Last week, a friend's small dog picked up a small rattlesnake during its daily walk down a long driveway. Our weather has been hot, and we have more snakes than usual.
This is coyote country too. A little over a week ago, I learned that someone else I know recently lost a cat that managed to get out, never came back, and probably encountered a coyote. Just yesterday, there was a little cat on my patio with no collar and no identifying tag, and I had to decide whether to do anything. There was another cat that used to come around a year or so ago, probably owned by someone who erroneously thought that the iron fence around the complex would keep out coyotes. It won't.
And we are in wildfire season, when pets become lost outdoors when their owners evacuate a fire area.
So I thought I would do a post about pet safety with a particular emphasis on the pet hazards here in San Diego County. Most of the information is also applicable to pets in other locations.
24-HOUR VETERINARY EMERGENCY AND SPECIALTY CARE:
SHELTERS AND ANIMAL CONTROL SERVICES:
EVERYDAY RISKS IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY:
Coyotes: We live in coyote country. As with much of southern California, San Diego County has a coyote population that is a threat to pets and sometimes to humans in residential areas. Boundary fences are often insufficient to protect pets from coyotes. Coyotes hunt by sending a small female or youngster inside a fenced area to lure a cat or other small animal into a chase, then lead the small animal outside the fence where the pack of coyotes will be waiting to attack.
Snakes: Rattlesnakes are more commonly seen in this area in the warmest times of the year. There have been recent incidents of rattlesnake bites to pets in San Diego County, who may even pick up a small rattlesnake that they may see before you do. A dog may not understand that a small snake is a dangerous animal instead of a stick or toy, and a cat may stalk and attack any small prey.
Lizards: The small lizards common to San Diego County are not toxic to pets. However, any cat or dog that catches and swallows one could have major internal damage from the lizard’s scales becoming stuck in the pet’s digestive tract.
Spiders: There are few poisonous spiders in San Diego County, although we occasionally have black widow spiders. Further east, where there is more of a desert-like environment, a pet could also encounter desert recluse spiders, which are poisonous but not the same as the brown recluse seen elsewhere. The few spiders that are poisonous are often at ground level, where the pets are. A cat or dog could step on one or play with it without realizing the danger. A spider that might ignore a human, because the human may not notice it or bother it, might well bite a cat or dog that tries to play with it. Also, the desert recluse is nocturnal, so that they could be around someone's home at night while the animals are awake and the humans are sleeping, unaware of the extent of the infestation.
Poisons: Any cat or dog that swallows a mouse, lizard, insect, spider or other “pest” could run the risk of swallowing poison if that wild animal or insect has swallowed poison meant to control pests. Poisons meant to kill pests -- such as some forms of snail bait -- may kill a pet within 24 hours if not treated immediately by a veterinarian (Always buy child and pet safe snail bait, which usually contains iron phosphate as its active ingredient). There are also many chemicals in an average home, as well as common plants, that may be poisonous to cats or dogs while safe for humans. There is an ASPCA Poison Control Center web page with information about everyday items toxic to pets. If your pet is poisoned, call the ASPCA Poison Control Center and seek help from one of the veterinary emergency hospitals mentioned above.
Cars: Pets are often hit by cars outdoors, especially in urban areas.
Crime: As in any major urban area, there are occasional reports of purebred cats and dogs being stolen.
WILDFIRE AND EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY
Wildfire season in California runs from mid-summer through late October or early November. In the event of a major wildfire, rescuers will make an effort to rescue pets seen roaming in the fire area. Look for announcements of special pet shelters that may be set up for animals found in fire areas if this happens here.
It is a good idea to be ready to go if a wildfire or severe earthquake ever strikes, or if a house fire occurs in your home. The ASPCA website has a disaster preparedness page. In addition to the emergency supplies and traveling kits recommended by the ASPCA, I have the following suggestions:
1. In fire season months, or even year round, keep your pet traveling kit in your car. If you have to evacuate, that is one less thing you will have to look for. You aren't likely to need it unless you evacuate, so there is no reason to keep it in your home.
2. For a cat's travel bag, consider a disposable Wonder Box and a small bag of light weight, scoopable World's Best Cat Litter (the corn formula weighs much less than clay), and a small scoop. The Wonder Boxes are sold in 3-packs, and will fit easily inside carry-on size luggage. It is helpful to be a bit discrete when carrying a litter box into a nice hotel where you may want to stay for a day or two while evacuated. If you show up at a friend's or relative's home with your animals in an emergency, it will help if you don't have to immediately rush out to buy a litter box, which can wait a day or two if you have a disposable one already packed.
3. Remember in choosing a phone number for your pets’ tags that you may have your mobile phone with you when evacuated, and that your home phone voicemail or answering machine may not work properly if the electricity in the area is turned off due to a major fire or earthquake. The best number for your pet’s tag may be your mobile phone.
4. Check out the pet friendly hotels where you think you would want to go if evacuated due to fire, earthquake or other disaster. Homeowners and renters insurance will usually pay your hotel bill during an evacuation, so you should not have to go to a shelter or a friend's house if you have insurance. Check with your carrier ahead of time to make sure you have the protection you would need. Keep information in your car, or programmed into your car's bluetooth hands free phone system, to make it easy to check room availability at those pet friendly hotels while you are evacuating.
All cats and dogs should wear a collar and tag that has the owners current phone number. If you have recently moved in, please replace your pets’ tags with your current address and phone number as soon as possible in case they get outside unattended. Pet stores may have temporary tags with paper address labels hidden inside a plastic or metal compartment on your pet's collar, which will last at least until you can order a permanent tag through the mail.
All cats and dogs should be microchipped. If you have recently moved, please report your new address and phone number to your microchip registration company as soon as possible so that they can find you if your cat or dog gets out of doors.
Remember that even an indoors-only pet may get outside in a fire, earthquake, or other unexpected emergency. Animals frightened by a fire or earthquake may live outside for days or weeks before they return home, and a collar could be lost. Retrieval will be much more likely if the pet has been microchipped.
IF YOU SEE SOMEONE ELSE'S PET UNATTENDED OUTDOORS
If someone you know lets their pets roam outdoors in this area, speak to them about the dangers. Apartment and condominium rules, and homeowners associations, often require cats to be kept indoors and dogs to be kept on leashes. Contact the management or board of directors if you know of a resident who does not comply with those rules.
It is difficult to decide whether to intervene to protect someone else's pet from a risk if you don't know whether the pet's owner intentionally lets their pets go outdoors. If the owner does not come to pick up their pet quickly, or if the phone number on the tag is no longer good -- or if there is no tag -- you may be left to decide whether to put the animal back outside to see if it will go home, or whether to take it to a shelter. However, if the pet has escaped, the owner may thank you for making the extra effort to protect their pet.
As for any new pet brought into your home, it is best to quarantine the animal away from your own pets for the short time that it is in your care. How careful you are might depend on how much you actually know about the rescued animal.
A bathroom could be the best location for its short stay with you because you can easily disinfect it later, after the owner retrieves the pet or after you take it to a shelter. If you transport the pet to a shelter in your own pet's carrier, in your car, and if you don't know if the animal was healthy, either throw that carrier away and buy a new one, or at least, carefully disinfect it before using it for your own pet in the future. Clean affected carpets and upholstery in your home and car.
Wash your hands carefully after handling any unfamiliar animal and before handling your own pet so as to minimize the risk of spreading illness. If the rescued pet has signs of illness, change into clean clothes before picking up your own pet. Be careful about shoes too, because even a few cells of some parasites, picked up from the unfamiliar animal's fecal matter and tracked across your carpet, could contaminate your home if the animal is sick.
Consider creating a first aid kit for your pet.
It is highly advisable to keep pet insurance on your pets if you live in this area. Emergency veterinary care can cost as much as $500 for an injury up to several thousand dollars for a snake bite or serious infection.
PET AUTO SAFETY
Bark Buckle-Up is an organization that provides pet emergency information for your car glove compartment and decals for your car windows so that emergency personnel will know what to do with your pet if you are ever in a car accident and unable to help your pet yourself. The information cards have your pet's photo and name, information about any medications and special diets, the veterinarian's name, and emergency contact information to let authorities know who should take care of your pet if you are not able to tell them.
That organization also tests pet safety equipment such as dog car seats and pet carriers, and there is information on those products on its website.
Dog car seats, seta belts, cat carriers that can be buckled in, and other pet safety equipment can be helpful for any car trip. Keep in mind that a pet could be injured by an air bag if sitting in the front seat of your car while you drive.
HOME PET SAFETY DECALS
The ASPCA offers free window decals to alert fire department and other rescue personnel that pets are inside your home.