Caring for the Dog
As our population continues to grow we leave less room for wildlife. It is inevitable that there will be more contact with wildlife as we continue to encroach upon their space. Wildlife are becoming emboldened as their resources deplete thus it does not matter whether you live in the country, suburbs or city; exposure to wildlife occurs everywhere now. It is important to be aware of the local wildlife and the dangers that it can pose for your dog.
According to the Center for Disease Control, 90 percent of reported cases of rabies occur in wildlife. Exposure to infected wildlife is the primary means of transmission to dogs. Wildlife forms a reservoir for the rabies virus making it impossible to eliminate. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the top four terrestrial animals commonly found to be infected with rabies. Rabid bats are another reservoir and have been documented in all 49 states except Hawaii which is rabies-free. Rabies is becoming rare in dogs but is becoming more common in cats. Cats are frequently allowed to roam, some owners do not vaccinate their cats and there are growing populations of feral cats in many communities so cats are another possible means of exposure to your dog. There is a simple way to minimize the rabies threat for your dog and that is to keep his rabies vaccination current. If there is a possibility your dog was exposed, then post-exposure prophylaxis in the form of a booster is typically recommended. See your veterinarian whenever there has been exposure such as an animal bite.
Wildlife can bring out a strong predator drive in dogs and hunting comes naturally to most dogs. Chasing wildlife can be very dangerous as the dog focuses intently on the prey and not the environment. Accidents occur and I commonly see dogs in the emergency room after being hit by a car or getting tangled in a barbed wire fence while chasing their prey and of course bite wounds and lacerations for the instances when the dog does catch his prey and a wild fight ensues. A simple means of preventing these wild chases is proper training, a fenced yard and walking your dog on a leash.
While a fence is usually good at keeping your dog in, keep in mind that some wildlife can easily defeat a fence. Raccoons are skilled climbers, are not afraid of humans and are attracted by garbage. They sometimes take up residence in chimneys. Raccoons are nocturnal, so if you see one in the daytime, assume it is sick and avoid contact. They carry distemper and rabies and can easily transmit them to your dog. Keep garbage bins tightly closed, cap your chimney, and install motion detector triggered floodlights to reduce the risk of exposure to these nocturnal wanderers. Opossums are another skilled climber and while they do not pose as high a disease threat as raccoons do they are slower and it is easier for your dog to catch one and a fight will result. Squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits are relatively harmless, are very quick and not likely to cause your dog trouble except frustration in not being able to catch them. A family of rabbits live under the shed in my backyard and they love to tease my dog Buster.
Some animals can defeat a fence by crawling under them or taking advantage of small gaps in the fence line. Skunks sometimes get through and a dog can get sprayed if an encounter results. If your dog is sprayed by a skunk take care of it immediately. The oils in skunk spray are very potent and the longer you leave it in, the more likely the smell will linger. The best remedy used for de-skunking a dog is a concoction that can be created with products around the home. Prepare by wearing old clothes and rubber or latex gloves and set up a bathing area preferably outside or in a very well ventilated bathroom. Apply a small strip of eye lubrication to your dog’s eyes to protect them if any of the solution splashes into the eye. The recipe for the solution is 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup of baking soda and 2 tsp. of Dawn liquid soap. Add up to a gallon of lukewarm water if needed if you have a larger dog. Massage the solution into your dog’s coat and let it sit for at least five minutes and then rinse your dog with lukewarm water. Repeat as necessary until the odor is gone. Be sure to use fresh peroxide as peroxide degrades into water over time. Do not bottle this solution as pressure will build up and the bottle may explode. If your dog was sprayed in the face or fought with the skunk and got bit, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Like skunks, porcupines are another animal with an excellent self defense mechanism. Porcupines are nocturnal rodents that are covered with up to 30,000 sharp quills on their body. The quills are extremely sharp and easily dislodged so any dog that gets too close to a porcupine can easily end up with a face full of quills. The quills need to be removed as soon as possible since they can be pushed deeper into the body and migrate causing problems. If it is just a couple of quills they can be removed by snipping the top of the quill with a scissor to let air into the quill and facilitate removal. Then grasp the base of the quill with a needle nosed pliers and remove it by pulling it straight out taking care not to break the quill. If there are more than a couple quills then veterinary attention is needed to have the quills removed with the dog sedated or under anesthesia.
Snakes are found all over the United States — know your local species especially the poisonous ones such as copperheads, rattlesnakes and coral snakes. If you live in an area with rattlesnakes and live far away from a veterinarian then consider vaccination. If a snake bites your dog, seek veterinary attention immediately.
Toads, Turtles and Alligators. Toads secrete noxious chemicals that can cause intense salivation and vomiting, if your dog picks up a toad, rinse the mouth with water and if he swallows the toad, watch for vomiting and seek a veterinarian if vomiting occurs. Turtles carry salmonella so do not let your dog pick up turtles. Snapping turtles can bite very hard and can severely wound a small dog or puppy. Another reptile to watch out for in some parts of the country is alligators. They live around fresh and brackish water so keep your dog on a leash around bodies of water. Alligators have been found in backyard pools, ponds and drainage ditches so check them frequently.
Some people like to feed birds in their backyard but dogs and birds don’t mix and if a fight results the dog will win. Bird seed can cause fungal infections if ingested and can attract wildlife such as raccoons. Water in bird baths can be contaminated with bird feces and carry pathogens. For these reasons if you have a dog, then do not feed birds in the dog’s area such as the backyard. Take care around ponds as flocks of ducks and geese can gang up on a dog if they feel threatened. Hawks have been known to attack small dogs and puppies so watch your dog closely in areas with hawks.
If you enjoy roaming the trails with dogs use common sense to avoid wildlife encounter. Train your dog to come when called and to leave things alone when ordered. Keep him on a leash in areas with lots of wildlife. Coyotes, panthers and bears are becoming more aggressive as their territory is diminished and attacks are increasing.
The dangers of wildlife can be easily minimized by training your dog, minimizing exposure by providing a fenced-in area, supervising your dog when outdoors and not attracting wildlife with garbage, pet food left outside, bird seed or composting material. If you see an animal that appears sick or is acting unusual contact your local humane society, game warden or wildlife rehabilitation center to have the wildlife removed. Do not attempt to remove it yourself. By taking these precautions you can help your dog avoid the call of the wild.
About Dr. Kristy Conn
Dr. Kristy Conn graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and did her clinical year at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Teaching Hospital where she fell in love with emergency and critical care medicine. She has practiced emergency medicine at various clinics almost exclusively for the past 10 years, in addition to volunteering in shelter medicine, checking on the health of arrivals and providing low cost spay/neuters and immunizations to recently adopted animals. She is a member of the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps which helps provide veterinary care to animals affected by disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. She resides in Long Island with her beloved mixed breed dog named Buster.