The first thought that usually comes to mind when you find a rat carcass next to your dog is, “Oh my god, my dog killed a rat!”
The second thought that immediately follows is whether the dog’s health is now at risk.
The answer is a definite yes. Your dog may be at risk if it has killed a rat.
There are a variety of diseases and parasites that can be transmitted from a rat to your dog through touch, bite, and exposure to body fluids. These include afflictions like fever and plague, as well as the well-known roundworm.
These diseases are not only harmful to your dog- they can be passed onto you too! Therefore, it’s vital to dispose of the rat and clean up your pup properly, as well as preventing any future rat attacks in the future.
According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, rats and other rodents transmit the following conditions that could spread to dogs: rat-bite fever, plague, salmonellosis, and leptospirosis.
Toxoplasmosis and roundworms may also infect a dog when it kills a rat.
Rat-bite fever can spread to dogs from direct contact with rats, as well as through contact with their saliva, feces or urine. If your dog kills a rat, it can contract this disease as it can enter through mucous membranes in the mouth and nose.
Infected dogs may carry and spread this disease throughout their lives without displaying any symptoms. Studies have shown that dogs that have been in close contact with wild rats carry the RBF bacteria in their mouths.
Rat-bite fever can cause severe illness in humans, with symptoms of fever, vomiting, joint pain, and rashes. Usually symptoms take from one to three weeks to show. RBF can cause infection in the heart, lungs, brain, and liver; untreated, it can result in death.
The parasitic genus Yersinia pestis causes the plague. The plague is most common in the Southwestern states between May and October.
Though they have a naturally high resistance to this particular bacteria, dogs contract the plague when they come in contact with an infected rodent, or if an infected flea bites them. Dogs can spread the plague to humans, so you definitely don’t want to accidentally swallow their saliva.
The plague causes the lymph nodes to become chronically swollen and inflamed, and is extremely painful for the dog.
Symptoms of the plague include:
- Swollen lymph nodes
Treatment of the plague in dogs will possibly involve hospitalization and antibiotics. Ongoing flea treatment will also be required. If a dog is not treated early, the plague can easily become fatal.
Rats are carriers of the salmonella bacteria, which causes salmonellosis.
Your dog can contract salmonellosis after killing a rat. Dogs with salmonellosis may experience the following conditions: gastroenteritis, septicemia, and spontaneous abortions.
Dogs can transmit salmonella to humans.
Dogs with salmonellosis often experience the following symptoms:
- Weight loss
- Mucus in stool
- Skin disease
Treatment for less serious cases of salmonellosis can include rehydration and antimicrobial medication. When a dog has been diagnosed with salmonellosis, the vet may prescribe a 48-hour fast. In severe cases, it may be necessary for dogs to get a blood transfusion.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that is common in dogs. It is spread through contact with rodents, drinking from lakes, streams, or rivers; and exposure to wild animals such as squirrels and raccoons.
If your dog has killed a rat, it can become infected with leptospirosis by eating the infected tissue. Dogs can spread leptospirosis to people.
Signs of leptospirosis are different for every dog. Some may have no symptoms, while others will become severely sick.
Symptoms of leptospirosis in dogs include:
- Muscle tenderness
- Increased thirst
- Reluctance to move
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Bleeding disorders
Treatment for leptospirosis generally involves supportive care such as IV fluids and antibiotic therapy. While early treatment is usually effective, there may be lasting damage to the liver or kidneys.
The protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii causes toxoplasmosis. If a dog kills a rat, it can become infected with this disease. Cats are more likely to display clinical symptoms than dogs.
However, dogs with weakened immune systems and puppies whose immune systems have not fully developed are at risk of developing this illness.
Dogs with toxoplasmosis may have the following symptoms:
- Neurological problems
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Partial or complete paralysis
If a dog shows signs of toxoplasmosis, the vet may prescribe antibiotics. If other symptoms such as seizures or dehydration are present, they will be treated independently.
If a dog kills a rat infected with roundworms, it may become infected.
Roundworms are an intestinal parasite; ascariasis is the disease roundworms cause. According to some studies, a dog already infected with toxoplasmosis has an increased likelihood of contracting roundworms.
Dogs can pass roundworms to humans.
Symptoms of roundworms in dogs include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Difficulty nursing (female dogs)
- Abnormal feces
- Coughing (when roundworms are present in the lungs)
The majority of these diseases spread from direct contact with an infected rodent. Thus, if your dog has killed a rat using its mouth, there is a chance it has become infected with one of these diseases.
An appointment with a veterinarian should be at the top of your to-do list when your dog kills a rat. Killing a rat puts your dog at risk of illness and disease. A veterinarian can determine whether your dog has contracted an infection and provide early treatment.
Hunting is an innate instinct in dogs. Many dog breeds have been bred for centuries, specifically to hunt rats and other rodents.
You may have been surprised when your dog proudly showed you his catch. The domestication and socialization of individual dogs are why we often don’t witness their predatory behavior. However, the prey drive is always present in canines.
Some dogs are more likely to prey on rats more than others. These breeds of dogs often have “ratter” in their name, which signifies they were specifically bred to hunt rats.
Terriers are one breed of working dogs bred to find and eliminate pests, including rats and other rodents. If your dog is a terrier breed, don’t be surprised to find it hunting pests full-time.
Other breeds well known for their rodent hunting skills are dachshunds, miniature schnauzers, and German pinschers.
The name says it all.
Rat terriers were initially bred to hunt rats. They are considered hunting and working dogs.
Legend has it that President Theodore Roosevelt named this breed rat terrier after it eradicated a rat infestation at the White House.
Historically, they were essential to farmers, helping them eliminate rodent infestations. This terrier hasn’t lost his innate instinct to hunt rats.
All terriers are potential rat killers. You can even train your terrier pup to hunt rodents safely.
Other terriers known for their rat hunting skills include:
- Norfolk terrier
- Cairn terrier
- Jack Russell terrier
- Yorkshire terrier
- Lakeland terrier
A typical household pet, dachshunds, are ratter dogs. They were initially bred for hunting, and they maintain this instinct today.
The shape of their bodies, long with short legs, is ideal for digging up rodents. They are less aggressive than other types of ratter dogs. However, given their love of hunting vermin, don’t be surprised if they kill a rat.
It is important to clean and disinfect your dog’s mouth after it has killed a rat to get rid of any harmful bacteria and parasites that might be in its mouth. The sooner that you can do this, the better.
Side benefit: your dog won’t have dead rat breath!
The easiest way to disinfect your dog’s mouth is to use a doggy mouthwash. Simply mix a small amount of the mouthwash in with its water and encourage it to drink as much as possible.
If you want to be more thorough, you can dip a soft cloth or toothbrush in canine toothpaste and really scrub the inside of your dog’s mouth till it’s sparkling clean. Make sure that you do use toothpaste specifically for dogs though, as human toothpaste is not safe for dogs to use.
Your dog is trainable. Ideally, you should begin training your dog as soon as it joins your family. Hunting is an innate instinct; however, you can train your dog not to kill rats. Teaching your dog not to chase small objects is one way to stop this behavior.
Stuffed toys are helpful in the training process. You should always keep your dog on a leash to prevent it from running after prey when you’re away from home.
Muzzles are a useful barrier, eliminating the possibility your dog will be able to attack and kill a rat. With proper training and socialization, your dog can learn to coexist with small animals.
It is also very important to dispose of the rat properly, to make sure that your dog doesn’t go back and have further exposure to it.
After putting on protective gloves, clothing and a mask, place the rat in a small plastic bag and seal it tightly. Proceed to put the small bag into another larger trash bag and tie it securely again. Finally, throw it into the outdoor rubbish bin and make sure that the lid is closed.
Lastly, make your home as rat-free as possible. You can do this by:
- Removing easy access to food and water and cleaning up any spillages
- Removing area such as wood piles, leaf piles or shrubs which could be used as shelter
- Packing away dog food and compost into closed containers.
It is actually a commendable feat when your dog kills a rat. Rats are pests as well as known carriers of a variety of harmful diseases, so the less of them you have around your home, the better.
However, you would rightly be worried about your dog’s health after it has killed a rat. After all, some of the bacteria and parasites that rats carry can be easily transmitted to dogs, and then further passed on to you.
If your dog recently killed a rat, it would be worth a quick visit to the vet just to make sure that it hasn’t contracted any harmful diseases such as salmonella, leptospirosis or roundworms.
Sometimes a dog won’t show symptoms on the surface, which makes it even more important to get a professional diagnosis by the vet through testing.
Make sure that you do keep a careful eye on your dog over the next few days and weeks, watching for symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, muscle weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding.
By being vigilant, you will be able to protect your dog, and yourself too!
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.