If your dog ate a dead fox, you are likely worried about his health.
Most likely you concerned about him eating decayed meat, considering how dangerous it can be for humans to eat meat that has been left out for more than a reasonable time!
Yet, the good news is that, with a history as scavengers many dogs can get away from eating the bodies of decomposing animals without major issues.
However, not all dogs are lucky, and some can even encounter issues, and in some cases, even potentially life threatening consequences.
Why Do Dogs Eat Dead Animals?
While most modern dogs eat kibble served in shiny food bowls, they remain scavengers at heart.
We can't blame them though: early proto-dogs (dogs prior to domestication) scavenged around human settlements about 10,000-12,000 years ago, eating whatever humans left behind. And that often included remains from meat.
Even earlier than that, prior to being hunters, a dog's ancestors were hunters and in periods of scarcity, they wouldn't hesitate to eat the rotten remains of animals.
Despite domestication, dogs are still drawn to eating dead animals even if they are rotten and stink to high heavens.
Many dogs do just fine, courtesy of their strong stomach acid destroying most of the bacterial contamination present on the carcasses, explains veterinarian Dr. Andrea Roberts.
Risk for Bacteria
One of the biggest risks of eating dead animals is that the bacteria in the spoiled meat may upset the dog's stomach. Affected dogs may develop a bout of vomiting and diarrhea.
Even if the meat was fresh though, dogs with a sensitive stomach may still risk developing digestive issues due to the abrupt change in diet.
If that would be the case, simply feeding a bland diet for dog upset stomach for a couple of days may help settle down the irritated guts. However, please see your vet at once if your dog acts lethargic, refuses to eat or has blood in his stools.
Can Dogs Get Botulism?
While it's quite rare, dogs can get botulism from eating an animal carcass.
This potentially deadly condition manifests as a progressive paralysis that starts from the rear legs and eventually moves up the body leading to respiratory distress once paralysis of the diaphragm muscles (muscles used for breathing) sets in.
Signs occur 12 to 24 hours after ingestion of the botulism toxin although in some cases may occur later. Treatment involves supportive care and the administration of an antitoxin.
"Most cases of botulism in dogs are caused by eating dead animals or contaminated raw meat." ~Catherine Barnette, DVM, VCA Animal Hospital
Risk for a Blockage
Any time a dog ingests bones, there are risks for a blockage. The bones may lodge in some part of the dog's intestinal tract leading to vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and abdominal pain. Complete blockages may require dog intestinal blockage surgery.
Even if the dog managed to chew the bones, there are chances that bone fragments may bunch up and accumulate towards the dog's rectum. Affected dogs will lick and often position themselves to potty, but the bone fragments would struggle to come out.
Such dogs need a vet's help to manually extract the fragments.
Risk for Rabies
If your dog ate a dead fox, you may also be concerned about rabies. While infected foxes have the capacity to transmit rabies through bites, it can also be transmitted if your dog happens to ingest a dead fox.
On the positive side, rabies doesn't tend to live for long in dead carcasses, especially the ones that have been long dead. The older, the less chances for the rabies virus to survive.
If your dog is up-to-date on his rabies vaccine, then you may not need to do anything, but if the vaccine has elapsed, a booster shot may be recommended in some cases. Consult with your vet for the safest approach.
Rat Poison Risk
Sometimes foxes may ingest rat bait that has been left out. Therefore, if the fox had been killed with rat poison, there is a remote chance for your dog to get poisoned too.
Rat poison is considerably dangerous because it interferes with the blood's ability to clot and affected dogs may bleed out to death.
See your vet at once if your dog develops tiredness, weakness, inactivity, pale gums, and collapsing which can be signs of internal bleeding.
If any bruising or bleeding externally is noted such as pinpointed dots on the gums (petechiae) or purple skin on the abdomen from bleeding underneath (ecchymoses), also consult with your vet at once.
In general these signs of secondary poisoning are noted 2 to 3 days after ingestion.
Should You Induce Vomiting?
The problem with inducing vomiting in a dog who has ingested a carcass, is the risk for any sharp bones causing damage as they're being brought up.
When being brought back up, any sharp bones therefore risk damaging the dog's esophagus. Vomiting may therefore be fine only as long as no bones were ingested, basically the dog ingested just flesh and fur.
How to Prevent Future Incidents
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To prevent further problems, it's important to regularly monitor your dog's outdoor activities.
Keep him on leash or on a long line. Have your yard fenced. Train him the leave it and drop it commands.
You can also conduct routine surveys of your large yard to ensure there are no dead animals.
The Bottom Line
A dead fox is not a pleasant sight to see, but dogs are naturally drawn to the smell of dead animals. Often, the longer an animal sits, the more powerful the smell will be to them. Many breeds of dogs have a hunting instinct and may instinctually seek out dead animals.
As appealing as they may be to your dog, dead animals can contain toxins, parasites, and bacteria that can make your dog very ill.
With foxes, these include rat poison, and Clostridium botulinum, a neurotoxin that can cause botulism in dogs.