Suburban Wildlife – Backyard Critters

Above and below: Local wildlife captured on a backyard trail cam

If you live outside of a major city, you might be surprised to learn that your home is part of an ecosystem.  Your yard is a place where animals roam, hunt, forage and raise their young; and you are part of it by virtue of the boundaries you place on it, the shelter and food sources that you create, and the dangers that you bring to it.

Set up a trail cam outside your house before you settle down to an evening of television and you will see what I mean.  In the mornings, you will see pictures of animal comings and goings in the night that you probably never knew were happening.  You will find that you are sharing your turf with opossums, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, coyotes, foxes, owls and other critters that you may never have been aware of.  They are your neighbors and live their lives right  under your nose.  They are the reason that your dog wakes you  up in the night and barks to go outside.

What’s your part in this?  The best thing you can do is be responsible and be aware of their behaviors.

First off:  Control your pets.  Always keep your cats indoors and do not let your dog outside at night without keeping an eye on him.  Your cats are predators by nature and will attempt to hunt and kill birds and any other small animals that they can get.  Further, your cat is prey for the larger predators in your area.   By keeping your cat indoors, you are increasing its life expectancy by 12 to 15 years1,2.

Second:  Keep your trash inaccessible and use bins that cannot be opened by wildlife.  We do not need to attract wildlife to our homes or invite them to visit us for food.

Third:  Do not feed them.  If wildlife is present in your neighborhood, that means they have plenty of food and do not need you to supplement their diets.  And, the fact is, the sugar, fat and salt content in our diet is just as unhealthy for them as it is for us.  You are not doing them any favors by sharing it with them.  I am not saying to take down your bird feeder, just don’t share your breakfast cereal or dinner leftovers with them.  And absolutely do not feed your pets outdoors or leave their food bowls outside.  Not only do your pets’ bowls attract wildlife – sharing them with wildlife is an avenue for diseases.

One of the main reasons to admire wildlife from a distance is that they can carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to both humans and our pets.  Not only profoundly serious diseases such as rabies and distemper, but tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, parasites such as mange, fleas and scabies, and other communicable diseases.   You can keep these illnesses and parasites outside by simply taking simple precautions about your pets and their food.

Lastly:  Leave them alone.  Do not try to make friends with them.  In fact, the more wary they are of people, the better.  If you see a critter that seems to be unafraid of you or tame; or if one approaches you, it is probably sick3.   In fact, animal welfare organizations across the country are seeing increases in diseases such as canine distemper4,5, a disease that can be spread to unvaccinated dogs.

Summing it up:  Just recognize that we share the world with wildlife, and we should respect their space.  We can enjoy them from a distance, but for our benefit and theirs we should minimize our intrusion into their lives.  We also need to protect our pets by keeping them from having any interactions with wildlife and keeping their vaccinations up to date.

References:

  1. Watson, S. Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats: Health and Safety (webmd.com)
  2. www.thehumanesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/indoors_outdoors.pdf
  3. Sick animals being reported throughout Bristol | EastBayRI.com – News, Opinion, Things to Do in the East Bay
  4. yubanet.com/regional/distemper-cases-rise-among-californias-foxes-raccoons-skunks/
  5. patch.com/virginia/arlington-va/newsroom-canine-distemper-confirmed-raccoon-population-north-arlington