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Wildlife and Pets - How to be Wildlife Conscious Pet Owner

It's no surprise, here at kanamaluka Wildlife Rehab we're animal lovers. We spend most of our time with animals and have a huge variety of animals come through our door every week. Even though we're a wildlife rehab, we also get our fair share of domestic animals through from time to time. This year during lamb season we had three newborn lambs come in with pneumonia. We've also had lots of kittens, ducks, pet birds, baby bunnies and even a guinea pig turn up (reported as a wombat - story for another day!). We work closely with domestic animal rescue services to help us re-home any domestics that come in and love to follow up with them from time to time and see how they're going.

As a wildlife rehab, it's vital that we keep the welfare of the wildlife in our care at the forefront of our minds at all times, this means remaining conscious of how they might feel and react in a wide variety of given situations.

Eric the newborn lamb stayed with us for a couple of weeks until he recovered from pneumonia.

On occasions when we do have domestic animals in our care, we're very careful to keep them seperate from our wildlife patients and the areas they inhabit. The sights smells and sounds of domestic animals can cause wildlife unnecessary fear and stress, which along with being unfair and cruel, could potentially postpone or hinder their chances of release.

"Long term exposure of wildlife to animals such as dogs and cats can decrease their sensitivity to these animals, which can make them more susceptible to dog and cat attacks in the wild because they now recognise them as friends and not animals to be wary of."

If you're a pet owner in Australia, you've likely encountered a situation where your pet has been involved with wildlife, or has at least been in a place where wildlife frequents. Maybe your dog has barked at a possum in a tree, or your cat has bought a bird inside after a night on the prowl. Have you taken your dog for a walk at the beach or in a national park? You probably didn't see any wildlife, but that doesn't mean they're not there.

According to the RSPCA, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world with approximately 69% of households owning pets. Current estimates show that there are 28.7 million pets in Australia - That's a lot of pets!

Responsible pet ownership is a must and being a wildlife conscious pet owner you're not only looking after and out for wildlife, you're also protecting your pets from unnecessary harm, and yourself from heartbreak and vet bills!

At our centre we see all kinds of wildlife come in after altercations with pets. Most of the time these involve cats or dogs and most of the time the person who is responsible for the cat or dog feels terrible about the situation.

Often, even when people think they've done everything they can to avoid a wildlife/pet altercation it still happens.

Sometimes though, certain situations can be avoided and wild animals suffer and/or die needlessly because of pet owner ignorance and lack of care.

The three most common pet related injuries we see at our centre are:

This little echidna came in last week after walking under a fence and finding an unfriendly dog on the other side

- Echidnas that have been attacked by dogs after wandering under the fence. Echidnas often come in with broken spines, grazes, chunks of fur, skin and even limbs missing. This kind of attack often ends up worse for the dog than the echidna and can lead to snout, eye and mouth injuries, however, even if the echidna is physically unharmed, they're still traumatised by the situation.

- Birds and small mammals caught by cats. This is a classic and

something we see all too often. Small and medium birds, lizards, native mice, native rats, small marsupials and baby possums and pademelons are all at risk. Cats often play with their prey and most of the time if they survive the attack these animals need to be euthanised because they're too damaged to survive. Cat bites and claw puncture sites always become infected and every single animal that has been attacked by a cat wil

l require antibiotics if it is to survive.

- Joeys being thrown from their mothers pouch because she has been chased or scared by a dog. This is surprisingly common, and happens more often than you might be aware. Basically, when a mother macropod is chased or becomes overly frightened, they can drop or throw their joey. Sometimes it is an accident, and sometimes it's a defence mechanism. These joeys can't be put back and need to come into care. A fall from their pouch can also be the cause of broken bones and grazes.

So what can you do to be a more wildlife conscious pet owner?

Even though wildlife are wild, like our pets, they're often very predictable. With a little bit of common sense and applied knowledge we can take advantage of this predictability to avoid our domestic animals coming into contact with and upsetting, injuring or killing our wild friends.

  1. Be willing to make some changes. You and your pet/s might be use to the way you do things, but the only way for things to change to happen is to make it happen. Be the change you want to see and change your ways for the good of Australia's precious wildlife.

  2. Keep your cat inside! - You might not like to hear it, but this is the number 1 thing you can do when it comes to being a wildlife conscious pet owner. Even cats that are only allowed out during the day kill. The stats are alarming and are really worth taking a look at. The Threatened Species Recovery Hub has put together a fact sheet on The Impact of Cats in Australia. It's definitely worth a look if you're interested in the cold hard facts. Additionally, consider installing a cat run so that your cat can still get their outside time without having a negative impact on the environment.

  3. Desex, Vaccinate, microchip & register your pets. This is basic responsible pet ownership and is promoted as beneficial for your pet, however the flow on effect is wildlife protection. One of the key benefits of desexing your cat is that is stops them roaming to find a mating partner. A desexed cat or dog is that they're less likely to go on sneaky outdoor adventures which in turn means they're less likely to come in contact with wildlife. for more info on why desexing your pets is important take a look here>

  4. Good fencing is a must and doesn't just function to keep your pets in. Effective barrier fencing can keep out wildlife and drastically reduce the likelihood of . As a general rule, small dogs need a 1.2 metre (chest high) fence, medium dogs a 1.5 metre (shoulder high) fence and large dogs a 1.8 metre (above head high) fence. Steel colourbond fences are by far the best dog fence. They are impossible to climb, and virtually impenetrable. If you already have fencing and aren't keen to replace it, think about making some alterations to your existing fence such as making sure there are no gaps where small animals such as echidnas, bandicoots and lizards can get through.

  5. Set up escape routes for wildlife in your yard. Easy escape routes might include tall trees with branches that reach over the fence, thick ropes for climbing or a log against the fence so that climbing wildlife such as possums and quolls can escape if threatened.

  6. Exercise your dog away from wildlife habitat. Many people exercise their dogs in wildlife habitats such as national parks and beaches despite signs prohibiting this. When dogs are allowed to run and play in wildlife habitat it can lead to chasing and attacks on native wildlife, separation of groups such as ducklings and their parents, trampling of breeding grounds and nests, and disruption of waterways. Taking advantage of areas specifically designed for dogs such as council dog parks and designated beaches is a safe and easy way to exercise and socialise your dog.

  7. Make sure to always keep your dog on a leash when out and about. Even letting your dog off the leash for a sniff and a wee can be enough to disturb and stress wildlife, or worse still disrupt sensitive nesting and breeding grounds.

  8. Dispose of your pet's faeces appropriately. Cats can host a disease called Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a single celled blood parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which can be transferred to other animals via faeces. . Affected cats do not show any visual external signs of the disease, however when transferred to wildlife it can cause a lack of co-ordination, blindness, erratic movement and unnatural daytime activity. It is often fatal for infected wildlife and may also predispose affected wildlife to predation and road trauma. Here's a great fact sheet on Toxoplasmosis. Dog poo can also spread disease and cause environmental contamination, especially if the run off makes its way into a waterway. Always pick up your dog's poo.

  9. If you decide you no longer want your pet, contact an animal shelter. Thousands of pets are dumped every year and this is bad news for the pets and our wildlife. You may think that you are releasing your pet and doing them a favour but in reality your pet is likely to suffer needlessly and could become feral, upsetting natures balance. Rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, rats, mice, cats and goats are just some of the animals that people think are okay just to release. Animal shelters are non-judgmental and always grateful when people surrender their animals rather than dumping them.


kanamaluka Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre is a volunteer run not-for-profit organisation. If you read this article and took something away from it, please consider making a donation to help keep us going by following this link

©Kanamaluka Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre 2023

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