With spring coming, two things will be happening around our homes: Birds will be building their nests and our dogs will be shedding their winter coats. This would appear to be a happy coincidence, as the dogs are apparently providing soft, comfortable nesting material for our returning bird population. However, we need to be extremely careful about this.
Dog fur, particularly their undercoat, is extremely soft and provides insulation – until it gets wet. When that happens, it hardens into a hard wad. And longer hairs are very strong and can wrap tightly around birds’ wings and legs – particularly nestlings. This can act like a tourniquet and tighten until that limb is lost or crippled[i].
These two factors make combed-out dog fur very undesirable for nesting material, but are not the worst danger associated with leaving their combed-out hair out for the birds. Many of us use flea and tick treatments to protect our dogs from those parasites. These treatments contain insecticides that are targeted at blood-sucking insects and the eggs that they lay on our pets’ skin. They are safe and effective in keeping our pets free from insect parasites, but they can also be highly toxic to birds and deadly to new hatchlings. And those insecticides are present on our dogs’ fur for weeks after each treatment.
I’m not going to address the issues associated with specific brands of flea and tick treatments, as they are generally considered safe for dogs and this article addresses only the use of their combed-out fur for nesting material. However, I do ask that, before discarding your dog’s spring shedding or putting it our for the birds, you become familiar with the ingredients of your preferred treatments and the risk to wildlife in disposing of that fur.
Check the manufacturers’ websites and the ingredients list on the flea treatments’ packaging. Commonly used insecticides in flea and tick treatments include Imidacloprid[ii], fipronil[iii] and fluralaner[iv]; all of which are highly toxic to birds and would be dangerous to their hatchlings. Encouraging birds to use fur that has been treated with these chemicals, even if its with the best of intentions, would be very cruel and harmful. If you are not sure what the ingredients of your flea/tick treatments are, then please play it safe and dispose of the fur in your household trash. Also, if you buy these treatments from anything other than a reputable veterinary pharmacy (either in-person or online), you really have no assurance what the ingredients really are or what their dosage is, making them risky to both your pet and to wildlife.[v]
Thanks for reading this. The key takeaway is that, although these treatments are safe, effective and beneficial to your pets, they can have undesired effects if your backyard wildlife is exposed to them. Be aware of their ingredients before putting your dogs’ shedded coats out for birds to use.
[i] Langas, A. (April 22, 2019) What Nesting Materials are Safe for Birds? Audubon. Retrieved from https://www.audubon.org/news/what-nesting-materials-are-safe-birds
[iv] Fox, M. W. (August 13, 2014) Researching the Possible Hazards of Products Made to Stop Fleas and Ticks. Washington Post. Retrieved from Researching the possible hazards of products made to stop fleas and ticks – The Washington Post
[v] Silvia, B. (February 15, 2021) Is it Safe to Buy Discounted Pet Medications Online? Consumer Reports. Retrieved from Safe to Buy Discounted Pet Medications Online – Consumer Reports