What happens if a dog kills or eats a rat?

Many of us, while we may not have the exaggerated type of fear that would lead to a diagnosis of musophobia (fear of rodents), are quite fearful of rodents, more specifically, rats and mice. I mean, don’t we fear anything that’s unknown to us? However, our dogs don’t seem to be afraid of rats (a term I will use in this content to refer to house or “field” mice, Norway rats, and roof rats), so they chase them and sometimes, even catch and eat them.

I know! I’m thinking the same thing about how extremely gross the thought of that is, but it’s a fact. It’s also a fact that the first time a dog’s owner witnesses their dog eating a rat, they start to wonder whether their dog is likely to come down with rabies. Well, let’s look at the ins and outs of what happens if your dog kills, or even eats a rat.

What happens if a dog kills or eats a rat?

For the first time, you saw it with your own eyes — your own canine best friend eating one of the vilest things on the planet. Yes, they were eating a rat. You almost heaved, but when you got your composure, you began immediately to wonder if your dog was in danger of getting rabies from this disgusting animal. Let’s see what we can learn about that.

Do rats deserve their bad rap?

You get a creepy feeling when you see a rat, and if they look you in the eye, it’s all over. You’re never the same again. You’ve even seen the movie Willard, in which Willard names his pet rat and trusted companion Socrates, but there is another rat who he names Ben that lives “on the dark side”. Let’s examine some facts about rats and see whether they deserve their bad rap.

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Rats make themselves at home as unwelcome guests, wreaking havoc.

Many other rodents, such as squirrels and porcupines, are afraid of humans and run at the sight or sound of them, but rats are not. They will move right into your home and live there rent-free, using your water and eating your food. Here are examples of how they wreak havoc.

Rats contaminate your food.

Around 20% of the food supply worldwide is contaminated by rodents every year. The result is that the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) must destroy 400,000 tons of food annually because it’s contaminated by rodents. Eating food contaminated by rodent waste can cause food poisoning.

Rats cause structural damage.

Rodents constantly chew and gnaw on anything they can get their little teeth ahold of, causing countless dollars worth of damage in homes across the world. They even chew through electrical wires, causing fires. As a matter of fact, it is thought that rodents cause 20% of the fires where the cause is of unknown origin.

Rats multiply extremely quickly.

Rats are nocturnal creatures, so if you see them scurrying about during daylight hours, you have a seriously large infestation. It can happen quickly, too, as 6 rats can multiply into 60 rats in only 90 days. 

There are other general reasons why rats deserve their bad rap.

Among other reasons to hate rats are that rodent bites can exert up to a 7,000 lb psi force, and in the United States alone, it is estimated that there are 55,000 rodent bites, of which many require medical attention. Rats can jump 3 1/2 feet into the air, are very good climbers, and it is said that they’ve been witnessed surviving a 5-story fall. So, when you consider that there are roughly 5 billion rats in the world and that it’s estimated that there are more rats than humans, it gets pretty hairy!

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Do rats spread disease?

Rats are very filthy creatures, and they spread disease wherever they go. Here are some illnesses your dog can catch by killing or eating a rat.

Salmonellosis

Your dog can get salmonellosis from coming into contact with a rat’s fecal matter. Not only can your dog give this infection to you, but they can die from it. Dogs with salmonellosis may suffer from diarrhea, a fever, dehydration, and shock.

Rat Bite Fever

Streptobacillus moniliformis can infect your dog when they bite or eat an infected rat. Your dog won’t show any symptoms, but they will then serve as a carrier for the infection and can pass it along to you and others.

Tularemia

Francisella tularensis causes tularemia. Rats are particularly susceptible to these bacteria, and in an outbreak, a great number of them can die. If your dog eats an infected rat or drinks water contaminated with their waste, your dog can become ill as well as pass the disease along to you or others. If infected, your dog may show symptoms like loss of appetite, a cough, a fever, diarrhea, and vomiting.

If tularemia isn’t diagnosed and treated, there is a great possibility of death. In humans, symptoms depend largely upon how the person was infected (whether by tick, contaminated water, etc.), but symptoms can include eye irritation, headache, chills, fever, muscle pain, joint stiffness, skin ulcers, weight loss, sweating, and shortness of breath.

Bubonic Plague

Yersinia pestis bacteria can infect a dog if they are bitten by an infected rat’s flea…yes, their flea. Dogs don’t tend to get sick from this disease but can pass along bubonic plague to their owners and others. Bubonic plague is a very deadly disease.

Other Diseases Spread by Rats

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), other diseases rats can spread to your dog include leptospirosis, lymphocytic chorio-meningitis (LCM), lassa fever, omsk hemorrhagic fever, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

What to do if my dog bites or eats a rat?

If your dog has bitten, killed, or eaten a rat, you should take them to their veterinarian immediately. If at all possible, take the rat, as well. This will allow the vet to test the rat for rabies, and even, possibly other diseases, if necessary. If your dog has come into contact with a rat, whether dead or alive, there are many illnesses that both your dog and those around them are at risk of contracting, so isn’t a visit to your vet worth peace of mind? If your dog is current on their deworming treatments and their vaccines, they are less likely to get ill, at least with some of the transmittable diseases.

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Can my dog get rabies from killing a rat?

It would be quite rare for your dog to contract rabies from biting or even eating an infected rat. As a matter of fact, it would be so rare that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) doesn’t even recommend rabies vaccinations for those who have been bitten by rats. This is because there is such a tiny percentage of a chance of a rat being infected with rabies. It is strange that so few people know the truth about rabies.

Rabies is only transmitted through saliva, not blood or feces, and rats just don’t seem to get it, so if your dog gets bitten by a rat or bites or eats a rat, the chances of them getting rabies is very small. Rabies can live outside of a living host for only a couple of seconds, so your dog probably won’t get rabies from messing on the outside of a rat’s corpse, and rabies only lives in dead hosts for 48 hours or less. Even in an infected host, once their saliva dries up, they can no longer transmit the disease. Lastly, rabies is a disease that has almost no reported cases in the United States each year.