Why do dogs want to pick up dead animals with their mouths?
Dog breeds known for hunting, such as beagles, pointers, hounds, or terriers have a natural predatory instinct. Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers also have a natural instinct to pick up dead birds in their mouths and bring them back to you.
While this behavior may seem “disgusting” to humans, your dog will be extremely proud of itself for completing its naturally-driven task. Take this into account before thinking about disciplining your pet.
Is handling dead animals dangerous for dogs?
It is best to keep your dog away from dead animals that they may encounter while outside. Dead animals could have ingested a toxin, such as rat or mouse poison that would, in turn, be dangerous for a dog to consume. Dead animals may also be carrying dangerous bacteria that your dog could be exposed to.
One of the most dangerous is clostridium botulinum, which is a preformed neurotoxin that can be found in dead animal carcasses. Dogs can contract botulism from ingesting contaminated carcasses. While rare, the effects of this disease can be serious. After the neurotoxin is ingested, it can cause weakness throughout the whole body that may progress to paralysis of all four limbs. In some cases, the toxin can attack the diaphragm and impact the dog’s ability to breathe, which leads to death.
Dogs may also pick up a parasitic infection after ingesting a dead animal, specifically a rodent who is harboring the immature form of the parasite. These parasites include coccidia and roundworms. Once ingested, roundworm eggs mature into larvae and migrate through the dog’s body.
Signs of a roundworm infection include vomiting, abdominal swelling, loose stool, loss of appetite, and coughing. Coccidia oocysts can infiltrate the intestines after ingestion and lead to diarrhea (which may contain blood or mucus), loss of appetite, dehydration, and vomiting. Some dogs infected with coccidia have no clinical signs. Treatment for either parasitic infection can be provided by your veterinarian.
Rabies virus can be excreted in the saliva of infected dogs, cats, and ferrets during illness and/or for a few days before illness or death. A healthy dog, cat, or ferret that bites a person should be confined and observed daily for 10 days. Confinement should be performed in coordination with public health authorities. To avoid mistaking the signs of rabies for possible side effects of vaccination, administration of rabies vaccine to the animal is not recommended during the observation period.
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Other biting animals that might have exposed a person to rabies should be reported immediately to the local health department. Management of biting animals other than dogs, cats, and ferrets depends on: