Pets on the Prowl

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2003

resulting in injury or death for a variety of wild creatures.

In addition to the traumas of direct physical confrontation, both dogs and cats can also transmit diseases to their wild relatives. We often worry about domestic pets contracting rabies from skunks and raccoons, but rarely is the opposite scenario considered. Because they live in much higher densities than wild animals, dogs and cats sometimes serve as a concentrated reservoir for diseases. Coyotes, foxes, and wolves can contract canine distemper from dog encounters, while bobcats and cougars are susceptible to feline distemper, feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis and feline immunodeficiency virus carried by domestic cats. Other maladies that infected pets may transmit to wildlife include ringworm, toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis and rabies.

Urban sprawl has markedly increased interactions between pets and wild species. Census Bureau data showed a 9.3 percent increase in Missouri's population from 1990 to 2000 and estimates a similar annual rate of growth for the next 25 years. Those figures suggest even more pets in even more places.

Although it's unlikely we'll be able to reverse urbanization, we can reduce the carnage caused by free-ranging pets. All we have to do is keep them under control.

Both pets and people benefit when we make an effort to reign in our free ranging friends. Well-kept pets sustain fewer injuries, contract fewer diseases and bring home fewer fleas and ticks than free-ranging animals. They also birth fewer litters of unwanted offspring, have fewer run-ins with authorities and are less likely to succumb to untimely outdoor deaths. Controlling your pets will save you money and reduce the number of hassles and heartaches associated with pet ownership.

To protect wildlife from pets

  • Tell your friends, children, neighbors, and others about the threat of free ranging pets to Missouri's wildlife.
  • Keep cats indoors or in enclosed outdoor runs.
  • Keep dogs in a fenced yard, on a harness and lead, or under direct supervision.
  • Have your pet spayed or neutered.
  • Never abandon pets outside. Take them to a shelter instead.
  • Neuter and vaccinate "barn" cats and provide them with food. They will still kill unwanted rodents.
  • Only keep as many pets as you can feed, neuter, vaccinate, and properly care for.
  • Use baited live traps to capture strays and take them to shelters. Call your local humane society or conservation agent for assistance, if needed.
  • Eliminate pet bowls and garbage containers and other outdoor food sources.
  • Do not feed stray or feral animals unless you're committed to neutering and vaccinating them or taking them to a shelter.
  • Support pet licensing regulations and laws against pet abandonment and wildlife harassment.
  • Place bird houses, baths and feeders away from areas where cats can hide and ambush birds.
  • Initiate or support a local coalition of the American Bird Conservancy's "Cats Indoors!" Campaign for Safer Birds and Cats. More information can be found on their website, at <>, or by calling (202) 452-1535.

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