In general, wildlife will shy away from people and pets. However, it is always a good idea to keep pets — and pet food — at a safe distance from wildlife to prevent conflicts. It is important to keep in mind that wild animals are looking to survive, and conflicts with pets are often a result of wildlife simply trying to defend themselves, their young, their food, or their territory.
Listed below are some tips pet owners can take to proactively ensure pets and wildlife peacefully share the great outdoors.
Tips for Keeping Pets Safe
Dogs Cats Rabbits All Pets
Wildlife and Pet Health
Giardia Lyme Disease Rabies Learn More About Keeping Pets Healthy
Tips for Keeping Pets Safe
- Keep your dog leashed and close by at all times.
- Do not let your dog harass wildlife.
- Be aware of hunting season:
- When walking or hiking in the woods with your pets, particularly in the fall and the early winter, it is important to take some extra precautions. Limit hiking to only daylight hours, and stay alert! This season is one of the busiest times for wildlife, as many animals are on the move, actively foraging for food and shelter, mating before winter, and avoiding hunters. Be sure everybody wears brightly colored outerwear. Purchase a florescent orange dog coat or vest at your local pet supply store.
- Annually check state hunting and trapping regulations. During the hunting season, hunters can hunt every day of the week except on Sundays in the Commonwealth. Report any hunter not adhering to Massachusetts hunting laws to the Massachusetts environmental police immediately. For a hunting and trapping schedule, visit the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) website. Steer clear of areas where hunting is allowed.
- Do not allow your dog to chase deer or other wildlife.
- When walking in areas where hunting is permitted, talk loudly and make noise periodically to alert any hunters of your presence.
- Know your route and stay on marked trails and pathways.
- The MSPCA encourages cat owners to protect their cats, other animals, the public, and the environment by keeping their cats indoors or controlled and properly supervised when outside. The average lifespan of a cat kept indoors is more than double that of a cat allowed outside. There are many hazards that endanger the health and safety of outdoor cats, like automobiles, infectious diseases and parasites, predators, illegal traps, etc.
- Afraid your outdoor kitty will be unhappy indoors? There are a number of things you can do to help make the transition easier for your outdoor cat to move inside, including:
- Walk or exercise your cat on a leash.
- Provide lots of toys and scratching posts.
- Plant edible cat grasses and plants inside.
- If you do want to let your cat outside unsupervised, consider purchasing or building an enclosure that will allow your feline to explore a designated space, but do so with caution and protection in place.
- Unsterilized cats also contribute to the homeless cat population and cats can kill wildlife. If you do allow your cat outside to roam freely, help keep the free-roaming cat population low by having your cat spayed or neutered.
- Keep pet rabbits indoors.
- Rabbits are capable of being trained to have free reign of the house just as cats and dogs do, although many pet owners choose to keep rabbits in a safe, clean, indoor enclosure (or “rabbitat”). If not given free range of a room or the house, an enclosure should be at least five times the rabbit’s size.
- Remember that domestic rabbits differ from their wild counterparts; extreme temperatures adversely affect them, and the mere sight or smell of a predator can cause enough stress to lead to a heart attack.
CONSIDERATIONS FOR ALL PETS
- Skunks. Skunks have poor vision and often respond to abrupt or quick movements by spraying in self-defense. Allowing cats and dogs to wander freely will exacerbate this issue and increase the possibility of skunk spraying. If your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, the following recipe can help diffuse the odor: combine 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon mild liquid laundry or dish soap. This recipe can be used on animals and clothing, though some discoloration may occur. Skunk odor can also be neutralized with vinegar, lemon juice, or tomato juice. If your pet gets sprayed in the eyes, flushing them with cold water can help ease the discomfort.
- Pet food, bird feeders, and garbage. Limiting resources that attract wild animals onto your property will help prevent conflict. Try feeding your pets indoors only, or if outside, under supervision, and remove the leftover food immediately. Ensure that your garbage, recycling, and/or compost bins are wildlife-proofed.
- Animal instincts aren’t just for the wild. Your domestic animal’s natural instincts will often include hunting, no matter how well fed they are! Their prey may be birds (some of which are ground-nesting), chipmunks, and rabbits. Remember that spring and early summer are prime time for baby animals to be out and about — likely with protective parents close by. If you come across an injured wild animal, or if your pet injures one, always contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the best advice on next steps. For more information, visit our Orphaned and Injured Wildlife page.
Wildlife & Pet Health
Giardia lamblia is a common single-celled parasite that can cause an illness of the intestines known as Giardiasis. The disease can be found throughout the world and is widespread among mammalian, avian, and reptile species.
Your dog or cat might become infected through:
- Contact with infected feces from another dog or cat
- Rolling and playing in contaminated soil
- Licking their body after contact with a contaminated surface, such as a dirty litter box or dog crate
- Drinking water from a contaminated body of water or a contaminated water dish
Young pets have a higher risk of illness than adult dogs and cats.
- Stomach or abdominal cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dehydration (loss of fluids)
- Weakness and fatigue
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
It is possible to be infected and show no symptoms.
- If your pet has persistent diarrhea, seek veterinary care. Diarrhea has different causes and could result in dehydration or other serious complications.
- Diagnosis and treatment of Giardia infection must be done by a licensed veterinarian.
- No approved over-the-counter treatment is available; therefore, medication is prescribed to treat the symptoms of the disease.
- Giardia can be passed in stool intermittently, and pets may appear healthy or without signs of disease before they have completely recovered. Repeated fecal tests may be necessary.
- Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations, and take your pet to all follow-up appointments.
- Pick up and dispose of your dog’s feces immediately.
- Provide clean and safe drinking water for your pets.
- Do not allow dogs to share water bowls.
- Frequently wash your hands.
The bacterium that causes Lyme disease can be spread to both people and animals through the bite of very small, infected ticks. These ticks require constant, high relative humidity at ground level, and therefore are most common in the northeastern and coastal states, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest. Lyme disease is most often spread during the late spring through the early fall seasons. Ticks live on low-lying brush and grassy areas, and subsequently crawl onto animals and people who come into contact with these plants.
Although people generally associate deer with Lyme disease, at least 27 species of mammals serve as efficient hosts for deer ticks, and over 125 vertebrate species serve as effective hosts for nymphs.
Most pets that test positively for Lyme disease are not clinically ill, which makes it difficult to know which animals to treat. This is particularly difficult in New England, where 50-75% of dogs may test positively for Lyme disease.
Lyme is diagnosed through a blood test.
- Through the bite of an infected deer tick.
- The tick usually must be attached to a dog or cat for at least 48 hours before it can transmit the bacteria.
- Young ticks are most active during the warm-weather months between May and July. Adult ticks are most active during the fall and spring. Ticks may also search for a host any time that winter temperatures are above freezing.
- For Lyme disease to exist in an area, three elements must be present in the natural environment:
- Animals that are infected with Lyme disease bacteria,
- Ticks that can transmit the bacteria, and
- Animal hosts (such as mice and deer) that can provide food for the ticks in their various life stages.
Pets may not show symptoms for 2-5 months. After that time, typical symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Joint swelling
- Decreased activity
- Antibiotics: follow your veterinarian’s advice about follow-up treatment and testing.
- Use reliable tick preventive products. Speak with your veterinarian about which tick preventive product is right for your pet.
- Work with your veterinarian to decide whether to vaccinate your dog against Lyme disease. Your veterinarian’s advice may depend on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle and overall health, and other factors.
- When possible, avoid areas where ticks might be found. These include tall grasses, marshes, and wooded areas.
- Clear shrubbery next to homes.
- Keep lawns well maintained.
- Thoroughly check for ticks on both yourself and your animals once indoors.
- Remove ticks safely:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick as mouth-parts may break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
Rabies is a much-feared disease of the nervous system that dates back to ancient times. Rabies was rare in Massachusetts for decades, appearing primarily in a very small percentage of bats. However, an outbreak of raccoon rabies, which originated in the mid-Atlantic states in the late 1970’s, made its way to New England. It is one of several strains of rabies impacting wildlife in the United States.
You cannot tell if an animal has rabies just by looking at it. Some infected animals may act strangely or aggressively, but others may not.
All mammals can contract rabies, but the current outbreak primarily affects raccoons bats, skunks, foxes, and occasionally woodchucks. Birds, rabbits, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, and other small rodents are rarely affected. Snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, and insects do not get rabies.
- Through contact with the infected saliva of a rabid animal
- Commonly from an animal scratch or bite
- Aggression and fearlessness
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty swallowing
Rabies in animals can only be confirmed after death through examination of the brain.
- Seek medical care from your veterinarian.
- If your pet is vaccinated:
- Revaccinate and confine under the owner’s control for 45 days (per Massachusetts law, quarantines vary by state).
- Local board of health must be notified.
- If your pet is not vaccinated:
- Isolate the animal for 3 months followed by 3 months of strict confinement (per Massachusetts law, quarantines vary by state).
- Vaccinate one month prior to release.
- Euthanasia may be suggested instead of the quarantine.
- Local board of health must be notified.
- Keep pets up to date on their rabies vaccinations.
- Keep cats inside and supervise dogs when outdoors.
- Keep outdoors areas tidy, such as those with garbage cans and bird feeders, to avoid attracting wildlife.
- Do not keep wildlife as pets.
- If you see a wild animal acting strangely, contact your municipality’s animal control department.