Backyard Wildlife Danger To Pets
As Woodland Creatures Adapt, Danger Increases
It has long been a common occurrence in rural and suburban backyards, but it's even happening in urban neighborhoods now. Displaced by habitat destruction and attracted by trash bins, dumpsters, compost piles, bird feeders, and pets, woodland creatures are becoming less fearful of humans and our activities, and we're seeing them right in our own yards.
From early spring until most wild animals hibernate or go into torpor, is when your pet is liable to encounter wild animals. There will be an abundance of raccoons, opossum, and other creatures that can injure or share diseases and parasites with your dog or cat.
Torpor, by the way, is a step below hibernation and is defined as "a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility." Ahhh...takes me back to my high school years. Unlike hibernators, animals in torpor may come out on a mild winter day and they’re usually sorry they did. No food around, no one to play with, and boy does it get cold all of a sudden.
Coyotes, which don't hibernate, are a threat all year long. I know a woman who suffered the emotional trauma of watching helplessly as a coyote charged out from some heavy brush and ran off with her cherished Pekinese. It happened less than 50 feet from the house in a suburban neighborhood.
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My son believes he lost a cat to coyotes. He didn't see it, but he heard something awful, and his cat never returned. That's one of the reasons why most professionals these days recommend that cats be maintained as house cats and not be allowed to roam, especially at night.
If your dog engages a wild animal, either playfully or with an eye towards a meal, the wild animal may not simply flee. It may attack if it feels threatened, or in the case of coyotes, look at your pet as a prey species.
A number of things can happen in such an encounter. Your pet can sustain a minor injury, be killed, or anything in between. What appears to be a minor injury can be more severe than is apparent to the layperson, so it's advisable to call your veterinarian if your dog or cat tangles with a wild animal.
The first thing most people think of is rabies, but as long as your dog is up to date on shots, that shouldn’t be a major concern. But lets talk a bit about rabies shots here. In every state rabies vaccinations are required by law, and in most must be administered by, or under the direct supervision of, a duly licensed veterinarian.
A rabies shot that is administered by anyone other than for whom the law provides, won't be accepted by authorities, possibly resulting in a period of quarantine or worse. In some jurisdictions pets that were bitten by a wild mammal can be euthanized if the wild mammal involved in the attack wasn't captured and subjected to rabies testing.
By the way, the only method for testing for rabies is to examine the brain of the suspect animal. One can't confirm or rule out rabies by the animal's demeanor, behavior or appearance.
The most common injuries in a tussle with a wild animal, of course, are bite and scratch wounds, but there’s also the prospect of internal and musculoskeletal injuries should your pet be tossed around a bit. You should check for external parasites, too.
Puncture wounds may not appear to be serious, but depending upon what the wild animal’s teeth punctured or severed beneath the your pet's skin, there may be injury to internal organs as well as muscles, tendons and nerves.
One common wild animal encounter is the skunking, and I’ve known pet owners who have dealt with that problem, with the same dog, more than once during the summer. You don’t know how lucky you are if it has never happened to you.
There are home made solutions that you can apply to neutralize the skunk odor on the dog. They may or may not work. Your veterinarian can probably provide a recipe for you, or just Google "removing skunk odor."
Your veterinarian or pet supply store has enzyme-based products to neutralize skunk odors, and they usually work, but you must use them before using any shampoos or soaps. Such cleansers utilize surfactants, which are wetting or foaming agents that encapsulate dirt, lifting it off of the surface. When the molecules of skunk spray are encapsulated, it's more difficult for the enzymes to consume them.
There are steps you can take to lessen the chances of your pet encountering a wild animal in your yard. Be diligent about cleaning up after cookouts and other gatherings, don't leave pet food or treats outside, secure trash in barrels and store them in a garage or shed, enclose compost piles, don't let pets out alone, especially at night, and consider taking bird feeders down for a while.
Whenever it's safe to do so, scare wild animals away from your property by shouting, clapping or employing other loud noises and lights. But don't put yourself at risk. There's no telling what animals that consider you a threat will do. Instead of fleeing, they could easily attack you.
Communing with nature can be spiritual, enriching, interesting and enjoyable, but it's not without its dangers.