After a long winter cooped up indoors, summer means it’s time to get outside with our pets in the backyard, at nearby parks, and on hiking trails. But summer is also the season for baby birds, bunnies, fox kits, coyote pups, and other young wildlife who often have protective parents nearby. Our pets encounter wildlife during the summer more often than any other season. Unfortunately, not all pet-wildlife encounters end well — for your furry companion or the wild animal. To help protect your pets and local wildlife from each other, here are some safety precautions to take:
1. Know which wild animal species inhabit your area.
You may be surprised to learn how many different animals we share our communities with, especially those who live outside the rural area. Beyond squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks and songbirds, our cities and suburbs are home to woodchucks, raccoons, skunks, opossums, coyotes, foxes, wild turkeys, eagles, and many others. Homeowners should know what types of wildlife may be nearby and take appropriate steps to “animal-proof” the yard. It’s also important to learn what to do in the event you and your pet encounter wildlife while out and about.
2. Always keep your dog on a leash (unless they are in a fenced yard or at an off-leash dog park).
While it’s tempting to let your dog run free while hiking, even a well-trained dog may not be able to resist chasing after a rabbit, squirrel, or deer. They also could encounter a potentially more dangerous animal such as a coyote or raccoon, and if your dog chases after one of these animals, it could escalate the encounter into an attack. Your dog may injure or be injured by a wild animal, and even if there isn’t a direct encounter, they could damage a nest or den that results in young animals being abandoned. Keeping your dog on a leash will not only protect wildlife but will also ensure your dog’s safety in the event of a wildlife encounter.
3. Keep your cat indoors
Many cats have a strong prey drive and, as a result, are a threat to songbirds, rabbits, chipmunks, and other small mammals. But while we tend to think of cats as predators, they’re also prey for some larger species including coyotes, foxes, and even raptors. Small pets such as cats and small dogs are a major food source for urban and suburban coyotes. They see no difference between your beloved pet and a wild rabbit. Your cats aren’t safe outdoors! Keep them inside.
4. Limit chances for encounters with wildlife at your home.
The best approach to limiting chances for encounters between wildlife and your pets at home is to limit food sources in your yard. Wildlife will naturally be attracted to places where there is food for them. Consider these precautions:
- Invest in wildlife-proof trash bins and keep garbage stored in the garage until the morning of pickup.
- Clean up any fallen fruit if you have fruit trees in your yard.
- Keep bird feeders and the ground around them as tidy as possible. Consider storing your bird feeder overnight in a shed or garage, especially if you live where bears are a problem.
- Locate compost away from your house or in secure containers.
- Never leave pet food outside and don’t feed your pets outdoors. Even an occasional tidbit from your pet’s meal is reward enough to encourage wildlife to return.
5. Bring all pets indoors when they’re not being supervised, especially at night.
Urban and suburban coyotes will hunt cats and small dogs — and, on occasion, larger dogs. In addition, raptors such as hawks, bald eagles and owls will sometimes hunt small or young pets. Attacks are less likely to occur when your pet is with you and during the day. Don’t let your pet roam outside unsupervised, especially at night.
6. Keep your pet up-to-date on vaccinations and flea and tick preventives.
Fleas and ticks, and immature stages of these external parasites, are probably everywhere in your yard. Some animals can also carry viruses or other infectious diseases that can be transmitted to your dog through direct contact with an infected animal or its infected urine or stool. Each year, a few cases of deadly rabies virus are confirmed within the seven-county metro area. It’s important to keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and parasite preventatives.
7. Responsible pet ownership includes an awareness of wildlife
Most of the time, wildlife will shy away from us and our pets. Being a responsible pet owner means keeping our pets safe from predators, but it also requires that we be good environmental stewards. While you and your pets enjoy all that nature offers this summer, be wildlife-aware. Because no matter where you and your pet live, you’re coexisting with wildlife that’s likely closer than you know.
If your pet is injured by wildlife, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. Our Oakdale and St. Paul clinics are open 24/7, every day of the year. If your pet injures a wild animal, contact the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville, MN at 651.486.9453 for further instructions. They will assess the situation and guide you on whether or not the animal should be left alone or brought to them. For questions regarding animals that have been bitten by a suspect rabid animal in which there is no human exposure, contact the Board of Animal Health at 651-201-6808.