It is almost inevitable that our pets will cross paths with wildlife at some time in their life. We are fortunate to live amidst a rich variety of wildlife here in Santa Cruz, but unfortunately, these non-domesticated denizens can pose health risks for our cats and dogs. Parasitic infections, viral diseases and bite wounds from an unexpected encounter with wildlife are common ailments for pets. Luckily, many of these health risks are preventable if we take a few simple precautions. Pets and wildlife can peacefully coexist!
Did you know that Santa Cruz supports a large, healthy population of coyotes and raccoons? Depending on where you may reside, the high-pitched howls of coyotes on the prowl can be a nightly occurrence. Coyotes are intelligent pack hunters that can easily snatch small dogs and cats. Raccoons tend to be more interested in making a meal out of your trash rather than your pet, but they can be quite bold and will choose to fight rather than flee when confronted by dogs. In the past year, I have lost several feline patients to tragic encounters with coyotes. If your cat is allowed outside, it is important to ensure you have a method of bringing them in at dusk to keep them safe at night. Training a cat to respond to it’s name being called or shaking a treat canister is a great way to get your cat back inside at night when most attacks occur. Dogs should also be kept indoors at night to minimize the potential for skirmishes. Before letting your dog out at night for a potty break, make sure to turn on outside lights and take a look around while making a bit of noise. This may be enough to scare off a hungry raccoon or coyote. Just because your dog is small, don’t assume he will not want to defend his territory. You also may want to keep your dog on leash at night when allowed out for eliminations – even in the backyard.
Even if your pet is safe inside at night, wildlife can still indirectly infect your pet with parasites. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums and deer may be using your backyard as a commuting route. Unfortunately, they are quite rude and will “litter” your property with intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks. Even if your cat takes a few steps out the front door to lay in the sun, it can easily pick up fleas or intestinal parasites. When a cat grooms itself after laying in the grass, it may accidently ingest microscopic parasite eggs that have been shed by wildlife. Dogs tend to take it a step further by considering fecal droppings of wildlife as a delicious snack. Fleas and ticks can hop on your pet while it walks through grass, sand or soil. Talk to your veterinarian about parasite prevention to keep your pet parasite-free. New products are safer and more effective as well as easier to administer than previously available options.
Vaccinations are a simple, safe and effective way to protect your pet from wildlife diseases such as rabies. In the last 8 years, there has been an average of 1 reported case of rabies in dogs and cats per year in the state of California. There was also 1 human death in California as a result of a rabid bat bite within the last 2 years. Your pet could get rabies from a bite from an infected host. The most common hosts in our area are bats, skunks and occasionally raccoons. There is no treatment or cure for rabies, only vaccination can protect your pet. Since rabies is fatal, it makes sense to vaccinate your pet rather than run the risk of infection. Worldwide, over 55,000 people die each year due to rabies infection. Even indoor cats are not safe, as a rabid bat has flown into a home with indoor cats that were not vaccinated for rabies. As a result, these cats were quarantined for 6 months and the family in the home needed post-exposure vaccinations. Cats are not required to have rabies vaccinations in California, however, it may be a good idea to consider it for your cat.
Contact Santa Cruz County Animal Services for assistance with handling wildlife on your property. Contact your veterinarian for guidance in choosing the right approach to keeping your pets safe!