A few weeks ago our receptionists received a call from the panicked owner of a small beagle. It was early in the morning, and the schedule was already filled with appointments and procedures – we didn’t have a minute to lose.
But this was a patient who just couldn’t wait to be seen.
The owner reported that his dog, we’ll call her Sally, had been attacked by a mountain lion.
Sally and her owner live in the foothills of a spacious ranch, and at some point during the night the lion snuck around the house in search of prey. Cameras mounted outside captured the stealthy predator lifting pillows from patio furniture, delicately sniffing the dog’s scent.
He had to know what he was looking for.
The owner, my client, woke up to his dogs barking and barking like they had never done before. He jumped outside to find a life-size mountain lion carrying Sally away. By a stroke of luck, Sally was able to escape from the lion’s jaws and her owner managed to scare away the predator.
Sally was alive, but barely.
We immediately told him to bring Sally to our office. When she arrived she was in better shape than we expected, but the injuries we could see were just the tip of the iceberg.
Sally survived the attack but had weeks of recovery ahead of her, requiring multiple surgeries, antibiotics, painkillers and intensive nursing care by her beloved owner.
Perhaps the most amazing thing was not that she escaped becoming a meal, but that her face and her will to live never failed. She never moaned and she walked in and out of our hospital alone whenever she came.
In my years as a veterinarian, I have seen many dogs and cats who have survived wildlife encounters, and their path to recovery never ceases to amaze me.
When I practiced in Los Angeles, the main predator of pets were 2-ton metal beasts – that is, motor vehicles – that roamed in packs, especially at 8 a.m. and at 16 hours.
In Santa Barbara, we also share our home with many wildlife including mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, foxes, rattlesnakes, birds of prey and even an occasional bear.
The likelihood of your pet encountering a wild animal is pretty low overall. Wild animals are naturally wary of humans and human-infested neighborhoods.
But sometimes the will to eat (or fight back) can overcome this natural fear.
Most predators, such as coyotes, bobcats, and cougars, are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. If you have cats that live indoors and outdoors, you should keep them indoors from dinnertime until after breakfast.
As many people have experienced, coyotes will even enter densely populated suburban neighborhoods in search of an easy meal during these hours. Even the most sophisticated cats have no natural defenses against these intelligent predators and they don’t often escape.
In addition to house cats, predators will hunt backyard chickens, dogs, pet rabbits and other small pets, so make sure your furry friends are safely housed during those crucial hours. .
If you are hiking or camping, remember that you are entering the territory of wild animals. This is their home, and you just visited.
You can be sure a mountain lion sees you, before you see it. Keep your dogs close to you (preferably on a leash) to prevent them from becoming easy prey.
If you are a frequent hiker, backpacker, or live on a ranch or in the foothills, you may eventually encounter a rattlesnake. In southern California, rattlesnakes do not hibernate and are active year-round.
These animals just want to be left alone and will not attack unless they feel threatened. But many curious dogs learned that lesson too late, and rattlesnake venom can have serious consequences.
Most snakebites occur on the head, neck, or extremities, and the severity can depend on several factors: the size of the dog, the age of the snake, the location of the bite, the date it was has released venom (i.e. how much venom is left to inject into your dog).
About 20-25% of bites are dry (meaning no venom was injected), 30% are mild with only local pain and swelling, 40% are severe, and 5% are fatal.
Treatment is much more effective if instituted immediately and involves intravenous fluids, antivenoms, and emergency supportive care.
There is a vaccine for western diamondback venom, although it should be noted that there is still some controversy in the veterinary field as to its effectiveness.
An important note about this vaccine is that dogs will still need emergency treatment and antivenom. However, the vaccine theoretically lessens the effects of the venom. It is given in a series of two initial doses, with boosters every 6 to 12 months thereafter.
If you and your dog live in high-risk areas or participate in activities that will result in frequent encounters with snakes, you may also want to consider training to avoid rattlesnakes. In our region, there are usually a few professional clinics every year. Check your local listings for dates.
You can take steps to protect your pets from deadly wildlife encounters.
This may include high, secure fencing around your yard, limiting time outside for cats and small dogs (especially at dawn/night/dusk), staying alert, and keeping your dogs on a leash during the hiking, and reducing food sources that can attract wildlife, such as bird seed, pet food, and garbage.
This way we can continue to have good neighborly relations with our beautiful local wildlife.
Dr. Hilary Quinn is a small animal veterinarian in Santa Barbara. She owns and operates the Wilder Animal Hospital and shares her own home with three humans (her husband and two children) as well as two rowdy dogs, a very calm kitten, two fish and six chickens. Contact her at [email protected]