Pets and Wildlife

Interactions between wildlife and companion animals almost always create problems for every one. Read about a few potential negative impacts below that free-roaming pets have on wildlife (and vice versa).

Essentially, it is far easier to manage the movement and behavior of your pets than it is to manage the movement and behavior of wild animals. For that reason, closely supervising and keeping pets from roaming freely are the most effective ways to ensure conflicts do not arise.

Cats

Domestic cats are increasingly recognized as a threat to native wildlife populations. Free-roaming, outdoor cats are found nearly everywhere, and native wild animals are not equipped to cope with this efficient, non-native predator. On average, 15 percent of the animals admitted to PAWS Wildlife Center annually are cat attack victims.

PAWS has received more than 100,000 wild animals in nearly 30 years. If 15 percent of these animals were cat attack victims, that means we have seen 15,000 wild lives directly impacted, and in many cases, ended by a domestic cat. This number represents only those animals who  were rescued by humans, and taken to PAWS. For every animal who made it to PAWS, there were likely countless others found dead or never found at all. This number is undoubtedly only the tip of a very large iceberg.

Dogs

A smaller, but still significant proportion of the animals PAWS receives have been injured by domestic dogs. While the majority of the cat attack victims are birds and small mammals, we often see adult squirrels, opossums, deer fawns, and other larger mammals who have been injured by dogs.

In 2001 PAWS received a bear cub who had suffered two broken legs from a dog encounter. Again, the animals who make it to PAWS only give us a glimpse into what is happening on a larger scale. This glimpse does demonstrate that uncontained and unsupervised companion animals are having an effect on wildlife at least at the individual level, if not the broader population.

Danger to pets

There is more to this story. Sometimes it is the pet that becomes the prey. Larger predatory species such as foxes, coyotes, cougars, and bobcats are fully capable of killing and consuming cats, rabbits, small dogs, chickens and other pets who are allowed to roam freely.

These wild animals prey on small birds and mammals in order to survive. It would be extremely unrealistic to expect them to be able to make a distinction between a person’s pet and any other small bird or mammal they come across.

Be that as it may, it is devastating to lose a beloved pet, and wild animals are often vilified as a result of pet predation. This usually leads to the killing of the suspected wild offender. As you can see, when pets are allowed to roam freely unsupervised, even in urban and suburban areas as wild animals are all around us, both the pet and the wild animal lose in the end.

Habituation

Another threat to wildlife is habituation. Wild animals may be drawn into close proximity to humans when they begin to prey on pets, or when they eat pet food that has been left outside. A number of problems can arise when wild animals begin to associate humans with easily acquired food. Read more about the effects of feeding wildlife.

In the case of large predators (cougars, bears), habituation may lead to a human safety issue that will result in the animal being removed or destroyed. In the case of smaller animals, habituation may lead to the animal becoming a nuisance. While one landowner may enjoy seeing raccoons up close as they eat from the cat’s dish on the porch, the neighbors may not be as tolerant of this behavior. Again, the end result will usually be removal and often the killing of the wild animal.

What can you do?

The following tips will help you keep both your pets and wildlife safe:

  • Turn your outdoor cat into an indoor cat, or build an enclosure so your cat can safely be outside.
  • Do not put bird feeders in your yard if you have free roaming cats on your property.
  • When outside of a fenced yard or dog park, keep dogs on leash, or under close supervision.
  • Feed pets inside, or if feeding outside, remove leftover food as soon as the pet has finished eating.
  • Make sure that all outdoor caging for animals such as rabbits, chickens, and other pets, is secure against predators.

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