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Wildlife Encounters - How To Keep Your Pet Safe

We are blessed to live in a country where nature is so abundant. Spending time outdoors, whether it's going for a hike or just relaxing, is one of the joys of spending time with our four-legged pals. With nature comes wildlife. Luckily, wild animals are generally happy to stay peacefully away from both humans and dogs. Even so, interactions between wild animals and pets do occasionally happen. Here are some tips on keeping your pets safe around wildlife.

Wildlife Your Dog May Encounter

Raccoon

Raccoon can be utterly adorable. They can also carry rabies as well as parasites which can spread to your dog. Raccoon feces are a common way to spread parasites and many dogs find them irresistible. Raccoons are likely to run away from a dog but they can fight ferociously, if need be.

Skunk

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of having their dog "skunked" will tell you just how awful it is! The oily, stinky mess is hard to get out of the pet's fur, not to mention very unpleasant. And what's worse, the endless baths, though helpful in reducing the stench, never seem to make it go away for good - the dog gets wet in the rain, for example, and that terrible smell returns, sometimes for months on end. Skunks can also carry rabies.

Deer

Deer have a reputation for being lovely, gentle creatures. In the right situation, though, they can be fierce, a scary situation when confronted with an animal so large! If threatened, deer may resort to stomping dogs with their powerful hooves.

Birds of Prey

Hawk, eagle, and owl are common sights. They're fast and often silent. They can easily swoop down and grab a small dog or a cat before the owner even realizes what's happening.

Bear

Bear tend to be peace-loving animals who prefer to stay away from people and dogs, if given the chance. Stay alert and carry bear spray if you're hiking in bear country. Don't allow your dog to chase or harass them. A mother bear with cubs may feel the need to defend them, but any situation with any bear could turn dangerous if they feel threatened.

Porcupine

These lumbering creatures have a built-in defense system: any dog who dares to get too close, let alone tries to take a bite, is going to sorely regret it. The barbed quills embed themselves in the face, paws, and body of the unlucky pet who chooses to engage with a porcupine. It's extremely painful and removing the quills requires a vet visit where pets need to be put under sedation or anesthesia in order to remove the quills. Quills can sometimes be embedded deeper in the body and can even migrate to other parts of the body. Pets who have been quilled need to be monitored for any ongoing health concerns.

Cougar

Most wild cats are happy to keep to themselves. Infrequently, a hungry cat may come into human-occupied spaces and carry off a pet.

Coyote

Coyote can be found in many urban areas. These beautiful creatures are smart and adaptable, happy to eat whatever's on offer - including dogs and cats. People have encountered extremely bold coyote who appear unafraid of humans or their dogs. There have been many reports of coyotes snatching pets right off the ends of their leashes! Be watchful and cautious in coyote territory. Don't allow dogs to chase them; it's dangerous for both the dog and for the coyote.

How to Minimize Contact Between Wildlife and Your Pets

  • Make noise when hiking. The best way to avoid an encounter with wildlife is to prevent one. Use loud bells (not cute little tinkly ones!), use a walking stick to make noise against a tree, sing or talk loudly. This alerts wildlife that you're in the area and gives them a chance to leave.

  • Leash your dog when hiking. Many dogs are overwhelmingly tempted by the prospect of a chase, and won't return to owners on recall even if they're normally great at recall. This puts your dog at risk of being injured (or worse) - and puts the wildlife at risk too. Some people breezily dismiss their dogs chasing a deer with, "Oh, he'll never catch it" ... but the deer could break a leg while running to escape; it could use up valuable energy stores during a time when it needs everything it has to survive; it might even run out into traffic and get hit by a car. Please be responsible and leash your dog if you have any doubts about his recall around wildlife.

  • Keep working on recall with your dog, in the face of distractions. The more you practice, the better he'll get at coming back. Hopefully you and your dog won't be in a situation where you need to make use of it ... but if it should happen, you'll have a better chance.

  • Don't leave pets unattended in yards where wildlife may enter. If your home is in an interface area by wilderness ... or you know there's a good chance of a wildlife encounter where you live ... then it's safer not to leave pets outside by themselves, unless in a secured area like a dog run. Fences won't necessarily stop wildlife; if there's a hole in the fence, or a space underneath some fence boards, coyotes (for instance) can squeeze underneath and grab your pet.

  • Don't assume your pet has "learned his lesson" from a previous wildlife encounter and will know to keep his distance. Many dogs are sprayed by skunks, or quilled by a porcupine, more than once!

  • Vaccinate. Talk to your vet about the risks in your area and ask about vaccinations (such as rabies) that can help prevent issues.

  • Use flea and tick control, if needed. This is another situation in which a discussion with your vet is helpful. Fleas and ticks aren't merely a nuisance; they can cause serious health issues in pets.

  • Keep wildlife attractants away from the house. Keep garbage secured and don't leave a source of drinking water around. Keep BBQs clean. Wildlife who find food and water at your property may return again and again. Don't ever deliberately feed wildlife!

  • Secure any pet doors at night and when not in use. Raccoon and other critters may enter and help themselves to food and water, which will tempt them to return.

  • Let your pet sleep indoors at night.

  • Always give wildlife lots of space. Turn back, take a different path, or make a wide arc around them. Give them a way to escape peacefully.

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