chef, so I’m all about Crockpots!
This popular kitchen appliance allows you to slowly cook chicken necks (or pretty much anything else) over a long period of time without needing to be babysat.
Slow-cooking necks has the added benefit of turning the bones soft and crumbly so that they are safe for your dog to eat.
For Chicken Necks:
- Place chicken necks on the bottom of the crock and cover with water or low-sodium broth.
- Cook on High for two hours.
- Drop to Low setting and cook for eight hours.
- Chop the necks into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces.
The above cooking times are recommended by Greg Martinez, DVM, but there is a lot of flexibility in crockpot cook times. Some slow cooker chicken neck recipes recommend cooking up to eight hours on high. Experiment with what works best for your schedule and provides adequate tenderness for your dog to munch on easily.
For Turkey Necks:
- Place turkey necks on the bottom of the crock and cover with water or low-sodium broth.
- Cook on High for ten hours.
- Drop to Low setting and cook for eight to ten hours.
- Chop the necks into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces and remove any large or hard bone chunks.
These cook times are recommended by Tam Curley of the Jackson Free Press.
Pressure Cooker or Instant Pot
The beloved Instant Pot can help out with chicken and turkey necks too. The best part? Cooking chicken necks in a pressure cooker results in bones soft enough for dogs and humans alike to eat safely.
- Arrange the chicken necks on the bottom of the pot and add 4 cups of water.
- Cook for two hours on high pressure.
- Drop to low pressure for 30 minutes.
- Chop the necks into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces.
These cook times are recommended by Melanie Joy in the video below. If the bones aren’t tender enough for your taste, you can even go up to as much as four hours on high pressure.
These cook times will also work for turkey necks, but you may need to pick out large or hard bone pieces before serving to your dog.
But What About the Bones?
Yes, cooked chicken bones have a reputation for becoming brittle and shattering into nasty splinters that can wreak havoc on your dog’s digestive tract.
But this does not hold true for slow-cooked or pressure-cooked chicken bones!
If you cook your chicken necks in a slow or pressure cooker, the neck bones will become soft and malleable, and are perfectly safe for you or your dog to eat. This allows your dog to get all the benefits of the nutrients and minerals in the bones without the risk of infection that comes with feeding raw chicken.
Chicken necks become soft and malleable in slow or pressure cookers, making them perfectly safe for you or your dog to eat!
Simmering for an extended period of time may still leave some bone chunks. Sift through the meat carefully and remove any hard chunks that could harm your dog.
A note on turkey bones: turkey neck bones do not break down as easily as chicken bones. Any large or hard pieces should be removed before feeding the turkey neck to your dog.
Now that you know why Dr. Dressler recommends chicken necks and several ways to prepare them, it’s time to get cooking!
Kate Basedow, LVT
Here’s a link to Dr. Dressler’s FREE Dog Cancer Diet eBook
Here’s a nice cookbook for dogs from Land of Pure Gold
Kate Basedow grew up training and showing dogs, and her passion for canines has affected all parts of her life. She earned a BA in English from Cornell University and an AAS in Veterinary Science from SUNY Delhi, and is a licensed veterinary technician in the state of New York. Her writing on dog-related topics has earned numerous awards from the Dog Writers’ Association of America and the Alliance of Purebred Dog Writers. Kate currently serves and adores two Belgian Tervuren and a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.