Spring is here, which means you and your furry companion are ready to be outside enjoying the fresh air.
But the warm sunshine and rebirth of plants beckons wild animals as well. Raccoons, foxes, skunks, opossums, and snakes; these critters and others are out in search of warmth and food.
Even if you restrict your walks to the suburban sidewalks, you can still cross paths with one of these beasts. Here are some wild animals you want to watch out for:
With their distinctive striped tails and little masked faces, these animals are cute; but they are ferocious adversaries. Many dogs want to take them on—but when dogs do, they seldom win. Raccoons try to scratch out the dog’s eyes, will roll a dog over to eviscerate it, and can even bite through a dog’s chest wall, causing lungs to collapse. In some cases, raccoons have been known to push dogs into water in an attempt to drown them. Raccoons are quick and vicious.
If you should encounter a raccoon, do everything you can to keep your dog from engaging with it. Chances are the raccoon will run away if possible: don’t let your dog follow it, and go in another direction.
Foxes fear humans, so if you do run across one, it should run from you. Unless a fox is guarding its young or is rabid (which is rare), it will run from your dog as well.
Should you see a fox, just let it go on its way—which will be away from you. You and your dog can resume your walk as soon as the fox is out of sight.
No one wants to get “skunked,” so even if you see one on your walks, you will give it a wide berth anyway. A startled skunk will give warning signs before it sprays. It will purr or growl, raise its tail, stand on its hind legs, and stomp its front feet. Your dog may not recognize the signs as bracing for a fight, but you can. If you see any of the warning signs, take your dog in the opposite direction.
The spray a skunk emits not only stinks, if it hits your dog in the eyes, it can blind him for up to two days. The spray is an oil that will stick not only to your dog, but anything it touches. It can be extremely difficult to remove from your dog and next to impossible to get out of clothing or other fabrics (including dog beds, carpeting, etc.).
Opossums are not very dangerous, unless they are cornered or protecting their young. They do have 50 teeth, though, and will bite to defend themselves. If you see an opossum, once again just let him go his way and you’ll be fine.
If your dog is bitten by any wild animal, take him immediately to the vet. Even if the injury doesn’t appear severe, there is a chance the animal that bit him could have rabies or other diseases. Wild animals are often hosts to fleas and ticks which can jump off onto your dog, also potentially infecting your dog with disease.
The United States is home to dozens of different venomous snakes. So unless you live in Alaska or Hawaii, somewhere in your state there are venomous snakes.
Snakes prefer to be left alone and typically don’t attack unless provoked, but dogs do love to sniff and stick their noses into piles of leaves, under logs, into holes in the ground, around rocks—all the places snakes love to nest and hide. Snakes can strike with lightning speed and are indiscriminate about what they bite.
Your best bet is to stay in open areas, where there are fewer snakes and you are better able to see them. If you hear a rattlesnake, stop until you locate where the sound is coming from, and go the opposite direction. If your dog seems overly interested in something, don’t let him explore there until you know what’s causing the movement.
If your dog is bitten by a snake, note the snake’s size, color patterns, whether or not it has a rattle, and anything else you can so the vet can identify the type of snake and administer the correct anti-venom. Make sure you locate all the bite marks (it may have bitten more than once). If your dog was bitten in the leg, tie a band of fabric snugly (but not too tight) on the body side of the bite to slow the spread of venom then head for the nearest emergency pet facility and keep your dog as calm as possible.
Wild animal encounters are a danger you should watch for, but not worry about. Keep your dog’s rabies vaccination current, keep him on a leash, and be aware of your surroundings, and you and your furry friend will enjoy outings without incident.