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What happens if a dog eats a fat ball?

Fat balls are designed to be a high fat food for birds. They are actually made of fat, along with other ingredients. While they are great for birds, they aren’t great for dogs. 

There’s nothing inherently toxic in a fat ball, unless it’s gone moldy. However, the high fat content can pose a risk to your pooch. 

What happens if a dog eats a fat ball?

You are an animal lover, including both birds and dogs. Normally, the two loves coexist peacefully. However, if your dog finds and eats a fat ball, it can cause some problems. Let’s take a look at what can happen if your pooch eats a fat ball. 

What is a Fat Ball? 

Before we go into the dangers of a dog eating a fat ball, it’s important  to understand what it is. Fat balls can be store bought or homemade. The main ingredient is either lard or beef suet. 

Fat is twice as high in calories as protein, making it an important energy source for birds and dogs. Lard or beef suet are used because they are solid, and contain the right balance of fats for birds. 

In addition to the fat, other ingredients are added. These may include nuts, seeds, and even bread crumbs. Essentially, any dry ingredient that birds enjoy can be added to a fat ball. 

Why Are Fat Balls Dangerous for Dogs? 

Fat balls are dangerous to dogs for dogs for two main reasons. The first is their fat content. Dogs do require fat in their diet. However, their digestive systems can’t tolerate large amounts of fat at once. This can lead to pancreatitis as well.

The other concern is that lard or suet can develop mold. Some types of mold can be toxic, or even deadly, to both dogs and humans. 


One of the biggest concerns with a dog eating a fat ball is pancreatitis. The fat they eat is processed by the pancreas. Too much fat can be too taxing, causing pancreatitis. 

Pancreatitis Explained 

The pancreas is responsible for releasing digestive enzymes that help break down food. When pancreatitis occurs, the pancreas becomes inflamed. 

Under normal circumstances, these enzymes activate in the intestines, but the inflammation causes them to activate as soon as they are released. 

The enzymes then begin digesting the pancreas and surrounding organs. This can cause extreme pain and damage to your dog’s internal organs. 

Some dogs  seem to be at a higher risk of pancreatitis than others. One dog may be able to eat a fat ball with no ill effects, while another could become very ill with pancreatitis. 

Symptoms of Pancreatitis 

The common symptoms of pancreatitis include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Dogs will lose their appetite as well. Fever and lethargy are also symptoms of pancreatitis. 

In addition, they may experience severe abdominal pain. This often causes the dog to adopt a praying position, with their front legs and head down and their rear half in the air. 

This position seems to relieve some of the pain. It’s similar to a human getting into the fetal position when they have stomach pain. 

Digestive Upset 

Unfortunately, even if your pooch doesn’t develop pancreatitis, you should be prepared for digestive upset. Too much fat is hard for your dog to digest. 

Despite their reputation for being able to eat nearly anything, a dog’s stomach is also sensitive. A major change in their diet, even changing their food all at once, can cause digestive upset. So, if your pooch isn’t accustomed to enjoying a high fat diet, this will trigger stomach upset. 

The most common symptoms of digestive upset are vomiting and diarrhea. Your pooch may also have gas or abdominal pain. If they vomit more than once or twice, or have bloody diarrhea, they may have pancreatitis. 

Fever and severe abdominal pain are also associated with pancreatitis, so if your pooch has these symptoms it’s likely more than simple stomach upset. 

Mold Toxicity 

The other concern with a dog eating fat balls is mold toxicity. The fat in fat balls can grow mold over time. Some types of mold are not harmful, or even beneficial. Blue cheese, for example, is actually made using a type of mold. 

However, other types of mold can be highly toxic, because they contain mytotoxins. 

The first symptoms of mold toxicity are typically digestive system issues. These include vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Nervous system symptoms can also occur. These include tremors and seizures. They may also have nervousness, restlessness, or disorientation. A high fever or jaundice can also be caused by mold toxicity. 

What to do if my dog eats a fat ball?

If your dog eats a fat ball, don’t panic. Most dogs are fine after eating a fat ball, or only experience digestive upset. However, there are some steps you should take. 

Remove the Fat Balls 

The first step is to remove any remaining fat balls from your dog’s reach. If they can get to them, they will likely help themselves. The more fat balls your dog eats, the higher the risks of pancreatitis. 

Note What Your Dog Ate 

Next, note what your dog ate, to the best of your ability. Did they eat one fat ball, or more? If possible, note what is in the fat balls as well. It’s also a good idea to note the time, so you’ll know how long it’s been since your pooch had their forbidden snack.

This information is useful if your pooch needs veterinary care. Write down all the information you can gather, so you won’t struggle to remember it later. 

Consult a Professional 

If your pooch eats something they shouldn’t, it’s always a good idea to speak with an expert. One option is to call your dog’s vet. They may request that you bring them in for evaluation, or that you monitor them at home. 

The other option is to call the Pet Poison Helpline. They provide a fee based service that can give you quick treatment advice. They have a database of potential toxins. 

You’ll need to give them the information you gathered, as well as your dog’s height, weight, and age. They will then recommend at home treatment or veterinary care. 

If they recommend veterinary care, they can speak with your vet about your dog’s treatment plan. 

Consider Inducing Vomitting 

You may want to induce vomiting, particularly if the fat ball was old or your pooch consumed a lot of it. The faster you induce vomiting, the more of the food you’ll get out of your dog’s system. 

The good news is, you probably have all you need to get your dog to vomit in your medicine cabinet.

You’ll need to give your dog one teaspoon of peroxide for every 5 pounds of body weight, up to 4 tablespoons for large dogs. You’ll need to squirt it into their mouth. Don’t expect them to drink it voluntarily. 

Your pooch should begin vomiting quickly. If they don’t vomit within 15 minutes, you can give them one more dose of peroxide. The vomiting can last for up to 45 minutes, so you’ll need to be prepared for a mess. 

Monitor for Symptoms

Regardless of whether you induced vomiting, the next step is to monitor them for symptoms. Simple digestive upset can usually be managed at home. However, repeated vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever, tremors, or behavioral changes are signs your pooch needs a vet asap. 

If they don’t show these signs, continue to monitor them for several hours.

Calming an Upset Stomach 

If your pooch has stomach upset after consuming fat balls, a bland diet can help. It can be helpful to withhold food for 12 to 24 hours, to allow their system time to rest. 

Then, feed them 2 parts white rice to 1 part boiled chicken. This is easily digestable, and provides the nutrients your dog needs. Over a few days, transition them back to their regular food gradually. 

How to prevent my dog from eating fat balls?

Prevention is a much better alternative than treating your dog after they’ve eaten a fat ball. There are some steps you need to take to keep your pooch away from your bird’s favorite snack. 

Proper Storage 

First, you’ll need to store the fat balls properly when not serving them to your birds. You can stow them in the fridge, if you have the room. You can also place them on a shelf or a cabinet. 

Just be sure that they are up high enough that your dog can’t reach them. A bottom cabinet isn’t a good idea. Some dogs are remarkably good at opening cabinets and even doors. 

Serving Safely 

When providing fat balls to your birds, they should be out of reach of your dog. Birds naturally prefer to eat well above the ground, because it keeps them safe from most predators. It also keeps them out of reach of your furry family member. 

Fat ball feeders can also help keep your pooch safe. These are designed to hold one or more fat balls. You can then hang the feeder, again high enough your dog can’t reach.