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Beware of the Dangers of Wildlife to Your Pet

Even in suburban areas, wildlife can pose a threat. Make sure to take precautions.

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

It's summer and with warmer weather, more people are outside spending time with their pets. However, many people don't realize there's potential danger lurking even in the most populated suburban neighborhoods. Earlier this year, 85-year-old Gloria Serge was attacked and killed by an alligator while walking her small dog near a retention pond at her senior living community in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her dog survived.

A headshot of a woman holding her small grey dog. Next Avenue
Leena Chitnis and Kashi  |  Credit: Courtesy of Leena Chitnis

Coyotes, bears, moose, snakes, porcupines, toads, alligators, crocodiles, scorpions, walking sticks and even the cutest wildlife such as raccoons and baby skunks can pose a risk to you and your pets.

"It's important pet parents are aware of the dangers outside their homes," says Doug Mader, author and triple board-certified veterinarian at Tropical Veterinary Services in the Florida Keys.

Mader says all areas of the country have specific threats. He lists the most common:

Coyotes, Racoons, Skunks and Snakes


Coyotes are possibly the most widespread and cunning of wildlife that can threaten domestic pets. Leena Chitnis, 44, of Campbell, California is a busy entrepreneur who founded Timberdog, a pet bed for outdoor enthusiasts. Her schedule sometimes has her working late into the night, which means late-night walks with her 20-pound dog, Kashi. Chitnis describes her 5-year-old dog as a "super mutt."

"I saw what I thought was a stray dog walking toward us...As it got closer, I knew it was a coyote."

The pair were walking last year on a normally busy thoroughfare, Winchester Blvd. in San Jose. "It was 1:30 in the morning and there were no cars," Chitnis recalls. "All of a sudden, I saw what I thought was a stray dog walking toward us, kind of low to the ground. As it got closer, I noticed its tail and knew it was a coyote."

Chitnis says she and Kashi stopped walking while the coyote crawled to within 10 feet of them. "It suddenly turned and crossed the street; I was so relieved. If it had been a pack, it could have been a dangerous situation," says Chitnis.

The incident didn't make her change her habits, but she says she is certainly more aware of her surroundings now if she is walking after dark. Mader says people should also be aware of leaving their dogs in a fenced yard, as there have been documented cases of coyotes stalking households to learn the routines of pets who are let outside, especially early in the mornings or after dark.

In my area of the Ozark Mountains, we must be cautious of poisonous water moccasins, copperheads and rattle snakes.

Raccoons and Skunks

Who doesn't love these cute, masked bandits? Mader says while cute, these little critters can be aggressive, especially to pond fish and pet tortoises left outside. "They work in pairs and when they're on the attack, they're pretty nasty," he says.

The main threats from raccoons for dogs and cats encountering raccoons are their feces and urine which include distemper, rabies and baylisascaris (round worm). Mader says round worm infections can be serious, causing blindness, liver damage and even death.

Skunk spray may not be lethal, but they can shoot a distance and if your pet has ever been sprayed, you understand the pain of trying to get the smell out. Skunks can also transmit rabies. Porcupines can carry rabies, but the main threat they pose to pets is being quilled.


In my area of the Ozark Mountains, we must be cautious of poisonous water moccasins, copperheads and rattle snakes. Two of my dogs were bit by copperheads and my aunt lost her dog several years ago to the more lethal rattle snake bite.

Sabrina Kong, DVM, from Tracy, California, who is a dog trainer, and veterinary consultant with We Love Doodles, knows she should not use her phone while walking her 6-year-old dog, Apollo, but she was distracted by a text message when Apollo walked over to a tree to smell at a hole in the trunk.

"I thought it was a squirrel and started pulling at him," says Kong. "I walked over and bent down to look in the hole and heard the most terrifying sound, a rattle snake. If I had taken just a few more seconds on the phone, the snake would have bit my dog and he wouldn't be here."


Crocodiles, Bears, Birds and More

Crocodiles and Alligators

Mader says while there is a legitimate concern about these scary looking reptiles, he adds they are unlikely to run after you or your pet and attack.

"They are sit and wait predators. Most of the attacks occur because people allow their pets to go up and sniff them, which is stupid," says Mader. "Most locals in Florida respect them, but tourists come down and sometimes get into trouble."

"Most animals do not want to encounter you, either."

Mader says the outcome can be terrible for both the pet and the reptile. He recalls a large elderly gator locals called "Grandpa." When a tourist allowed their poodle to walk up and sniff it, the alligator attacked. "Locals were so attached to the big old alligator a petition was started to relocate him to a capture park. Unfortunately, he was quickly killed and eaten by younger gators at the park," Mader recalls.

Cats, Bears and Moose

There are many parts of the country with these types of wild animals, but it seems most people have encounters with them out west, says Mader, who advises pet owners to just stay alert.

"Most animals do not want to encounter you, either," he says, adding that most animals only attack if they feel threatened or are trying to protect their young. Bear spray can help as well.

Scorpions, Spiders and Walking Sticks

Scorpions can leave a nasty bite as dogs may try to play with them. "They are typically not deadly unless you're in Arizona," says Mader. Other creepy-crawlies that can hurt your dog or cat may include certain poisonous spiders, such as the brown recluse and black widow. Mader also says a certain walking stick insect known as "nightmares" can cause harm to your pets.

Birds of Prey

While birds of prey such as hawks, eagles and owls could theoretically stalk and pick up very small dogs and cats, wildlife experts say it's not very common, as they cannot carry anything heavier than their own body weight.

Tips for Protecting Your Pets

Texas A&M University School of Veterinary Medicine recommends these tips to help protect your pets from wildlife attacks:

  • Make sure your pets are current on rabies and all recommended vaccines unique to your area
  • Keep your pet on a leash or remain outside with them, even in a fenced area
  • Avoid being out at dawn or dusk or in the dark
  • While walking your pet, remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings
  • Do not attract wildlife to your yard with feed or feed your pets outside
Photograph of Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell
Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell is a full time freelance writer and author living in the Ozark Mountains. She is the founder and administrator for the public Facebook page, Years of Light: Living Large in Widowhood and a private Facebook group, Finding Myself After Losing My Spouse, dedicated to helping widows/widowers move forward. Read More
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