Pets and wildlife can coexist

Many of us feel a special bond to our pets. Each pet has a unique personality. They become part of our family and we enjoy their companionship. It's proven that we live longer and happier if we have pets. In fact, one friend says they prefer thei...

This is an infant squirrel brought into Wildwoods in April after sustaining injuries from being carried around in a dog's mouth. (Photo by Trudy Vrieze)

Many of us feel a special bond to our pets. Each pet has a unique personality. They become part of our family and we enjoy their companionship. It's proven that we live longer and happier if we have pets. In fact, one friend says they prefer their pets over most humans!

We also value the opportunity to experience wildlife. A tremendous variety of wild animals live right here in Duluth. As human populations encroach on animal habitat, conflict can occur between the wild animals we admire and the pets we love. As people become more distant from nature, they understand less about wild animal behavior. Pets and wild animals may have conflicts, but we may not be aware of ways to avoid those problems.

If we take a moment to increase our understanding of the risks of contact between wild animals and pets, we can help our wild and domestic friends exist safely and happily in close proximity.

There is a common misconception that a happy dog or cat is one that is left free outside. However, I challenge you to reconsider. Happiness for your pet doesn't mean freedom to roam. Would you open your door and let your children wander wherever they please? Would you allow them to be out all night? I think not. That would be child neglect and there are penalties for that irresponsible action. Parents know their children need protection from risks and dangers.

It's the same for our pets. They are domesticated and need help to be safe. Their lives are happier and they will live longer if protected from risk. In the same way, if we respect wild animals, we won't put them at risk from contact with our pets.


Outdoor pets are exposed to many dangers. They can come in contact with parasites carried by wild animals. Fleas that carry tapeworms are left in the grass by squirrels and rabbits. Raccoons carry a very bad type of roundworm which can infect pets.

Disease is another risk. Rabies and distemper are fatal diseases that can be carried by wildlife. Our pets can also pass disease to wild animals. Disease can then spread to other wildlife and cause illness and death.

Contact between wild animals and pets can result in injury. More than one unwise dog has come home with a snout full of porcupine quills resulting in a trip to the vet. Any cornered wild animal will naturally fight back, resulting in bites, lacerations or death to the dog or cat.

Pets kill millions of wild animals in the U.S. annually. Wildwoods rescues many birds and animals each year that have been caught by pets. Cats and dogs have natural hunting instincts and will attack wild animals given the chance.

Duluth has wild animals that are larger or more powerful than your pet, including fox, coyote, bobcat, owls, eagles, hawks, raccoon or even bear. Pets such as chickens and rabbits penned outside can be attacked by an animal looking for a meal. This natural behavior is tragic for the pet owner and may result in the unnecessary killing of the wild animal who has become a "nuisance" while simply looking for a meal.

While we can't prevent all contact between wild and domestic animals, there are some things we can do:

+ Keep your pet's vaccinations up to date. Your veterinarian knows the risks in our area. Use flea and tick prevention when temperatures are above freezing. Heartworm prevention and testing is important too.

+ Keep cats indoors. They will live longer and be healthier. Or get a harness and leash train your cat.


+ Keep dogs leashed. Avoid putting dogs outside at dawn or dusk when wildlife is most active.

+ Don't put out bird feeders if there are outdoor cats in your neighborhood. Cats are master hunters. One skin puncture and a bird will likely die due to infection.

+ Feed your pets inside or bring leftover food in when your pet is finished eating. Pet food attracts wildlife.

+ Make sure any outdoor animal pens are secure from burrowing and climbing predators. Rabbits and chickens are a tasty meal for fox, coyotes and wild dogs.

+ If you see a strange-acting wild animal, don't approach. Call Wildwoods. Keep your pets away and get advice on how to proceed.

+ If your pet has caught a wild animal, bring it to a wildlife rehab organization like Wildwoods.

As the number of pets continues to rise, conflict with wild animals will increase. The easiest way to prevent problems is to control the movement and behavior of your pets. Keep them supervised and don't allow them to roam free. Take a few basic precautions so we can enjoy our pets and still experience wildlife in our neighborhoods.

John Jordan is a volunteer at Wildwoods as well as Great Lakes Aquarium. He is also a nurse manager at Benedictine Health Center. He lives in Duluth with his wife Trudy Vrieze, an animal photographer, and an assortment of rescue cats.


Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth which contributes a column in the Budgeteer. The writers are volunteers at Wildwoods and/or experts in their fields. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit or call (218) 491-3604.

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