Pet attacks on British wildlife is a call to action for every pet owner to take responsibility. By incorporating some practical steps into our daily routines, together, we safeguard not only our cherished companions but also protect our precious wildlife. The recently released State of Nature Report, highlighting that the UK continues to be one of the most nature depleted countries, is an alarming indicator that we need to do all we can to help wildlife thrive.
In 2023, Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital treated over 400 patients suspected of falling victim to the claws and teeth of domestic cats and dogs. This distressing statistic represented almost 20% of the hospital's total admissions for the year, signalling a critical need for pet owners to re-evaluate their roles as stewards of both their beloved animals and the diverse array of wildlife.
Among the heart-wrenching cases that reached the doors of Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital were tales of hedgehogs with injuries inflicted by curious cats, and birds brought in with wounds from canine encounters. The stories paint a vivid picture of the dangers faced by wildlife in our neighbourhoods and gardens, where seemingly harmless pets can inadvertently become predators and disrupt the fragile ecosystems that sustain the rich biodiversity of our natural world.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
The consequences of these encounters are not only grave but also preventable. Brent Lodge, with its years of experience in rehabilitating injured wildlife, emphasises the critical importance of responsible pet ownership. A poignant reminder surfaces from these incidents – the often underestimated toxic nature of cats' saliva, which, even when appearing fine, poses a significant threat to the health of wild animals.
The wildlife hospital advocates for a proactive approach to pet attacks, urging pet owners to resist the impulse to release a wild animal caught by their pets without seeking professional advice. Immediate intervention, especially in cases involving cats, is paramount, as untreated wounds can lead to infections and, ultimately, sepsis. Wild animals, adept at masking pain or illness, may appear unharmed, making it crucial for concerned individuals to reach out to experts who can assess the situation and provide the necessary care.
If your pet has caught a wild animal, ALWAYS call for advice and DO NOT just let them back into the wild untreated. Especially any wild animals that are caught by cats, as they MUST receive antibiotics as a minimum (even if appearing fine), as there will always be an injury of sorts (from teeth or claws). Without these antibiotics, the wound will become infected, and potentially become fatal. Surgeries and further veterinary treatments may be required to repair any puncture wounds or scratches caused by dogs or cats.
Sadly, many of the cases result in fatalities. Brent Lodge Wildlife Hospital would like to offer some advice to reduce the risk of casualties. As animal lovers ourselves we are not vilifying our beloved pets, we understand these encounters are often as a result of them playing into their engrained instincts or just down to pure curiosity. We do however believe that the responsibility falls on pet owners. Protecting our pets during these attacks is also a benefit, I am sure it is not pleasant for a dog to have a mouthful of hedgehog spikes or be bitten by a snake which could result in a costly vet bill. Many of these situations can be avoided or at least controlled by adopting simple steps:
SAFEGUARDING TIPS FOR PET OWNERS
Bells on Collars:
A small bell on your cat's collar serves as an auditory warning, alerting wildlife to their presence and reducing the likelihood of surprise attacks or at least and opportunity to escape.
Indoor Safety at Night:
For nocturnal hunters, consider keeping cats indoors at night, a simple measure that can significantly reduce their impact on wildlife during peak activity hours or times of year (nesting season).
Elevate Bird Feeders:
Protecting birds from ground-level predators, including our pets, can be achieved by positioning bird feeders high above the reach of potential threats.
Strategic Bird Boxes:
Create safe nesting spaces for birds by installing bird boxes at least 2 meters above ground, sheltered by trees or bushes, ensuring a secure environment for raising their young.
Leash Control in Nature Reserves:
In natural settings, such as nature reserves, woodlands, and parks, keep dogs on leads, especially during the spring and summer months when wildlife is actively breeding and nurturing their offspring.
Create a Quiet Zone:
Designate a pet-free area in your garden, allowing wildlife to flourish undisturbed. This quiet zone becomes a haven for wildlife to live and raise their young away from potential threats.
Mitigating Nesting Fox Encounters:
We appreciate that not everyone will be pleased that they have a family of foxes under their garden shed or outhouse, especially if you have curious pets to keep away. Fostering coexistence with foxes is important in this modern world, as foxes are forced further into urban settings to raise their young. Where possible try creating barriers that prevent pet access while allowing the fox family to move freely. They won't be there for very long, once they have raised their young they will move away. Once cubs have moved along you can discourage future nesting under sheds by blocking off access, but NOT until you are sure they have gone.
By Asha Park