I am lucky. I live on the edge of a city and my house backs onto a field and when I take my dogs out for their last pee before bed quite often I can see bats swooping around.
They fascinate me. Partly because they look so strange but also because in the UK they are a bit of an endangered species.
Luckily enough for me, I have never had the misfortune of coming across one of my dogs eating a bat.
But some people are less fortunate and their dogs have eaten a bat.
But will eating a bat harm a dog in any way?
Bats, like any animal, act as a host to a number of diseases.
The most frightening of these is rabies.
But before I fill you with doom and gloom, I want to share some basic bat facts.
Bats- some basic facts
Bats are the only mammals capable of “true” flight.
There are over 1400 species of bat but only about 30 species live in the US.
Of which the most common is the big brown bat.
Worldwide, the smallest bat, Kitii’s hog nosed bat, is about 30 mm, a wingspan of 150 mm and weighs a mere 2.6 g.
The largest bat, the flying fox can weigh up to 1.6 kg and have a wingspan of around 1.7 m.
Over 70% of bat species eat insects, other species eat fruit.
Bats that live in the US or UK only eat insects.
Like most other animals, bats have the potential to carry disease.
And the most insidious one as far as our dogs or ourselves are concerned is rabies.
But more on that later.
My dog ate a bat- what should I do?
Snacking on a bat will not endanger your dog.
I mean, the strange combination of leathery skin, fur and bones might upset his stomach for a day or two.
Or if he decides soon after eating it that it was a big mistake, the bat might reappear as a pile of vomit.
But for dogs that like to “to go off piste” with some of their menu choices, that is just an occupational hazard!
But bats can carry diseases and the most frightening one is rabies.
But there are many more.
Any animal that your dog eats, has the potential to carry a disease and infect your dog- including earthworms.
But, although rabies is a cruel, wicked and most often fatal canine disease, this needs some context.
A quick introduction to rabies
There are no statistics on the number of bats that are infected with rabies in the US or the UK.
The UK is proudly rabies free and in the US only one or two people catch rabies each year, most probably from the bite of a bat- but raccoons, skunks and foxes are also carriers.
It isn’t known how many dogs are infected around the world each year with rabies.
I do know that there aren’t any in the UK and I can’t find figures for the US.
Although I do know that in the US, your cat is more likely to catch it than your dog!
There is a cruel irony for a dog that gets rabies because most of the tens of thousands of people who catch rabies, are infected by dogs.
According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) only 6% of the bats that they had tested had rabies.
And these bats were easy to capture and were weak and sick and so the figure is probably much lower across a healthy population of bats.
Dogs can catch rabies from a bat by being bitten by it, through saliva or an open cut.
Does that mean that if your dog eats a bat that has rabies, that they will get it?
I honestly don’t know because I can’t find an authoritative answer, but I would think that it is likely.
Although if the bat has been dead for some time then, your dog might have a lucky escape.
Can dogs survive rabies?
There are a few accounts and a few statistics that suggest that in very, very rare cases, dogs can survive rabies.
For instance, this article from an authoritative science journal, believes that up to 14% dogs survive rabies, but I can’t verify this statistic because I can’t find it anywhere else!
But this study carried out in 2004 involving nearly 1000 dogs showed that none of them survived longer than ten days after a “bite” event. Most were dead within four days.
But the harsh fact is that most dogs won’t because most dogs will be euthanized if it is believed that they have rabies.
How do I stop my dog from getting rabies?
There is only one way to prevent your dog from getting rabies and that is by getting them vaccinated before they get bitten.
Humans can get a vaccination after they have been bitten by a rabid animal, but dogs (or cats) can’t.
As an interesting sidenote, this post bite “serum” for people was originally developed by Louis Pasteur- the bloke behind pasteurisation, the process that keeps our milk and beer safe!
What are the symptoms of rabies?
Like many diseases, it is hard to be very precise about many aspects of rabies.
If your dog has been bitten by a rabies bat, you might not see any real signs of trouble for two weeks or four months.
It depends on how big the bite was and how close to the brain or spine the bite was.
The first stage will see your dog completely change character.
Those images we have of an aggressive dog, with wild staring eyes and a mass of drawl and saliva hanging from their mouth?
Well, rabies turns previously shy and gentle dogs into these vicious beasts.
And if you had a pretty aggressive dog before the bite, they will be turned into nervous wrecks, cowering away in corners because everything scares them.
And from there, you dog will either get the furious form of the disease or the dumb form.
Dogs with the furious form will continue to be aggressive, agitated and in their madness they will try to eat anything.
Paralysis sets in and the dog will die of a violent seizure.
The dumb form of the disease is more common in dogs and it skips the aggressive stage.
Your dog will become increasingly paralysed, fall into a coma and die.
How can I stop my dog from getting rabies?
The only guaranteed way to stop your dog from getting rabies from a bat, is to have them vaccinated and keep the vaccinations up to date.
There are many tragic elements of your dog getting rabies but one that I haven’t mentioned yet is that you are very limited in what you can do.
By the time that your dog shows any symptoms, not only will it be too late because the probability of them recovering is minute but you can’t help them because the probability of you contracting rabies by handling them is so high.
At the first sign of any sign of fevered aggression or paralysis you have a duty to phone your vet.
How common are bats?
Bats live in all parts of the US and UK but their numbers are falling drastically.
In fact, nearly ⅓ of North American bat species are in decline.
And so it is really tricky to say how likely it is that you or your dog will come across a bat.
You are more likely to stumble across one if you live in a rural location rather than a city centre.
If you want to look at some of the survey data, here are some great maps for the UK.
For the US, there is a bat diversity map here.
If your dog has eaten a bat, then try not to worry.
It is unlikely that anything bad will happen to them beyond a bit of sickness and diarrhea.
In fact in the UK, it is almost certain that because we are rabies free, your dog will suffer nothing more than this.
In the US, where rabies does exist, the risk is higher but it is still very unlikely.
But I think that having looked at this issue much more closely, forewarned is forearmed.
If you think that you are (lucky enough) to live in an area where bats (of whichever species) are quite common talk to your vet about whether they think that your dog needs an anti rabies vaccination.