I’m a big fan of nature in a general sense. Trees. Wind. Little baby bunnies. Unicorns. You get the picture. I like my nature only slightly raw and mostly wrapped in plastic, like I like my steaks. When nature comes a’calling, though, and gets all up in my grill, or in the grills of my pets or patients (note to self: research if pets actually can have a grill) then I tend to lose my patience with it.
Over the years as an emergency veterinarian, I have seen a number of negative interactions between nature, red in tooth and claw, and domestic pets. Nature usually wins. Nature, in the form of a coyote, wolf or hawk, can do a simply astounding amount of damage to a cat or little dog in a very short timeframe. No sooner has the unsuspecting, bunny-slipper-clad pet owner let the little floofy dog out the sliding door when nature descends upon it and pokes big holes in it, letting all the inside stuff out. Then it is up to me and my colleagues to patch up said floofy dog and get it back home.
We had a duo of cases a while back involving nature in the form of a large mammalian carnivore (possibly a coyote), being very mean to two floofy and sweet dogs from the same household. Nature damn near killed one of the dogs, a Yorkie, who was found with a great deal of trauma all over his little floofy body. The other dog, a Shih-Tzu (or Shih-Tzu compatible), had less extensive wounds and did not need the same level of ICU care as the Yorkie, but still required surgery and a hospital stay. Imagine the horror of this family having to deal with two injured dogs, one of them gravely ill, at the same time. They were devastated, but remarkably cool under pressure.
The Yorkie, who I will call Mister Pinkie Buffalo Tiny Bumps, because I can, had had his chest fairly well crushed and a smattering of deep puncture wounds arrayed all over him. Some of these puncture wounds could have gone bad places, like into his abdomen, and he toyed with requiring major surgery to put his chest back together. He needed the veterinary ICU version of the full court press, but eventually did well and went back home. I can only hope that his owners made some provisions to separate nature from Mister Pinkie Buffalo Tiny Bumps so that he never has another close call – he’s a tough dog, but I just don’t think he has it in him to do it all again. (And the owner’s bank account probably doesn’t either; their bill was stratospheric. They could have easily procured a nice used car for what they spent fixing up their duo of damaged dogs.)
Our domestic pets came straight outta nature, about 30,000 years ago, but ever since then they greatly prefer the comfort of the human hearthside to the call of the wild – at least floofy little beasties like Mister Pinkie Buffalo Tiny Bumps do. When nature stops by and visits our modern pets, someone often winds up dead, much like when Chuck Norris visits Southeast Asia.
Our editor, Phyllis DeGioia (whom I call la piccolo ragazza di maledicta, because I can), has heard reports of coyote predation in her neighborhood and is trying bravely to keep her composure. She has one little dog and one medium-sized dog. Like the rest of us, she can’t maintain constant eye contact on them at all times, and her fence is only 5.5 feet tall, which coyotes can jump over. There are times when the dogs just have to go outside, and we have to trust and hope that something with fangs, fur and claws won’t go all Freddy Kruger on them. We tend to get complacent when everything around us is a grande latte or a Justin Bieber video. We forget that, just outside of our modern comfort zone, lays the savage fight for life and resources that has defined biological life on earth for literally millions of years. We have created this little temporal island of illusory safety, but it can all come home to roost when nature sneaks back in and wants to hurt the floofy.
So what are we to do – those of us who would prefer that our pets not end up as a midnight snack for a fearsome predator? For cats, staying indoors is one key to a long and injury-free existence. This is not always practical, but indoor cats live far longer than their outdoor cohorts. If you do have an outdoor cat, try and keep the food and (if possible) litter box inside so they will have a reason to come home from time to time and ‘check in.’ If your cat is gone longer than usual, prowling the neighborhood to find them is a good idea. If you live in a woodsy, country area, the chances that something big and toothy will try and nab your kitty are much higher than more urban regions, although the risk is still there – raccoons, the ultimate urban predator, can take apart a cat faster than you can say “please don’t take my cat apart.”
For dogs, it gets a tad trickier. The nature-related risk is worse for smaller dogs, although nature can pick a fight with any sized dog. A fenced yard is a good start. It not only helps keep the nefariously-minded nature out, it can help keep the floofy inside and safe from harm of the Buick variety. If a fence is not doable, grab a leash and take a stroll. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight and a can of mace – sometimes, nature sees bigger prey and might want to snack on your toesies tonight. A good walk with your best friend can help get you moving and definitely counts towards exercise points; not only can it help solidify the human-animal bond, it might help you shed some pounds and keep the doctor from bugging you so much about having your behind planted on the couch.
So protect your pets from nature, go out and add a few steps to the pedometer, and let me know if you see any unicorns. I’ll be here on the couch, annoying my doctor, waiting for you all to get back.
A coyote awareness seminar was given in Los Angeles by the Animal Specialty Group, a 24/7 emergency veterinary practice that has seen an increase in pets injured by coyotes. They recommended keeping cats indoor and closely supervising dogs.
They said that "the coyote’s diet consists primarily of rodents, small mammals and insects. When hunting in a pack, however, they will target larger prey such as deer. Coyotes are also scavengers and will eat fruit, vegetable matter and trash. They are opportunistic as well and will not hesitate to kill cats, small dogs, poultry, sheep and goats when given the chance."
Preventive guidelines were presented at the seminar by Los Angeles Animal Services and the California Department of Fish and Game:
Know the Facts
- Coyote attacks are year round and can occur at any time of day.
- Coyotes are hunters; they will hunt, kill and dine on any and all living creatures.
- Coyotes are extremely territorial.
- Coyotes will rarely approach a person or look at them in a threatening manner, but will attack a small to medium-sized pet on or off leash without thinking twice.
- In the summer, the heat dries up coyotes’ water sources and it is during these months that you may spot a coyote or hear them howling after dark in the more suburban areas.
Prevent an Attack
- Do not approach or feed wild animals, including coyotes.
- Coyotes dislike loud noises and aggressive movement, such as a whistle, walking stick or umbrella, which you can open and close rapidly if confronted, to deter and scare the coyote away.
- Never leave small children and pets unattended outdoors even if your yard is fenced. Coyotes are capable of scaling or jumping fences upwards of 5.5 feet. This can be deterred by increasing the fence height to at least 6 feet and by adding an angle at the top facing outward at a 45 degree angle. Bury the bottom of the fence at least 12 to 18 inches underground and line the trench with rock to prevent coyotes from digging underneath.
- Remove pet food dishes when your pet has finished eating and do not leave food outside.
- Pick fruit from trees as soon as it ripens and pick up all fallen fruit. Cut low-hanging branches to avoid the coyote feeding from trees.
- Confine small animals and birds that you cannot keep indoors to covered enclosures constructed of a heavy gauge wire mesh. Coyotes can break through chicken wire.
- Keep small pets on a short leash at all times when you walk them.
- Put all trash bags inside trashcans and keep all outdoor trashcan lids securely fastened on the containers. Ammonia or pepper sprinkled in the trash may also discourage a scavenging coyote.
- Keep your property well lit at night, especially when you go out with your dog for the last potty break before bed. Motion-activated devices such as lights, strobe lights and sprinklers can be useful deterrents as well.
- Trim hedges from the bottom and keep brush cleared to limit hiding places for coyotes.
- Close off crawl spaces under porches, decks and sheds. Coyotes use such areas for resting and raising young.
- Keep a ‘Coyote Shaker’ handy: A can containing a few coins, which can be shaken and thrown at the coyote.
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VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.