You love your pet, and you want to keep it safe from the threats lurking in your local park, or in the wild, or posed by creatures that might be burrowing into the dumpster in an alleyway near you. To own a cat or a dog is to be leery of all the things that can potentially harm them, many of which you’ve probably never even thought to consider.
Aside from household hazards that might be dangerous for your dogs, such as chocolate, or all the plants that can spark a toxic reaction in your beloved cat, the greater animal kingdom poses a multitude of threats, many of which vary in severity. Whether you’re taking your adventurous dog on a trek through the desert, or have a cat whose curiosity leads to confrontations with squirrels, here’s some of the other animals you should keep at a distance.
Any poisonous reptile or spider poses immediate danger not only to you, but probably more so to a care-free dog who’s going to sniff through foliage without so much as considering itself as prey. You should definitely be wary of rattlesnakes if you happen to be hiking, or live in any number of states known to be populated with them.
The brown recluse is another predator known to be especially harmful to dogs and humans alike. They’re native to the Midwest and South-Central United States, according to Vet Street, and can deliver a fatal dose of venom to any nonchalant pup (or human).
Of course, there’s other snakes and spiders—most notably, the black widow—that should give you pause, or at least prompt some vigilance when you might be in a dangerous area with your pet. Cats especially are known to spark the ire of black widows, which typically only strike when prompted. A black widow bite can cause a dog or cat to “develop muscle rigidity and may seem painful in their abdomen (belly),” according to the Veterinary Centers of America.
If a poisonous snake or spider strikes your pet, always take it to the nearest veterinarian or animal hospital.
You’re probably more likely to encounter a raccoon than a brown recluse, since raccoons tend to luxuriate in human garbage. Likewise, a skunk, given that they are more common than venomous spiders. Plus, these more standard critters are known to carry rabies, which is why they warrant caution.
As Ann Hohenhaus, a veterinarian with the Animal Medical Center in New York City, told ABC News in 2009:
Bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes, depending on where you are in the United States, are the major carriers of rabies...It’s more likely that the raccoon will be attacked [and retaliate], than the other way around.
Squirrels also factor into this equation. Though most of the time squirrels tend to be more of a victim than prey—especially when being chased by a dog—they’re known to fight back and bite when cornered.
If you think your pet may have been attacked or exposed to animal with rabies, seek immediate help. The condition is a tricky one, in that there are various possible clinical signs of rabies. Many of the changes you might notice are behavioral, while the cliché about foaming at the mouth actually happens to be quite rare.
The VCA explains that the disease manifests in two ways, called “furious rabies” and “dumb rabies.” Furious rabies occurs when a dog starts displaying signs of aggression and excitement, and is suddenly uninterested in food, but may start trying to ingest soil and dirt. As the organization explains, it goes downhill from there:
Paralysis eventually sets in and the rabid animal may be unable to eat and drink. Hydrophobia (fear of water) is not a sign of rabies in dogs. This is a feature of human rabies. The dog finally dies in a violent seizure.
Dumb rabies is more common. The VCA explains how it’s usually displayed:
There is progressive paralysis involving the limbs, distortion of the face and a similar difficulty in swallowing. Owners will frequently think the dog has something stuck in the mouth or throat. Care should be taken in examination since rabies may be transmitted by saliva. Ultimately the dog becomes comatose and dies.
Rabies is very lethal for cats and dogs, and only a slim minority of infected animals survive. However vaccination is common, safe and effective.
Anyone with a bee allergy, or who’s just paranoid about insects with stingers, understands that bees, wasps, and hornets are annoying. But fire ants? You probably haven’t thought too hard about a colony of these since you were a kid, but they’re still an issue when you’ve got a marauding dog or cat who doesn’t know any better.
Unsurprisingly, fire ants are more of a threat to dogs who stick their noses where they shouldn’t. As Vet Street writes:
A dog keeping his nose close to the ground to explore may suddenly cry out, leap back and start pawing his nose. Chances are that his nose hit a colony of swarming fire ants that deliver burning bites. Fire ant bites aren’t as serious as other threats in our list, but they do send dogs to veterinary clinics for sore paws and injured noses.
This isn’t so much a worry to everyone, but more of a geographical concern: Fire ants are known to dwell in the south throughout North Carolina to Texas, and in dryer arid regions of southern California and the Southwest, per Vet Street. If your dog buries its snout into a fire ant colony, you might not necessarily need to rush to the vet—flushing the affected area with cold water should suffice.