Dogs and dead birds

As the owner of a dog that loves to roll in (and eat) anything she finds, I certainly understand the questions that I get about risks to dogs from dead birds. Eating a dead bird is certainly not an appealing thought to us, but overall, the risks to a dog are pretty low. The greatest potential problem is likely gastroenteritis, often referred to as ‘garbage-gut’, which typically causes diarrhea (with or without vomiting) after "dietary indiscretion" (i.e. a dog eating things it shouldn't have). Another concern is Salmonella. Some birds carry Salmonella in their intestinal tracts and dogs could become infected from eating them. This is a bigger problem in cats that hunt birds - salmonellosis in outdoor cats is also referred to as songbird fever. West Nile virus can cause death in birds, especially species such as bluejays and crows, which may then be found by your dog. The risk of transmission of West Nile virus to dogs from eating dead birds is presumably very low. Further, this disease is very rare in dogs and they appear to be quite resistant to the virus.

  • Try to prevent your pet from eating/touching dead birds.
  • If your pet develops diarrhea after eating a dead bird, it is probably not a health concern for anyone else but Salmonella infection is possible, so consider taking your dog to the veterinarian. This is especially important if the dog appears sick (i.e. besides vomiting and diarrhea, the dog also is not acting like itself) or if there are people in the household that are at higher risk for getting sick from bugs like Salmonella (i.e. infants, people with weakened immune systems). All diarrhea should be considered potentially infectious to other animals and people.  Extra care should be taken around affected pets and their stool, including extra attention to hand washing, and disinfecting the site of any "accidents" that occur in the house.
  • In some areas where bird testing is performed for West Nile virus or avian influenza surveillance, public health personnel will collect dead birds. Contact your public health department if you are unsure what is done in your region.
If you must move or remove a dead bird, precautions should be taken. These include:
  • Do not touch dead birds with bare hands.
  • Use heavy-duty, leak-proof gloves to place the bird in a leak-proof plastic bag. Alternatively, fold two bags over your hand and use the bag to cover your hand when picking up the bird (like people do when poop-scooping), or use a shovel to place the bird in a bag.
  • Double bag the bird.
  • If the bird is not being collected for testing, contact your local waste management agency regarding disposal instructions.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you're done.
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