Domesticating Wild Animals
Many wild animals, if captured very young, can be domesticated and they make excellent pets.
Few of these have been given the careful study accorded the more common pets, and consequently less is known about their care and training or the diseases to which they are susceptible. On the whole, however, they may be compared fairly closely with the dog and cat.
In dealing with any wild animal it is well to remember that it will sometimes, without warning, revert to nature. A raccoon or squirrel, given a chance, may simply wander into the woods and never return, or may even turn and attack the owner toward whom it showed affection a few minutes before. However, this is not true in all cases, and some remain domesticated for life, especially if they have been spayed or castrated.
Raccoons are among the most entertaining of all pets. They are extremely intelligent and can be housebroken, and their antics are vastly amusing when not annoying. A coon's curiosity is insatiable, and its tendency to touch and handle things exceeds that of a two-year-old child. Its paws are as dexterous as hands. These animals sometimes exhibit a pack rat tendency to steal and hide any movable object, especially if it is bright and shiny. For this reason, and because they will climb or try to climb almost anything from a lamp to the wall itself, they can rarely be released in a room without watching. But when watched, they are hilariously funny.
The raccoon is usually believed to wash all its food before eating, even fish freshly taken from the water. It is more likely, however, that it is merely playing with and feeling the objects than washing them, for the raccoon is by no means the cleanest of pets. It loves to play in the water and with mud, and will make mud pies in its own drinking water.
Since most owners do not wish to let a raccoon run at large, it is usually kept in a fairly small wire box. Where possible, the box should be tall enough to give the animal a chance to climb and play, but if the floor space is large, the pet may make a toilet out of one corner. However, papers can be spread in the corner and easily removed.
The raccoon's natural diet is similar to that of a dog or cat. It will eat and thrive on most table scraps. In small communities wild raccoons often raid garbage cans, lifting the lids more neatly than most garbage men do. They like sweets, fruit, and nuts.
Raccoons are extremely susceptible to internal parasites and should be kept wormed. Wild coons have been known to contract rabies, and are also susceptible to distemper. However, if kept clean and away from other animals, they are not difficult to raise and may be bred in captivity.
The opossum is one of nature's weirdest animals and, while not a common pet, may be an extremely interesting one. It may be housebroken. It makes a hooting noise that sounds more-like an owl than a dog. Its tail, which is long, naked, and ugly, but almost as handy as a monkey's, is used in building the nest and, when curled up above the female's back, makes a rack around which the young sometimes wrap their own tails and swing suspended, head down.
The gestation period of the opossum is only twelve to thirteen days, and the young are less than an inch long, looking more like worms than possums. After birth they climb into the mother's pouch (the opossum is the only marsupial native to the United States), and each fastens itself to a teat by swallowing it. If there are more 'young than teats, the extra young starve. After about one month the young possums begin to pop out for an occasional look at the world, but the mother's pouch is home until they are about three months old.
The opossum is one of the easiest animals to feed since it will, literally, eat almost anything from fresh fruit to rotting meat. In captivity it will thrive on a diet of cat or dog food plus table scraps, bits of fruit, vegetables, and meat. However, bone meal should be added occasionally.
A descented skunk makes an excellent house pet, much like a cat. Skunks are good mousers, eat bugs as well as mice, and will live on cat food. They should be allowed outside the house or other safe enclosure only on a leash, since without scent they are practically defenseless and may be killed by a dog or some startled individual.
Skunks are susceptible to rabies and may be infested with paraskes unless kept wormed and dusted with flea powder. Though little work has been done with skunks, they are believed to be generally susceptible to the same diseases as cats.
The skunk should be descented when very young. In fact, though the operation is quite simple, it would be difficult to find a veterinarian willing to tackle an adult skunk.
Rabbits are bred almost everywhere, both as pets and commercially. They may contract a wide variety of diseases, including a form of syphilis which is a true venereal disease though not transmittable to human beings; but they are easy to raise if some simple rules of sanitation are followed. Runs should have wire mesh bottoms so that the urine and fecal matter can pass through; if wire mesh is not used, the covering should be changed frequently. Hutches should be removable so that they too can be cleaned. Food and water troughs should be scoured and aired daily.
The digestive tract of a rabbit contains a large pouch or sac in which the food is stored until broken down by bacteria. Consequently a rabbit's food should consist mainly of bulky material. Alfalfa, clover, many kinds of hay, and grains such as wheat, oats, and corn make satisfactory foods. Commercial feeding pellets are available, but should not be relied on for a complete diet. Rabbits will eat most garden vegetables, both the greens and the root plants such as carrots and turnips. Only enough for one day should be fed at a time, and old foods removed before they become spoiled. A salt block should be kept available.
When rabbits which have not been penned together are to be bred, the female should be taken to the male. If a strange male is introduced into the doe's pen, she may resent it and is inclined to fight rather than to behave as desired. The pregnant female, where possible, should be separated from the others and allowed to raise her young in privacy.
Perhaps the most common disease among rabbits is contagious rhinitis, which is sometimes called distemper. The first symptom is generally sneezing, and there is a thick nasal discharge. The mucus forms cakes that sometimes drop off, leaving red, occasionally bleeding spots. Penicillin injections help, but the disease is rarely fatal, with or without treatment.
Septicemia is often fatal to rabbits and is sometimes mistaken for contagious rhinitis. The symptoms are similar, but include loss of appetite and diarrhea with temperature three to four degrees above normal. This sometimes strikes so suddenly that a rabbit may be found dead without ever having, apparently, been sick. Streptomycin is sometimes used successfully in treatment, and fowl-cholera serum gives promise of offering immunization, but there is no certain control of the disease at present.
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