Dogs often enjoy snacking on bird seed, whether they find it in the backyard in a feeder or in the cage after the bird has left.
Although it’s unlikely that your dog’s ingestion of a small amount of bird seed will have serious consequences, you should still consult your vet to find out what, if any, treatment is recommended.
First, The Good News
Do you remember seeing your dog sneak a treat from under the feeder?
There’s no need to freak out.
In most instances, a dog eating bird seed is not cause for concern, says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, lead veterinarian at SeniorTailWaggers.com and Director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, a full-service animal hospital in Lubbock, Texas.
Dogs that eat even a small amount of bird seed that has fallen from a bird feeder may develop gastrointestinal problems.
Of course, as is the case with many worries, there are always exceptions, times when dogs do experience more than just upset tummies.
Dangers of bird seed
Most bird seed contains ingredients that are safe for dogs, though digestion may be slowed significantly.
Raisins, which can be found in some bird seed, are toxic to dogs and can lead to kidney failure.
If you find that your dog is allergic to any of the listed ingredients, you should seek medical attention immediately or call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center.
If your dog eats too much, he may get an upset stomach, but a small amount probably won’t do him any harm.
Your dog may develop a life-threatening condition known as bloat if it eats too much bird seed.
It’s possible to feel pain when touching an enlarged stomach, which is one symptom of bloat, along with excessive salivation and vomiting. The condition is potentially fatal and necessitates immediate veterinary attention and surgical intervention.
Danger of Moldy Seed
Dr. Whittenburg says, “If the bird seed is moldy, there is a remote possibility of a more serious issue. In extremely rare cases, mycotoxins produced by mold in bird seed can cause a systemic illness if the seed is consumed.
When symptoms like excessive vomiting or lethargy appear, it’s time to see the vet.
Aspergillus flavus is a mold that produces toxins called Aflatoxins, and it has been found to contaminate bird seed, such as corn, peanuts, and other grains.
There are toxins in the bird seed that can harm the liver. In particular, lupine seeds (which are toxic due to alkaloids) can cause liver damage if consumed on a regular basis for weeks or months. This is according to Dr. Melissa Brock, DVM with Pango Pets.
Danger of Eating Bird Poop
But, as Dr. Whittenburg notes, the bird seed itself isn’t the only issue.
Dr. Wittenburg warns that parasitism is a more common problem associated with eating bird seed than illness from the birdseed itself.
When a dog eats from the ground near a bird feeder, it may unwittingly consume some bird poop. Potentially parasitic worms or fleas could be in the dog’s feces.
Taking your dog to the vet is a good idea if he or she develops diarrhea or loose stools after eating bird seed or known bird droppings. Don’t forget to bring a fecal sample for testing.
“Salmonella is another major concern and this bacteria can grow quickly after bird seed has been exposed to moisture,” writes Dr. Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM, advising veterinarian and writer for NotABully.org.
Bird feeders often have a mingling of seed and feces below them, which is a breeding ground for salmonella and other bacteria that can be transmitted to dogs and other animals.
Once again, it’s not hard to imagine how a bird feeder full of seeds that is left out in the elements could become a breeding ground for bacteria or fungi.
Danger of Impaction, Twisting
Dogs ingesting bird seed or sunflower hulls that have fallen from a feeder can cause an obstruction in the intestines.
“Even though they’re fine in moderation, if your dog eats a lot of seed, it could cause an upset stomach.
Dr. Sabrina Kong, DVM, of WeLoveDoodles warns that if left untreated, bloat, a condition characterized by an obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, can prove fatal.
Danger of Suet
Suet is a common bird food, particularly in the colder months. In the winter, when food is scarce and birds need extra calories to keep up with their high energy needs, people sell suet in the form of blocks, balls, and logs.
“Suet is quite simply pure saturated fat,” says Dr. Corinne Wigfall, BVMBVS (Hons) BVMedSci (Hons), and spokesperson for Spirit Dog Training. This is a high-calorie food staple in traditional British baking, and it’s also used as a binding agent in bird seed balls (sometimes referred to as “fat balls”).
When consumed by canines, the high fat content of these foods can cause painful attacks of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, is extremely painful and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Medical treatment for pancreatitis typically lasts between three and seven days.
Moreover, suet consumption can exacerbate preexisting conditions in canines. Dr. Courtnye Jackson is the owner of The Pets Digest and has been a practicing veterinarian for 15 years. Her specialty is in small animal medicine.
The likelihood of gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, or a sore stomach after eating suet increases with the dog’s age, weight, and overall health.
Also, because suet is mostly fat, it can increase the dog’s risk of developing acute pancreatitis, and it can exacerbate the symptoms of preexisting conditions like pancreatitis or chronic bowel disease in dogs.
According to Dr. Brock, “The main risk of a dog consuming suet is that it could cause an upset stomach, which could lead to vomiting or diarrhea.
This is especially the case if the suet wasn’t cooked thoroughly or was mixed with other ingredients before consumption. Dogs that eat too much suet may develop digestive issues, including constipation.
Allergic reactions, such as hives or swelling around the mouth, are also possible, but they are extremely unusual and usually only occur in dogs that are sensitive to other substances.
However, even a small amount of suet consumed by your dog can cause health problems. Dr. Wigfall warns that even moderate suet consumption over a long period of time can lead to weight gain, obesity, and complications from conditions like osteoarthritis and diabetes.
Risks from Rodents Attracted to the Bird Food
Sunflower seed hulls, which are full of healthy oils, are often discarded by birds, creating an environment that is appealing to more than just canines and avian predators.
Many rodents, including squirrels and mice, may be attracted to bird feeders. Dr. Phillips warns that canine health problems may arise from rodent exposure even if dogs aren’t eating the bird seed.
Maintaining a neat and tidy space below the feeders can help reduce rodent activity and associated hazards. Use a broom or rake to clean the area (we even have an old Shop Vac for hulls).
You can either keep your dog away from sunflower hulls by not feeding them to him, or you can buy shelled sunflower seeds (also called sunflower hearts and sunflower chips) to avoid the problem altogether.
Keep in mind that the presence of rodents near your feeder will entice snakes and coyotes, both of which can be harmful to your dog.
The seed (and spilled nectar from hummingbird feeders) attracts insects for the same reasons.
“Bees, wasps, and other insects that are attracted to bird feeders can sting or otherwise harm a dog.
If the dog eats any of the seeds that have fallen from the feeder, it can get stung, as explained by Dr. Brock. And yet another reason to keep the ground beneath the feeders spotless!
Disease risk from bird seed
If seeds are dropped or get wet, molds can grow on them and release aflatoxin. Aflatoxin can be extremely harmful to dogs if they consume it, and can even be fatal.
Aflatoxin poisoning causes stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, and loss of appetite in addition to jaundice. Some dogs will show no outward signs of illness, but they may be suffering from liver damage that will manifest itself later on.
How to Stop Your Dog From Eating Bird Seed
Preventing your dog from eating bird seed and suet is as simple as preventing access to the area where you feed the birds.
Do you allow your dog access to an area of your yard where you feed the birds?
Our dogs used to be like this. A bird feeder and a suet feeder were installed in the portion of our yard that the dogs could access.
We spend most of our time with the dogs in the yard, but occasionally they’ll join us on the porch to take in the fresh air.
In those cases, they run the risk of getting into some sort of difficulty.
We were able to keep the area beneath the feeder clear of hulled sunflower seeds and discarded seed by raking it regularly, but the suet presented a problem.
We went outside one day and the suet feeder was empty. It had been two hours since we had filled the feeder, and we knew the birds wouldn’t have had time to eat all of the suet in that time.
The two dogs had us worried for a solid hour before we finally spotted the suet block discarded on the other side of the fence.
While carrying the suet out of the yard, a squirrel dropped it between trees.
WHEW. Our dogs nearly got into the suet feeder, so we relocated it to the back yard. Issue resolved!
Dog trainer and shelter volunteer Meg Marrs, founder of K9 of Mine, agrees with our decision to relocate the feeder.
Putting the feeder in an inaccessible location is the simplest way to prevent a dog from eating bird seed and scaring away birds.
Installing it on a side of the house that isn’t the dog’s yard area, or enclosing the area beneath the feeder where the feed normally falls, are two possible solutions.
The fastest and easiest way to stop your dog from chasing birds and eating seeds is with this management technique.
What if you don’t have another yard?
Lack a fenced-off section of yard for your dog? However, with some precautions, you can still feed your birds without harm.
According to Travis Brorsen, host of Animal Planet’s My Big Fat Pet Makeover and expert judge on Discovery ‘s The Dog Games, “the best three ways to prevent your pooch from gobbling the bird seed are to use garden fencing around the feeder, keep your pup on a leash and supervised when in the yard,” or to teach them a good “leave it” command.
Depending on the size of your dog, you can block access to the area beneath and around the bird feeder with inexpensive garden fencing, an X-pen, chicken wire, or panels like CritterGuard.
Your dog probably ingested bird feces along with the bird seed he ate off the ground. Infectious diseases, such as salmonella, can be passed to your dog through the bird poop. Many dogs infected with salmonella will show no symptoms, but they can still spread the disease to humans.
More susceptible to illness from the infection are puppies and dogs with preexisting health conditions. Fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and fatigue may also be present.
Keep your dog safe
If your dog has eaten bird seed, especially if it is old or you are unsure of the amount, you should contact your vet immediately. Getting someone help early can prevent more severe issues down the road.
Your dog may enjoy watching the birds attracted by your feeder, but you should take precautions to ensure his safety. Select a bird seed that does not contain any ingredients that could be harmful to your dog, such as raisins.
To prevent mold growth, it’s important to replace the seed on a regular basis. When switching out the bird seed, be sure to thoroughly clean and sanitize the feeder.
Choose a bird feeder with a tray to collect any spilt food. Remove any dropped seed from the ground around the feeder on a regular basis.
Teach your dog a command like “leave it” and keep him out of the area where the bird feeder is kept. ”
This is helpful not just for keeping him away from bird seed, but also from anything else that could be harmful or poisonous to him.
Before making any changes to your pet’s diet, medication, or exercise routines, consult with your veterinarian. In no way should this be considered an alternative to professional veterinary advice.
You can’t expect your dog to never try sneaking a bite of bird seed again, so training is essential.
Teaching your dog a reliable “drop-it” cue is another option, as Marrs explains. This can be used in addition to the management strategies already mentioned.
It will take a lot of practice and constant supervision of your dog while they are outside before you can use the drop-it cue effectively to get them away from birds and/or bird feed.
On walks, when your dog comes across something he just should not have, a reliable drop it or leave it cue will come in handy.
With a little extra effort, you can ensure that your bird feeding efforts are helping the birds without putting your dog in danger.
It takes some extra work to make sure our feathered friends and four-legged family members are healthy and happy, but that’s what it means to be an animal lover!