There are so many things to enjoy about springtime, which is now in full swing. Fresh asparagus to eat, vegetable gardens sprouting and lots of baby animals to admire. Of course, all those baby animals have parents and lately there have been all sorts of wild critters out and about. Just in the past two weeks, I’ve seen three dogs that tangled with porcupines, two that got skunked and one that possibly got attacked by a bear. While we need to coexist with the wildlife (which was here long before we were), it is important to know what to do when our domestic pets get a little too close to our wildlife’s homes.
Dogs seem to love to get skunked. It may not seem like it, but why would they repeatedly get sprayed? It seems like they just can’t leave those little black and white creatures alone. Maybe they’re just determined to get the best of them the next time, but whatever the reason, skunk/dog confrontations are very common. In general, skunks are very non-aggressive and their number one defense is definitely their powerful scent glands. If your dog gets skunked, you will notice that the odor is much different close up than when you smell it driving down the road. It is downright nauseating. The most important thing to do is to bathe him immediately to wash off as much of the oil as possible. Use a general dog shampoo first, then try this second — mix 1 quart of hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid dish detergent (Dawn works well). For big dogs, you can double this. Pour it over your pet, rub in well and rinse. Then for a final rinse, take ½ white vinegar and ½ water, pour it on and do not rinse. By the way, wear gloves or you’ll pick up the skunk odor on your hands. If your dog is squinting his eyes after getting sprayed, rinse them carefully with water or saline. If he continues to be uncomfortable the following day, he should be examined because the oil is irritating and can cause corneal ulcers. It is also important that if your dog did come in contact with a skunk, his rabies vaccine should be boosted if he hasn’t had one within the past six months. This rule also applies in cases of any wild animal contact, but especially foxes, bats, ground hogs, and raccoons in addition to skunks. These are the most common wild animals that carry rabies in New Jersey.
Porcupine encounters are also common this time of year. I have never seen a live wild porcupine around here but they obviously exist because I see dogs get it in the face all the time. Dogs also seem to insist on biting at the porcupine, so they not only get the quills in the nose and muzzle, but inside the mouth as well. Removing them is difficult and best done under sedation. If you look closely at the quills, you’ll notice they have tiny backwards-facing barbs that lock them in the skin and in fact, cause them to dig in deeper as the dog tries to dislodge them. It is not uncommon for a dog to have 100-200 or more.
When it comes to cats, they seem to mostly fight with each other rather and it is very important to keep them up to date on their rabies vaccine as well. There are lots of feral cats out there and cats are very territorial. Even if your cat doesn’t really care about his space, if a strange cat decides it belongs to him, your pet may end up getting attacked. All bite wounds require medical attention. They will get infected and they are painful, so antibiotics and pain relievers are necessary for treatment.
Other than going after each other, cats, being very wise, more commonly take on animals which are smaller than them and can be eaten (or at least played with for a while and then left at the doorstep for you to admire). The main problem this causes is the transmission of parasites. Checking a stool sample at least yearly and/or giving routine deworming treatments will help keep this in control.
It is wonderful that we have so much wildlife to appreciate in this beautiful rural area, and although we know enough to stay at a safe distance, our pets do not, so be ready to deal with these close encounters of the untamed kind.