Don’t get us wrong – we love wildlife animals! The problem is that they don’t have access to regular healthcare like your cat or dog does. Many of them harbour a plethora of ailments like infectious diseases and/or parasites that our domesticated friends can be at risk of contracting. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Here are some of the issues we feel are most important and how to keep your pets safe.
Rabies is a fatal viral infection affecting the brain and spinal cord of both people and pets. It is commonly spread by bats, racoons, foxes, and skunks via a bite. Although Rabies is rare amongst domestic animals (only 1 case in Ontario last year), wildlife cases are common. In 2016, there were 288 cases of confirmed rabies in Ontario. Pets who are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations are considered protected against this infection – so keep your pets protected! Rabies vaccination in pets is also recommended by our veterinarians because the infection is a serious human public health concern in people too.
Leptospirosis is a life-threatening bacterial infection affecting both people and pets. In Ontario this infection is spread in the urine of an infected mammal -often a raccoon- but can also be transmitted by rats/mice, skunks, deer, and farm animals. Every year in Toronto there are numerous fatal cases of leptospirosis in pets. The ‘Lepto’ infection is best prevented through annual vaccination. Vaccination against leptospirosis in at-risk dogs (ie dogs who frequent parks, those who spend more time outdoors/in water, or those living in the same environment as racoons/skunks) has been shown to essentially eliminate risk of infection.
Parasites are by far the most common wildlife infection spread to our pets. Ectoparasites (ecto=outside the body) such as fleas are very common in wildlife animals and most cases in pets originate from wildlife! Fleas themselves can also spread other internal parasites like tapeworms too – yuck! Other endoparasites (endo=internal) like roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms are also common in cats and dogs and can be spread by wild mammals such as racoons and rodents. Because of the sheer number and variety of parasites that can be transmitted from wildlife to pets, there is no single preventative measure for all ecto/endoparasites. The best way to keep your pet safe is regular veterinary examinations, yearly fecal test for internal parasites, and a discussion with your vet about options for parasite prevention tailored to your pet’s lifestyle.
Violent wildlife encounters are on the rise in the Etobicoke and greater Toronto area as the lines between urban and rural regions are blurred. Bites from mammals such as raccoons (and recently coyotes in the city) are not only a concern for infectious diseases but also due to the trauma they cause. In some cases these bites can be life-threatening – this is a particular concern for small dogs and cats. In addition to bites, sprays from skunks can be particularly harmful if they occur in or around the eyes. Although less common in urban areas, porcupine quills are also a concern as they have the potential to migrate to deep tissues and vital structures within the body.
So you may be thinking, “How do I keep my pet safe from all these wildlife dangers?!”.
Let’s keep it simple. Our recommendations are as follows:
1.) Bring your pet in for yearly check-ups and talk to your vet about your pet’s lifestyle, risk assessment, and vaccinations.
2.) At least once a year submit fecal specimens for routine parasite screening.
3.) Use your best judgement and minimize any potential for wildlife contact, especially for small dogs and cats.
Dr. Zach Jones
Royal York Animal Hospital 4222 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke, Ontario M8X 1Y6