Friday, November 01, 2013

Is there Wildlife in my Backyard?

There could be.  Racoons, skunks, opossums, squirrels, voles, mice, rats… these are just a few of the possible “wild” animals that can be in most residential neighborhoods in Sacramento/Elk Grove on any given night.  Except for squirrels, these critters are primarily nocturnal, and can and will travel over fences and through sewer and runoff drains.  Often as the weather cools and the rains begin to flood out previous shelters, these animals become more apparent to us, and our dogs, in the late Fall and early Winter.  The holidays for us are often marked by the baying of our coonhound as he discovers yet another raccoon in the tree, or opossum in the garden.  I am always grateful when he does not discover a skunk!

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In recent years, skunks and raccoons have been associated with rabies, and therefore present a risk to us and our pets more than the nuisance or bad odor we smell when a skunk  “sprays.”  As in this picture, they are often attracted to cat food or dog food left outside, or drawn into homes through pet doors to such feeders.  Although a skunk will be reluctant to spray initially (they have about 15cc stored up which takes about 10 days to make), they will not hesitate when confronted with an attacking dog, or cat, or person with a broom.  However, being omnivores, they are attracted to all that our gardens and kitchens and garbage cans have to offer; Urban dwellers are increasingly common as well.

The best thing to do is to keep food from being readily available, and to check sheds and outhouses regularly to be sure animals have not taken up residence.  Rodent baits are regulated now so that they can only be put out in closed bait traps to prevent pets and children from accidentally consuming them, but they are not entirely dog proof and extreme care should be taken when one choses this route.  Several different types of “bait” are utilized, some of which have antidotes, and some of which do not. Some of the newer rat baits are neurotoxins and dose-dependent, others cause inability for the blood to clot.  If your pet should accidentally ingest any rodenticide, it is important to know the exact ingredients and the quantity consumed.  Emergency care should be sought immediately, and packaging brought with you as several types look similar to one another but are treated differently. 

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One last concern to consider before taking too kindly to these interesting creatures is Leptospirosis.  This is an infection caused by a bacterium carried in the urine or feces of infected animals. The most common reservoir in urban areas would include mice, rats, raccoons, etc.  Dogs and people can be infected by contact with food, water or soil containing urine from infected animals.  Infection can also occur when dogs drink from standing water sources including rain puddles, creeks, streams and run off.   Dogs can and should be vaccinated against this, but no vaccine is 100% protective, and most dogs have not been vaccinated as regularly for this disease as the vaccine was not updated to accommodate current strains until recently.  It is the world’s most common disease transmitted from animals to humans, and causes acute kidney failure and often death if not treated in time.
So before you decide to let that cute raccoon feed out of the cat’s outdoor dish, or let the mice and voles have the last of this year’s garden fruits, consider the risks and protect yourselves accordingly.  Happy outdoor urban adventures!