How to Keep Your Pets Safe Around Wildlife
Regardless of where you may reside, your pet is likely to encounter wildlife at multiple points during its life. While cats encounter much of the wildlife indoors unless they are permitted to roam outside, dogs are more likely to meet either predator, birds of prey, or wildlife of comparable size with a defensive and attack-prone instinct.
Encounters with wildlife, unfortunately, end up seldom being passive. This means that your pet could sustain an injury, get bitten or lacerated, or worse, depending on the wildlife they encounter. Many wild creatures carry diseases that our domesticated furry friends could get very ill or perish from. Some wildlife is escaping wildfires (depending on where you live) and could be traumatized, starved, and overly aggressive.
As their owners, the onus is on us to protect our beloved animals. The size of the pet is a small factor in their wildlife encounter, but ultimately, it's in no way a deciding factor of their safety. And while cats are themselves predators, and dogs can chase down critters and rodents well enough, neither is truly safe out in the wilds.
So what are some strategies to employ in protecting your favorite furry family member? Here are a few practical ideas.
Wildlife Threats To Pets
Some of the threats vary upon location and the dangers they pose can be of varying degrees. In either case, it is good to be aware of what is out there and take the proper precautions to it. Here are some of the more common threats to be aware of:
- Coyotes: Coyotes do not care much for interaction with humans, so if you are walking your pet outside on a leash and next to you, chances are in most situations you will be able to scare the predator away. However, coyotes are massively territorial and they are equipped with a set of serious claws and sharp teeth that can do serious damage. Luckily, your pets are not their preferred source of food, though they have been known to attack animals that have wandered off or feral cats. Coyotes build hidden dens and typically engage in their primary hunting times during the night, so avoiding walking your pets during those hours, let alone wandering on their own in the backyard at night is not ideal.
- Raccoons: While raccoons are typically not aggressive towards pets (unless provoked), they could be diseased, hungry, or very brazen. Their unpredictability, paired with the fact that they are intelligent, is made worse by the fact that they are vicious fighters. In fact, in an attack, a raccoon knows exactly how to most severely damage the other animal. It does this primarily by attacking its eyes or rolling it over and trying to tear at its abdomen. Racoon largely scavenges for food at night, so keeping your pets inside when it's dark, and feeding them indoors is a good plan.
- Skunks: While they want nothing to do with people, noises, or lights, these night scavengers tend to not be aggressive towards other animals, but they do get defensive. When threatened a skunk will spray the perceived threat with a hideously smelling secretion. Most humans know better than to bother a skunk for those reasons (though they are not safe either), but dogs do not know better, and maybe excited by another animal’s presence, then attempt to engage.
- Birds Of Prey: Small dogs, kittens, and puppies are certainly the ideal size for birds that can silently sweep in from above and snatch them away. Hawks and owls specifically spot small creatures isolated from anyone or anything else and make them prime targets for attack.
- Porcupines: While not aggressive, much like skunks porcupines will defend themselves if nervous. But unlike a foul, hard-to-wash-away smell, porcupines fire their quills at their threats. The problem with these is that they are not only difficult to remove, the more the animal moves, the deeper the quills sink into their body, ultimately making their way to the internal organs if not addressed quickly. The quills also have bacteria and other pathogens that could lead to your pet catching a disease.
- Snakes: It's important to be aware of venomous snakes in the area. In the spring and summer months, multiple places in the country have venomous rattlesnakes come out. When the reptile is stressed, it makes a particular rattling noise (hence the namesake) with its tail. Some animals are curious about the sound and go closer to explore. Dogs, at least bigger ones, tend to be enough of a threat for a rattlesnake to make the creature gain some distance, but smaller dogs and cats are more likely to be bitten. The bites cause the venom to quickly move through the bloodstream and require quick administration of antivenom.
- Rodents/Gophers: Cats and dogs may have an instinct to go after these small woodland creatures, and while there is not much they can do but run, they may carry diseases, as well as poison they consumed from people trying to get rid of them. With that, your pet can get infected or poisoned too.
- Deer: While not aggressive or dangerous overall, deer do have a sizable advantage on pets. If it means protecting their young ones, a mother or father buck can certainly attack. They have plenty of weapons at their disposal too to do some serious damage.
Measures To Keep Pets Safe Around Wildlife
Keeping your pet inside when it is dark out is one of the top precautions a pet owner should take. With many of the common threats being nocturnal hunters, it is important to mitigate the chance of your pet interacting with them. Walking your dog during late or really early hours also increases the chances that wildlife is using those same hours for hunting and scavenging.
Wildlife is also drawn to food, as that is the ultimate goal of their scavenging, which means assuring that there is no uncovered trash or leftover remnants left outdoors. This will draw wildlife a little too close to your domicile, and if you happen to be outside with your pet, there is always a chance of an encounter. This goes for animal waste as well. Wildlife may sense undigested food or something else it finds appealing in another animal’s waste left in yards or near homes, and their curiosity will bring them too close to your home for comfort.
To prevent hawks or owls from swooping into your yard and attacking your small pets, you need to take measures to make the space unappealing to them. That means clearing it from any materials birds might find useful in nesting. They may not pay as much attention to those areas that do no have multiple uses for them, reducing the chances of them coming in. Clearing brush and leaves from yards also happens to deter porcupines.
Most importantly is the training your dog gets. It is important to let your pet learn about the outside world, at least for dogs. Cats are happier inside but exposure and outdoor exploration are pivotal for puppies and older dogs as they keep them excited, energetic, and increase their intelligence. But when wildlife is around, they must know to respond to your commands. If you notice your dog fiddling with another creature, it is very useful for a command like “off!” or “stop!” to get them to back away.
Outdoor experiences can be very rewarding for both pet and owner, and it makes for great bonding time. To avoid dangers from wildlife to your pets (and the other way around) the key is to limit the chances of the two interacting as much as possible. The previously described methods should be of help in that regard.