Downeast Dog News

Dangers of Bird Seed

By Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH | May 01, 2019

Q. My Labrador, Buster, will eat anything. He loves the birdseed I use in my bird feeders. Is there any danger if he eats it?

A. We all want to feed the birds especially with the winters we have. If you have a hungry pooch with no self-control, you do need to be cautious.

Generally, wild bird seed is not dangerous to dogs. The seed mixture usually contains millet, sunflower, safflower, hemp, thistle seed, split yellow peas, split green peas, whole peas, corn, wheat, and milo. As you can see, some of these ingredients are found in normal dog food. So what is the problem?

Like eating anything, moderation is fine. The biggest problem is when Buster gets into the bird seed bag and has a binge. The overindulgence can create an intestinal blockage. Another common problem is bloat. When the seed is eaten, the pieces expand and ferment in the stomach causing the stomach to distend with gas. If your dog feasts on sunflower seed, the risk of pancreatitis, a painful and dangerous disease, can occur from the high fat content in these seeds. Another concern is the old seed that drops around the base of the feeder. These seeds can get moldy and contaminated with bird feces.

If Buster does have a party with the bird seed, seek veterinary help as soon as possible. In the case of bloat, immediate medical attention is a must. Bloat can create gas from the fermentation of the seed in the stomach. Sometimes the stomach will turn causing a twist trapping the gas. The stomach expands, and the pressure can cause the muscle to be injured.

The gas needs to be relieved and the stomach untwisted which means hospitalization and possible surgery.

When the seed forms an impaction in the intestines, medical intervention is needed. Buster would be hospitalized for tests, such as blood work and radiographs. Treatment to remove the blockage can be medical treatment and surgery.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, a digestive organ. This organ becomes inflamed from eating a diet rich in fat. Sunflower seeds are high in fat. Another source of concern is the suet block. Suet is animal fat. It is good for birds especially in fall and winter when the birds need more energy to keep warm. If Buster dines on a suet block or a bag of sunflower seeds, he may develop lethargy, disorientation, vomiting, and diarrhea. Sometimes the vomit and diarrhea can be bloody. Your dog could be hospitalized for several days.

The old seed at the base of the feeder can be moldy. Different molds can give off toxins when ingested. Molds can affect the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system, even his heart.

Symptoms can include lethargy, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, lack of exercise ability, general weakness, ataxia, and seizures. Again veterinary care is a needed.

Prevention is the best medicine. Make sure bags of seed are put in closed containers to keep Buster out and also to keep the mice at bay. Rake up the seed debris under the feeders. Clean feeders regularly with soap and water. This will keep mold and other pathogens away from the feeders and will also protect the birds feeding at these feeders from deadly disease.


Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, ME 04330