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This post was originally published in August 2015. It has been updated with new information and republished.
With all of the mixed information about raw feeding, there are many pet parents who are understandably worried about transitioning their dogs to a raw diet. Years ago in a post, I stated that the recalls are about humans, not about dogs. The bacteria in raw dog food poses a risk to…
- children who may touch or eat raw dog food and not wash their hands
- people who have an auto-immune disease and are discouraged from handling raw meat by their physician
- dogs with a compromised immune system
I'm not sure about that last one, because I know dog owners who are raising dogs living with cancer, and they feed raw. However, cancer isn't the only illness that will lead to a compromised immune system making it important to work with a holistic veterinarian who is experienced in dog nutrition and raw feeding.
That being said, salmonella and other bacteria aren't only found in raw dog food.
My Dogs Dined on a Dead Rabbit for Four Days
Years ago, I found that my dogs had been taking turns snacking on a dead rabbit for four days. Yep. Four days. I was understandably disgusted, but I saw this as a learning opportunity too.
I'm not sure what killed the rabbit. I can't imagine that it was a coyote that left the rabbit behind. Maybe an eagle or hawk dropped the rabbit? I haven't a clue, but our dogs were very interested in one section of our yard. I didn't pay it any mind – they're dogs and love to smell everything and I figured they'd picked up on a scent that was the best ever – dogs will be dogs.
It wasn't until a day later that I noticed Rodrigo chewing something on the ground that I became concerned. I saw that it was a dead animal, assumed “rabbit,” because of the size, and instead of burying it (I didn't want to see it close up), I used “Leave It” and focused the dogs on another part of our property.
A couple days later, I noticed that they were sneaking back to the rabbit for a snack so I went to bury the carcass. Yep, it was a rabbit.
Our sweet, happy dogs were smiling and wagging their tails and I had to laugh. Yes, this is gross, but they're dogs and I guess this is what dogs do sometimes. At least it wasn't poop, right?
Can Dogs Eat Roadkill?
Technically, the rabbit carcass wasn't roadkill, but you get it, right?
I did a Google search – yeah, super reliable – and read about “Roadkill Cuisine” and roadkill being used in pet food. Don't want to know. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find any information about the dangers of dogs eating roadkill. I asked around the raw feeding community and I got a lot of different answers there too. If you hit a deer, there are times when you can take it home and butcher it up for the dogs (check your local laws first). Read more below.
But back to our dead rabbit, besides the fact that it's gross that my dogs were eating on this dead rabbit during the hottest month of the year, roadkill can be spoiled and teeming with bacteria and worms. So, I figured that the best thing to do is to remove access to “roadkill.”
But Some Raw Feeders Feed Roadkill
I know plenty of raw feeders online who feed roadkill to their dogs when it's available. Mostly deer, rabbit and squirrel are the animals I've seen listed in raw feeding groups. The difference, I learned from fellow raw feeders, is that the roadkill is fresh, not something hanging around for days on end in the summer.
I would have expected Rodrigo, our most sensitive dog, to get sick. He ate the most and loved it. He didn't vomit, have loose stool or diarrhea, and never had gas. He was just fine. How can this be? I expected explosive diarrhea and worms. Nothing happened. My dogs were fine.
I don't plan to encourage my dogs to dine out on days old roadkill, but I'm glad that it worked out okay for our dogs.
If My Dogs Can Survive Roadkill, They Can Survive Raw Food
So the dead rabbit snack the dogs were enjoying (yuck! nature is scary) got me thinking about past raw recalls. If our dogs can handle snacking on roadkill for days, in the dead of summer, then they can handle raw dog food.
However, I don't plan to start feeding roadkill anytime soon.
Fast forward to the Summer 2020 and our newest family member, Apollo, changed my world and how I look at my dogs. After a coordinated effort of four dogs (Sydney chose to sit this one out), my sweet babies cornered a rabbit and my little boy, Apollo, snatched it up and ate it alive. It was the most shocking experience I've had with my dogs and I hope to never repeat it. Watching this happen gave me a whole new respect for my dogs and solidified a few things for me:
- My dogs are facultative carnivores; while they'll pick berries off my bushes and apples from our trees, they'll also hunt and kill prey for a meal.
- A raw food diet is biologically appropriate for my dogs – not kibble, not a plant-based diet – FRESH RAW FOOD!
- Although my dogs are the most adorable babies on the planet, they're also animals and it's important that I respect their species, breed, and nature.
What About Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease?
I recently learned about a disease that is making its way through the rabbit population of the Pacific Northwest. Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease is caused by a virus and is impacting domesticated rabbits. It has been detected on Vancouver Island (Canada) and surrounding areas, and someone mentioned to me recently that in 2019 RHD was detected in Washington State.
This disease is highly contagious, however, according to the Van Isle Veterinary Hospital, “[t]he disease does not affect humans or other species including dogs and cats.” It's important to know, however, that neither freezing nor heat kills the virus. Although RHD hasn't been tied to wild rabbits, I don't see how they can be immune. If someone abandons or loses a rabbit that is a carrier and that rabbit comes into contact with wild rabbits, then the disease will spread, right? Although it's said that dogs can't contract RHD, I've decided to reach out to my two rabbit sources to learn more about how they're keeping their rabbits safe from this virus.
What I Do When My Dogs Eat Prey
Although I've been assured many times that my dogs will be fine, when my dogs eat prey, I still do a few things just in case:
- Watch for a change in behavior that may signify that my dogs are sick.
- Pay attention to dog poop – worms? diarrhea? constipation?
- Add ground pumpkin seeds to their diet as a natural dewormer for three days – 1/2 tsp per meal (my dogs weigh between 50-75 lbs).
- I check the yard before I release the dogs to make sure baby birds and bunnies aren't hopping around.