Dogs are often attuned to the critters and creatures around them- hence their fascination with squirrels, birds, lizards, rabbits, and the like. Though unfortunate, it is not abnormal for a dog to eventually kill one of these animals due to their natural instincts.
So, what do you do as a dog owner if one day you realize, “Oh no! My dog killed a bird!”
Descended from wolves, dogs have a natural predilection for hunting and killing their prey, which normally consists of many small animals and birds. In the wild, it’s the only way that wolves could survive.
Because of this, the need to hunt has been hardwired into a dog’s DNA. Without this hardwiring, your furry friend wouldn’t love playing games such as tug-of-war or fetch.
While playing is a fun, positive result of their hunting ancestry, killing obviously is not.
The need to hunt can lead to adverse effects in dogs, such as an inability to focus, an obsessive need to chase, stalk, or threaten other animals, and killing. If their prey drive is too high, these tendencies can become dangerous.
Birds can carry many diseases that threaten your dog if consumed, such as Salmonella and the less likely- but still possible- West Nile virus.
Other than these diseases, eating a dead bird can lead to gastroenteritis– otherwise known as “garbage gut.” A vet should assess these potential threats if your dog displays any symptoms.
Birds can carry Salmonella in their digestive tracts, which can then infect a dog if eaten.
If your dog has killed and consumed a bird, you will need to look out for any signs in their poop that point to Salmonella. The presence of blood or mucus are generally the most common symptoms.
Other symptoms can include fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, your dog may not necessarily show any physical symptoms of infection- which is why looking at their feces is essential.
If your dog shows any of the above symptoms after killing and eating a bird, take it to your vet immediately.
Ideally, you want to be positive that your dog has Salmonella so that you can then take the necessary steps in getting treatment. Only a vet can perform the required tests to provide that certainty, along with the proper treatment regime.
West Nile Virus is primarily known for its transmission through mosquitoes. However, it is possible for a mosquito to transmit the virus to birds, which can then pass to dogs if they are bitten or eaten.
While your dog’s potential to contract the West Nile virus from killing and eating a bird is very low, it is still a possible threat that you should be aware of.
The symptoms of West Nile virus are also not as apparent as other illnesses- if they are evident at all. The symptoms may include fever, spasms, muscle weakness, depression, paralysis, or seizures.
If your dog shows any of these symptoms after killing and or consuming a bird, take it to your vet.
This virus needs the attention of a professional and will not simply go away on its own.
However there is no need to panic if it turns out your dog does have West Nile virus, as more often than not, the cases result in a full recovery.
Gastroenteritis is the most common illness associated with eating a dead animal such as a bird or squirrel.
It causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines due to the consumption of bacteria, viruses, or parasites that resided in the downed animal.
Gastroenteritis causes intermittent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea and will leave your dog with a weakened appetite, tender abdomen, and decreased activity.
As with other infections and viruses, it would be best to take your dog to your vet.
You will no doubt want your dog to get back to its usual self, and only a vet will be able to conduct a thorough physical exam of your dog’s condition.
They will then be able to provide your dog with the necessary fluids and instruct you on the proper regime for your dog’s recovery.
While a hunting mentality is hardwired into a dog’s DNA, it is possible to curb their desire with consistent training.
As you practice and implement your training, your dog will progressively learn to resist its urges.
With all of these commands, you will need to practice and reinforce them consistently so that your dog doesn’t forget them, and continues to make progress in their reactions.
Also, you must be patient. Your dog may not pick up on the command right away, but that’s only to be expected. With time and consistency, your dog will improve and eventually won’t even need treats to reinforce their reactions.
Part of a dog’s desire to chase is its keen eye for movement.
You can stop this behavior by teaching the “Watch me” command to redirect your dog’s attention from the action of critters and creatures back to you.
The “Watch me” control is a strong command to teach, especially if your dog is obsessive when it comes to following small animals around.
First, you’ll need treats to attract your dog’s attention.
As your dog is out and about either in your yard or favorite hangout spot, hold a treat that it can pay attention to when your dog looks over at you.
After a moment, add the command “Watch me” and bring the treat up to meet your eyes. Have your dog hold your gaze for a moment before rewarding them with the treat.
Practice this a couple of times, then extend the gazing period for increasing amounts of time.
Once your dog has a solid handle on the “Watch me” command, you can take it to places where they are more easily distracted by noises and sounds, such as a park or on a walk. There, you can test the “Watch me” command in a more realistic setting.
The “Come” or “Here” command is a relatively easy command you may or may not have taught your dog when it was still a puppy.
If your dog is still a puppy, it’s a good idea to get a jumpstart on teaching this command in case it later develops hunting tendencies. This command makes your dog return to you and is most commonly used when playing fetch and other retrieving games.
When it comes to stopping hunting behavior, you’re going to take this command a step further by using it to stop your dog before it reaches what it’s after.
To start teaching, you’ll need a long leash and a toy your dog likes to chase.
Take your dog into your backyard or local playground where you typically play. Hook your dog up to the leash and keep it hooked up for the training session.
Once you’re ready, throw the toy as you would during a typical game, but instead of letting your dog chase after it, command your dog to “come” or return to you.
If your dog doesn’t listen, gently tug on the leash to redirect their attention back to you.
When your dog listens and does not follow the toy but returns to you, reward it with love (and treats) and playtime to chase you instead. If your dog does not abandon the chase, stop for the day, and try again tomorrow.
Teaching your dog to “Leave it” or “Drop it” can be beneficial when your dog gets its mouth on something it isn’t supposed to have.
However, it’s even more useful in a hunting scenario because you can stop your dog before it reaches its desired target.
Begin training in your home with treats. Place a treat on the floor, and as your dog goes for it, cover it with your foot, hand, or object and say, “leave it.” When your dog looks away or leaves the treat alone, reward them with a different treat, pats, and praise.
Continue practicing this until your dog has a better handle on the command and successfully leaves the treat alone multiple times.
Once your dog has a solid grip on the concept, take them to a place where they love to run and chase.
Since the main goal here is to prevent your dog from killing birds and other small animals, you’ll want to take the “leave it” command into a real-life situation. When you get to the play area, let your dog act as expected.
Then once your dog gets chasing, firmly command your dog to “leave it!” If your dog abandons the hunt, reward them with a treat and praise. If it does not, just keep practicing. It’ll catch on quickly enough!
Your dog has its natural cleaning processes in place to ensure a clean mouth, but when it comes to eating a dead bird, you want to get in there and clean it well to prevent any possible infections. Cleaning their mouth well is possible in a few steps, as listed below.
Get a small cloth or piece of fabric that you don’t mind getting dirty. Use this to get in your dog’s mouth to wipe out any blood and debris from the bird that got caught in its teeth, jowls, and gums.
No, not cleaner like you would typically use to wipe down a kitchen or your mouth!
You want to get a natural product that is safe for a dog, such as coconut oil, saltwater, or baking soda. You can also use dog-friendly mouthwash if you choose- but make sure it’s safe for your dog to consume.
Once you’ve acquired your cleaner, apply it to the cloth and wrap it around your finger so that it’s easier to move around when you get in your dog’s mouth.
You don’t want your dog to squirm its way out of your arms or be in an uncomfortable position.
Instead, make sure you’ve got a good grip on your pup where you can easily access their mouth and make sure they can’t wriggle away.
As you wipe, be sure to do so thoroughly.
Lift its jowls or lips and wipe clean underneath the folds. Then, get into the actual mouth itself and get as much debris out as you can. Wipe the teeth, gums, tongue, and roof of the mouth as best you can.
Don’t be too aggressive with your cleaning. Work slowly, gently, and confidently to not hurt your dog. Also, please don’t stick your finger too far in; you don’t want your dog to gag or throw up, or cause it any unnecessary discomfort.
While you work your way in and around your dog’s mouth, check for any signs of damage, such as abrasions to the gums or other areas. If you find any, you may want to contact your vet in case any of the blood or other matter found its way into the opening.
If the bird carried a disease or virus, it is possible for the infection to be transmitted through the cuts in your dog’s mouth. Therefore, it’s better to contact your vet sooner rather than later to find out for sure.
Wiping down the inside of your dog’s mouth is one thing, but you also need to clean the outside as well.
Since your dog will most likely try to lick off any dirt and grime from their face, use your cloth to gently clean your dog’s muzzle of any excess debris so that they don’t accidentally consume what you tried so hard to clean away.
Once you’ve finished your full wipedown, give your dog plenty of water to wash out anything you might’ve missed. You can also give it a dental chew afterward as a treat for behaving well- conveniently providing some extra cleaning that you might’ve missed.
If one day you find yourself exclaiming, “My dog killed a bird!”, you’ll now know that there are a few things that you need to watch out for.
Though it’s a natural, instinctive behavior in canines, that doesn’t mean that it is particularly healthy- or sanitary.
Birds are frequently carriers of various diseases, and there is a chance for your dog to contract Salmonella, gastroenteritis, or even the West Nile Virus from an avian encounter. If your dog displays any strange symptoms after killing a bird, take it to the vet ASAP to get checked out.
Otherwise, the only thing that you can do if your dog has hunted a wild bird is to clean him up and try to prevent him from doing it again in the future.
The former can be accomplished with a wet cloth and canine-friendly oral cleaners, while the latter requires training with a few different useful commands, such as “Come” and “Leave it!”. With any luck, your pup will stay far away from any feathered strangers in the future!
Elena Gherman is a highly skilled and knowledgeable animal care expert. At the start of her career, she gained practical expertise with multiple animals. In addition to that, she works as a DVM veterinary editor for Joy Pet Products, which focuses on offering reliable information on pet health and wellbeing. She meticulously reviews each piece of writing before it is published to make sure pet owners get the most precise and updated information possible.