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Why dogs shouldn’t eat bird seed on the ground

Hungry Evening Grosbeaks gather on a window-mounted feeder. Photo by Laura Erickson.
What happens if dogs eat bird seed? Hungry Evening Grosbeaks pictured on a window-mounted feeder. Photo by Laura Erickson.

In the column Since You Asked in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our March-April 2017 issue:

I caught my dog eating seed under the bird feeders. I stopped her right away, but how concerned should I be? — Bowie Fox, La Crescent, Minnesota

Reports of pet dogs (and even coyotes) consuming bird seed are not uncommon. Fresh seed probably won’t cause too much harm unless it is eaten in large quantities. Old or damp seed, however, can easily harbor molds and fungi, which in turn may produce mycotoxins. One of the most widespread is aflatoxin, and it is not unusual for spoiled bird feed — especially if it includes corn or peanuts — to contain aflatoxin. The chemical is harmful and sometimes fatal to birds and can be detrimental to pets and humans as well.

What happens if dogs eat bird seed and what precautions should you take for the future?

If canines eat seed under feeders, they are likely to eat bird droppings as well. Feces may contain any number of bacteria or protozoan parasites that can be passed on to pets; salmonella is likely the most frequent. Some of these infections can cause minor illnesses; others may lead to fairly serious bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.

Simple precautions will minimize risks to birds, pets, and you: Always stock your feeders with fresh seed. (I recommend purchasing it from wild bird stores that have high turnover.) Keep your feeders clean, and sanitize them regularly. And clean up spilled seeds and hulls from under the feeders. — Julie Craves

Read about common seeds that attract birds best.

Originally Published

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Julie Craves

Julie Craves

Julie Craves is an ecologist and the retired director of the Rouge River Bird Observatory in Dearborn, Michigan. She answers readers’ questions about birds in her column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching. A tireless researcher and bird bander with a keen interest in the stopover ecology of migrant birds, she is also a personable writer with a gift for making everything she writes readable and entertaining. Her first article in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching), “Forest Fire-tail,” a profile of the American Redstart, appeared in June 1994. Send a question to Julie. Read her blog at

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