Companion animals often share the same outdoor space with wildlife and sometimes this can cause negative interactions between them. On one hand wild animals are just trying to survive in their natural habitat and on the other companion animals are just exploring and doing what comes natural to them as well. Although there are some obvious dangers to companion animals from wildlife; our furry friends can have a large and adverse impact on wildlife populations, specifically small mammals and birds.
One of the top reasons wildlife patients are admitted to PAWS for treatment is because they were injured by a companion animal. Approximately 14.5% of our wildlife patients in the past 5 years were injured by cats (11.3%) and dogs (3.2%); that amounts to more than 3,000 wild animals. This number, however, only represents those animals that were known attacks, rescued by humans and transported to PAWS and is considered a minimum number of affected animals. The patients we receive show us a glimpse into what is happening on a larger scale and demonstrates that unconstrained and unsupervised companion animals are having an effect on wildlife at the individual level, in turn affecting populations.
Why wildlife is vulnerable
Wildlife is vulnerable to dog and cat attacks for many reasons but the primary one being that companion animals are not a natural part of their wild habitat. Wildlife in urban and suburban areas are greatly impacted as they live in closer proximity to companion animals and are already burdened with threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, natural predators, shifts in food availability and feral cats.
Young wild animals are the most susceptible to companion animal attacks; 75% of our patients injured from companion animals were juveniles or sub-adults. This is generally due to them being more vulnerable and lacking the skills to escape before capture. Some young birds leave the nest before they are good flyers, and instead spend a couple of days on the ground practicing their new skills. Adult ground-nesting birds and ground nesting mammals and their young are vulnerable while the adults sit on their nest protecting them. Birds at and around birdfeeders provide a convenient and easy opportunity for cats to prey upon them.
Cats and wildlife
Many cat guardians are unaware of the impact and dangers their feline companions pose to wildlife. Cats are natural predators and have a strong hunting instinct. This is why our feline friends like to chase, pounce and play with a variety of toys and objects in our homes. This enrichment stimulates their natural senses and their mind and is a good way to keep them busy and enrich their lives. However, when cats are let outside they use those same instincts on animals in the wild. Cats are just exhibiting behaviors that come naturally to them but those behaviors can cause severe injury and death to wildlife. Even if a wild animal escapes a cat attack unharmed they may be susceptible to a bacteria called Pasteurella multocida. Cats have this bacterium in their saliva which can be deadly to birds and small mammals. Cat attacked patients at PAWS are always treated with a course of antibiotics even if they are uninjured.
Dogs and wildlife
Like cats, dogs are also natural predators; they have a keen sense of smell that makes most breeds very efficient hunters. Their sense of smell is so good that sometimes it can be hard to get your dog’s attention when he is on a scent. Since dogs are no longer allowed to roam free in most areas of the United States their impact on wildlife populations may be small in comparison to cats but they can still cause serious injury and death to some species. Dogs typically capture more mammals than birds and are known to attack larger animals such as raccoons, seals, squirrels and even deer.
Danger to Pets
Wildlife can also be a danger to companion animals. Wild animals carry diseases, viruses and bacteria like rabies, leptospirosis, ringworm, E-coli, Brucellosis, distemper, and parvovirus that can be transmitted to pets if they come into contact with them or their feces. Domestic cats and small dogs can also be preyed upon by larger natural predators like Coyotes or by feral cats who often carry disease.
What you can do
- Keep your cats indoors or in a catio.
- Keep your dogs in a fenced yard or on a leash when outside.
- Leash-train your cat.
- Do not let your dog harass wildlife.
- Be sure your companion animal is up to date on vaccinations and is spayed or neutered.
- Only feed your companion animals indoors as to not attract wildlife.
- If you still decide to allow your cat to roam free do not put a bell around its neck. Birds and other wildlife do not know what the bell means. Make your cat more visible by using a Birdsbesafe collar.