As recent close bobcat interactions in town have illuminated, our interface with wildlife in Bethel is only becoming more intimate for a variety of factors. We are incredibly lucky to have such spectacular animals sharing our little nook of the globe. As such, I thought it may behoove a rundown of some tips for safely (for them and us) cohabitating and enjoying our wild animal neighbors.

Photo credit: MaryEllen Woodman

Remember that article about One Health and how global health is intimately interconnected? It is vitally important to think of these connections and how we all impact each other to ensure a safe, thriving, and vibrant world in which we all cohabitate. Whenever I am near a wild (or any) animal, I always initially think: “How can this animal harm me or other people?” Once I have identified the risks and come up with a safe plan to in all ways avoid harm to myself, I then ask myself, “How can I harm this animal?” and subsequently alter my first plan as appropriate to ensure neither of us are harmed.

Zoonotic disease

Most simply put, zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans. (You may have heard this term used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic.) While many zoonotic diseases are of concern in Connecticut, a vitally important disease to discuss in further detail is the viral disease rabies, a fatal but preventable disease transmitted via saliva, usually from an animal bite.

Devastatingly, worldwide about 59,000 people die yearly from rabies infection. Rabies is very sadly something that many people in many parts of the world think about daily. Efforts in the United States such as strict vaccination laws, education, and quarantine protocols have been instrumental in managing this disease and keeping us and our other mammalian friends safe.

Despite this, recall that rabies is not eradicated in Connecticut, and remains a very real risk to humans and other mammals. Connecticut state law mandates that all dogs and cats be vaccinated and up-to-date on their shots against rabies for their safety, our safety, and to help continue diminishing the impact of this devastating disease in the state.

While raccoons are the most common reservoir to carry and transmit the virus in New England, any mammal can carry it if not appropriately vaccinated, including bats, which have a way of sneaking into our homes and exposing even couch potato indoor kitties. Please talk to your veterinarian promptly to schedule an appointment for a rabies vaccine if your pets are not up to date. If you or your pet does encounter a wild animal, please call your physician or veterinarian promptly to ensure proper care is obtained (even pets that are up-to-date on rabies vaccinations often need a booster vaccine if exposed to ensure their safety).

Rodenticides, traps, and other deterrents

Keeping wildlife mindfully and appropriately separated from us, our pets, and our homes is important to prevent negative interactions and consequences such as disease transmission. Remember to ensure dogs and cats are on leash or under strict observation when outside and ensure protective enclosures exist (frequently inspecting for any breakage) for any domestic animals kept outdoors (such as chickens, which are frequently prey of various wild animals).

However, be very mindful and careful about certain wildlife deterrents such as mouse/rat poison. These poisons are toxic not only to targeted pest species, but those animals that consume these pests (including birds of prey and domestic cats) and unintended animals that directly ingest the poison. In fact, a recent study at my alma mater Tufts University found that 100% of red-tailed hawks tested positive for anticoagulant rodenticides. This fact is not just academic, as these birds often have secondary disease because of this exposure. Similarly, dogs and cats are often unintentionally exposed to these poisons with potentially devastating side effects.

Curious children are also at risk when rodenticides are present. Please note that this is not a vendetta against rodent control companies, but rather to provide another example of taking an approach to wildlife management that places importance on and understands the interconnectedness (think One Health!) of our world and its living beings.

We share our world with some truly spectacular animals. Continue to learn how to safely enjoy our time with them. Learn wildlife behavior and educate your children to get them excited to pursue hobbies such as bird-watching or wildlife photography.

Appreciating One Health, the more we remember to think of our world as a beautiful interconnected system, the safer our outcomes will be and the more we can enjoy the wonder that this planet and its wildlife has to offer.


Disclaimer: The content of The Bethel Grapevine’s Ask the Vet blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be treated as such. If you have a medical question about your pet, call or visit your veterinarian or a veterinary hospital.

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