Since 2013, the United Nations General Assembly has designated March 3 as World Wildlife Day, to celebrate and raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants. Each year, the U.N. chooses a theme to focus education efforts on the critical needs of the Earth’s fauna and flora. The 2022 theme is “Recovering Key Species for Ecosystem Restoration,” to draw special attention to the conservation status of the most critically endangered wild fauna and flora.
Our pets often share their outdoor spaces with wildlife. Some of the wildlife may be threatened or endangered, and interactions with pets can be detrimental, especially to small mammals, birds, and reptiles. Conversely, many pets are at risk of injury from wildlife, who are unfamiliar with pets in their environment. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has designated more than 40 wildlife species as Endangered, Threatened, or Sensitive, so you or your pet have likely come in contact with one of these compromised species. Responsible pet ownership involves more than regular veterinary care—acting as a good environmental steward by doing your part to protect our natural resources and wildlife is also critical.
Our Animal Emergency Care team describes four reasons why your pet should not interact with wild animals, and ways you can help protect our local wildlife.
- Pets can displace wildlife from their habitat — Your dog or cat’s presence can instigate wildlife to move away from their normal habitat, and become displaced if they do not return. This occurs, for example, when pets venture off designated trails and areas where wild animals are not expecting to encounter people or pets. Although your friendly canine may not hurt a fly, small mammals, birds, or reptiles will see your pet as a threat, and leave the area where they perceive danger. Disrupting a wild animal’s normal routine and location can put them at risk for food deprivation if they are forced to an area without adequate resources. Also, because pets often urinate to mark territory, the lingering scent may force wildlife to avoid the area long after the dog or cat has gone.
- Stress caused by pets can affect wildlife long-term — Whenever you go outside with your pet, whether you are hiking together, or your pet decides to adventure out on their own, you will likely encounter wildlife. An unexpected visitor will cause a stress response in wild animals, who will flee from the perceived dangerous predator. Frequent stress responses can adversely affect an animal’s overall health by leading to a weakened immune system, which over the long term can result in decreased reproduction, and compromise a species’ ability to survive and thrive. Keeping your pet leashed and preventing them from chasing that pesky squirrel or fox they see regularly on your favorite walking trail is essential.
- Pets’ natural hunting instincts put wildlife at risk — You likely have observed your frisky feline pouncing, chasing, and hunting their favorite toy mouse. Cats especially have a strong, natural hunting instinct that should not be discouraged. However, these same behaviors when they are outdoors can put small mammals, birds, and rodents at risk for severe injury or death. Additionally, cat saliva contains bacteria, called Pasteurella multocida, that can be deadly to wildlife that has escaped after being bitten by a cat. Dogs also have a natural hunting instinct. Young, small mammals and birds are most at risk because they are still learning to escape predators.
- Pets can spread diseases to wildlife and their habitat — Interactions with wildlife can put your pet at risk for contracting many dangerous diseases, including rabies, Lyme disease, or parvovirus. Wildlife are equally at risk from disease-causing agents pets—particularly unvaccinated pets—may be carrying, including parasitic diseases, such as giardia, or other infectious diseases, such as canine distemper virus. Additionally, pet waste contains E.Coli bacteria, which can contaminate water systems that wildlife depend on for survival.
Tips to protect wildlife from your pet
Ensuring you protect your pet from wildlife is equally as important as protecting the world’s wildlife, who are critical for our ecosystem. Follow these tips to ensure you are a good environmental steward, as well as a responsible pet owner:
- Feeding — Feed your pet indoors, so you do not attract wildlife to your yard.
- Cleaning up — Clean up your pet’s feces to prevent disease spread, and to remove the lingering scent, which can deter wildlife.
- Leash training — Ensure your pet is leash-trained, and consider leash-training your cat if they like the outdoors.
- Vaccinating — Ensure your pet is current on all vaccinations and prevention medications.
- Exercising — Stay on designated trails in parks or when hiking with your pet. Do not allow your pet to harass any wildlife.
- Catio-ing — Keep cats indoors. Consider providing them with a catio for wildlife-safe outdoor access.
At Animal Emergency Care, we are committed to helping our clients and their pets, and protecting our world’s flora and fauna. Join us in celebrating World Wildlife Day by doing your part to keep your pets and our local wildlife safe. #AECprevents