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Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.
Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.

What To Do If Your Dog Eats a Dead Animal

01/03/2019 by Cuteness Team
January 3rd, 2019 by Cuteness Team

Key Takeaways

  • Dogs are often intrigued by the smell of dead animals for evolutionary reasons and may want to pick one up. 
  • Handling (pawing, nosing, sniffing, carrying, etc.) a dead animal isn’t necessarily bad for your dog, unless the animal has been poisoned or is carrying a harmful bacteria. 
  • Prevent your dog from eating a dead animal by teaching and training for the “leave it” command. 

If your dog is prone to picking up random objects on walks, chances are she will come across a dead animal and want to pick it up. When it comes to gross-and-also-potentially-dangerous behaviors, eating dead things has to be near the top of the list. Here’s what you need to do if your dog eats a dead animal and what you need to know about why she does it to begin with.

Why are dogs attracted to dead animals?

Like so many things with dogs, this all comes down to the smell. Dogs are intrigued by the scent a dead animal gives off. Considering this scent can worsen with time (and decay), it’s no surprise that dead animals only get more interesting for your dog.

There are a few reasons dogs become obsessed with odors that make humans gag. One popular theory traces things back to dogs’ wolf ancestors, who would have very important survival reasons for hanging around gross stuff like dead animals and feces—the strong smells from these things can help cover the dog’s (or wolf’s) smell, which helps her hide from would-be predators.

This is very much the opposite for humans. “Humans perceive ‘bad’ odors through either some inbuilt evolutionary acquired mechanism to prevent harm, e.g. repulsion by feces to prevent disease, or through learning,” Peter Hepper, head of the school of psychology at Queen’s University in Belfast, explained to Gizmodo.

Why do dogs want to pick up the dead animals in their mouths?

This is actually the result of human-driven dog breeding over time, particularly, breeding dogs for specific jobs, many of which included killing and retrieving dead animals.

If you have a hunting dog (think anything with the word “hound” in its name, but also dogs like beagles and dachshunds), then congratulations: You’re living with a natural born killer. And if you love your lab or your Golden Retriever? The “retriever” part of their names is important—they 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 it’s naturally-driven task. Take this into account before thinking about disciplining your pet.

Why do dogs use their nose and mouth to explore dead animals?

Dogs use smell as their primary sense, making their noses, and to a lesser degree, their mouths very important to understanding their surroundings.

“So-called ‘bad’ and ‘good’ smells are products of our culture. As young children we are ambivalent toward smells like poo and stinky feet: we have to be taught that these are ‘bad,'” Alexandra Horowitz, author Inside of a Dog and Being a Dog, explains. “Dogs, by contrast, are in but not of our culture. They do not inherit our value system (unless we explicitly train them in its rules) and so are left with their own canine tendencies…For dogs, there seem not to be good nor bad (with a few exceptions) smells; smells are just the way the world looks. Smells are just information.”

In other words, your dog is exploring. And she is using her nose to do so.

Is handling dead animals dangerous for dogs?

In short, handling (pawing, nosing, sniffing, carrying, etc.) a dead animal isn’t bad for your dog.

You should keep two things in mind, though: If the dead animal in question was poisoned to death, that poison might also be toxic to your dog. Rat and mouse poisons are an especially common issue to look out for.

The other thing to worry about is the possibility that the animal in question is carrying a disease-causing bacteria that your dog could pick up. One of the most dangerous is clostridium botulinum—a type C preformed neurotoxin, which is sometimes found in dead animal carcasses (as well as in uncooked or spoiled foods—so keep your dog out of the trash) that causes botulism.

It’s rare for dogs to contract botulism, but the effects can be serious. As the neurotoxin takes hold in your dog’s body, it causes weakness throughout his body, starting in the back legs and then going forward to the torso, front legs, and neck and eventually leading to paralysis of all four limbs. In the most severe cases, the paralysis can impact the dog’s ability to breathe, leading to death.

What should you do if your dog eats part of a dead animal?

Known as “dietary indiscretion,” your dog’s non-discerning eating habits can apply to both non-food items and food items. If your dog has eaten part of a dead animal, call your vet and give as much detail as possible about the incident. For example, what kind of animal was it? How long has it been deceased? How much did your dog consume? Your vet will then instruct you on the next course of action or signs to keep an eye on. Signs include: vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy or diarrhea.

One of the diseases dogs can pick up if they eat a dead animal is roundworm. This will often occur if a dog eats a mouse or rat that’s infected with the parasite’s larvae. These worms gobble up the nutrients in your dog’s intestines, which can leave your pup malnourished even if he’s eating a totally healthy diet. You’ll have to see your vet for treatment if your dog picks up roundworm from any source. Signs of roundworm include colic and coughing (which is a sign the roundworm larvae have made their way to the dog’s lungs), lethargy, vomiting, abdominal swelling, abnormal feces, and loss of appetite.

Another parasite to look out for is coccidium, which dogs can contract by eating dead birds or rodents. Symptoms of coccidiosis include diarrhea (which, in severe cases, might contain blood or mucus), loss of appetite, dehydration, and vomiting.

How to prevent your dog from eating dead animals

The best way to stop your dog from eating dead animals is the “leave it” command. You can teach “leave it” at home with treats (something you know your dog wants to put in his mouth).

One way to train “leave it” (but you can find lots of tutorials online if this method isn’t working for you or your dog) is to:

Put a treat on the floor and when your dog approaches to sniff or eat it, cover the treat with your foot. The dog will probably still sniff and maybe even try to get to the treat, but stay strong and wait for him to give up. When he does (for this purpose “giving up” is defined as losing interest in the hidden treat and starting to walk away), click or say yes and reward him with a different treat.

Repeat this process until your dog associates the foot on the treat with leaving it alone and getting rewarded for doing so. At this point, start saying “leave it” when you cover the treat with your foot and continue rewarding when the dog loses interest. When he’s mastered this, you can progress to dropping the treat on the floor and saying leave it to signal the desired disinterest. Once he’s got it at home, practice on walks (and have treats handy to reward him when he leaves something you don’t want him sniffing alone).

By teaching your dog “leave it,” you’ll (hopefully) never have to deal with your dog eagerly bringing you a dead animal and wondering why you don’t seem excited about it.

Want to learn more about your pup? Check out How to React to a Pet That Brings Home a Dead Animal, Signs of Poisoning in Dogs, and Signs of Intestinal Blockage in Dogs at!

This article is provided by Cuteness—the go to destination for passionate pet parents. Cuteness has answers to all of your health, training, and behavior questions – as well as the cutest, funniest, and most inspiring pet stories from all over the world.