Watch pets around wildlife as attacks rise in summer

LOS ANGELES (KRON/AP) — A warning for pet owners during the warm summer months: As temperatures rise, so are wildlife attacks against their pets.

Animal care experts say dogs and cats encounter wildlife more often in the summer as people and pets spend more time outdoors. And the ongoing drought, as well as forest fires are also playing significant roles, pushing wild animals outside their usual territory. Warmer weather brings out hikers and campers when wildlife is likely to be active and aggressive — often protecting their young broods from perceived threats.

The drought is having a major impact on how wildlife is getting its food. Animals from sea lions to bears must search farther for food, sometimes even moving into populated areas. The dry spell also worsens wildfire season, which can leave habitat scarred and meals even more difficult to find.

With these challenges, experts warn against getting too close to wildlife. As visitors flood national parks and other wilderness areas this summer, there’s also been a spike in attacks against people: Several tourists at Yellowstone National Park have been gored or tossed into the air by bison when they crowded the large animals.

Threats can stem from animals that people think are gentle, such as deer, said Dr. Gretchen Schoeffler, an emergency and critical care vet at Cornell University Hospital for Animals in Ithaca, New York. Almost any wild animal is capable of striking, from beavers and groundhogs to owls and swans, she said.

“Most wildlife, if they feel threatened in any way, they are going to react defensively,” Schoeffler said. “And chances are the domestic animal is going to come up on the short end of a stick there, especially if it’s a wild animal of any size.”

Rabies, usually from bats and foxes, is the biggest risk, though most cities and counties require vaccinations for dogs and cats, veterinarians said. They also say a series of shots can prevent the infection from taking hold in people, but not in pets. So if they are exposed, all veterinarians can do is give a vaccine booster and quarantine them.

Wild animals carry other potentially deadly diseases, including the plague. It’s rare but its risk increases in summer as travelers and their pets come into contact with squirrels, mice, prairie dogs or the fleas that feed on infected animals in places such as northern Arizona, Idaho and Colorado, where a teen died of the illness last month.

“Wildlife is wildlife. Appreciate them at a distance,” Schoeffler said. “We only do harm when we try to interact with them. If we alleviate their fear of people, that probably won’t serve them well in their future.”

Some tips for pet owners:

— Always see a vet if a pet is attacked. There might be crushed tissue, damage to organs or an infection.

— Watch for signs of infection and go to the vet if swelling, discoloration, discharge from the wound, lethargy or lack of appetite are present.

— Don’t wrap a limb. To avoid cutting off blood supply, try a clean cloth compress over the wound.

— A couple of stings from bees, wasps, yellow jackets or hornets probably don’t warrant a vet visit unless a dog is allergic or very small. But if the dog has been swarmed, get there as quickly as possible.

— Keep dogs on leashes and in your control.

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