Cats & Dogs
Domestic pets are vulnerable to wildlife, just as wildlife are vulnerable to cats and dogs. Neither are to blame for hunting, or defending themselves. It’s up to us to ensure our companion animals are safe, and to ensure wildlife are safe from our pets.
Findings suggest that free-ranging domestic cats (Felis catus) cause substantially greater wildlife mortality than previously thought and are likely the single greatest source of anthropogenic mortality for birds and mammals. Environment Canada research estimates that, in addition to the impacts of climate change and habitat loss, 130 to 433 million birds a year die as a result of human impact, including cats, thought to cause 75% of those deaths. More information on the relationship between cats and birds can be found here Cats & Birds.
On average, free-roaming outdoor cats live significantly shorter lives than their indoor-only counterparts. The most common risk behaviours for suburban free-roaming cats include crossing roads, interactions with feral cats, eating and drinking unknown substances, exploring dangerous places such as storm drains, and entering crawl spaces of other houses and buildings.
Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) can have a profound effect on an ecosystem not only through direct mortality but also through fear. Dog walking can displace native species; conservation managers often ban dog walking from natural areas fearing that wildlife will see dogs as potential predators and abandon their natural habitats. Dogs roaming off trail can trample vegetation by scratching and digging, and loose dogs can kill wildlife through direct predation or indirectly by nest or habitat destruction. Dogs can also transmit diseases such as canine distemper and rabies to and from wildlife.
In general, wildlife aren’t vaccinated, and most never see a veterinarian unless they end up in the care of a wildlife custodian. As a result, they’re much more likely to carry diseases, pests and parasites. Just a small sampling of diseases that can be transmitted from wildlife to pets, or even humans, includes:
Rabies: primary carriers vary by region, but raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes and bats can all carry rabies. While most pets are protected by vaccination, some owners don’t vaccinate, vaccinations are not always kept up to date, and a small percentage of pets don’t become immune after vaccination.
Leptospirosis: a serious bacterial disease that is increasing in frequency of infections, even in urban areas. It is transmitted in the urine of infected animals including rodents, raccoons and opossums.
Giardia: Giardisis, also known as beaver fever, is a parasitic infection that causes diarrhea and can be difficult to eliminate. It spreads via cysts in feces, usually contracted via water source contaminated by infected beavers, coyotes, raccoons or rodents.
Roundworms: intestinal parasites are often transmitted by rodents and birds, who can carry infectious versions of the parasite, but are not themselves infected. Raccoons carry a very specific and particularly dangerous roundworm that can be fatal in mammals including humans.
Fleas: irritating and can be a major health hazard for both pets and owners, also vectors for Tape Worms.
Ticks: a vector for Lyme Disease.
Keeping pets properly restrained or contained is good practice not only to keep you and your furry family members safe, but also to protect wild neighbours. Pets should always be leashed and contained while supervised outside. Keeping cats indoors or in a limited-access environment (cattery or Catiospaces) not only protects wildlife, it also keeps cats safer while giving them access to the enrichment and stimulation of the outdoors, safe from vehicles, poisons, and predators.