You and your pet enjoy a good ramble in the wilds of Montana. You routinely come in contact with wild critters while on these walks, and have wondered how safe your pet is around these animals. The team at Highlands Veterinary Hospital offers tips to help keep your pet safe around local wildlife.

How do I protect my pet from coyotes?

Coyotes are shy by nature and will typically avoid humans and domesticated pets, but a desperate coyote may attack your cat or small dog if they see them as an easy meal. They also can spread infections such as rabies and distemper if they come in close contact with your pet. Follow these tips to ensure your pet does not become a coyote’s victim.

  • Never intentionally feed a coyote. Their instinct is to shy away from humans, but if you are offering them a meal, they will lose that wariness and become more bold around you and your pet.
  • Never feed your pet outside. The leftover food and dirty bowls will attract the coyotes, and they will flag your home as a food source.
  • Clean your grill well between uses—coyotes are attracted to grill droppings. 
  • Enclose your compost and garbage well.
  • Avoid walking at night. Take a flashlight if an alternative time is not an option.
  • Never leave your pet alone outside.
  • Keep your pet leashed at all times.
  • Install a fence. The fence must be six feet tall and buried six inches to keep coyotes out of your yard. A coyote roller can also be installed to keep them from climbing over the fence.
  • Employ coyote hazing techniques to discourage them from visiting your yard.

Be aware that coyotes give birth in April. They are protective of their pups, making them more aggressive from April to June. If your pet is attacked by a coyote, call Highlands Veterinary Hospital immediately.

How do I protect my pet from bears?

Montana is home to black bears and grizzly bears. While grizzlies are more aggressive, neither species will likely attack without provocation. Mama bears give birth in January and their cubs remain with them for about 18 months, during which time they will be more aggressive as they protect their cubs. Never get between a bear and her cubs. Bears will also become more aggressive in late summer and early fall when they are in a feeding frenzy to pack on weight before hibernation. These guidelines will help protect your pet.

  • Bring your garbage in at night, or invest in a bear-resistant container.
  • Enclose your compost well.
  • Never feed your pets outside. Like coyotes, bears are attracted to the residual food and dirty bowls. 
  • Keep your grill clean.
  • Move bird feeders away from your home.
  • Keep your pet on a leash at all times.
  • Never let your pet outdoors alone.
  • Check the area for bears before stepping outside with your pet.
  • Keep bear spray on hand if you frequently hike in areas inhabited by bears.

If you come in contact with a bear, do not run.  Stay calm, move away slowly, tracking sideways, and avoid eye contact. Keep your bear spray in your hand in case the bear attacks. If your pet is attacked by a bear, they will need immediate veterinary care. Do not risk your safety by attempting to aid your pet in the event of an attack.

How do I keep my pet safe from snakes?

Ten snake species inhabit Montana, but only one is venomous. The Western rattlesnake is a pit viper, and can be easily identified by the distinctive rattle made of hollow keratin at the tip of the tail, which they vibrate when they feel threatened.  Other distinguishing features include vertical pupils, a triangular head, and facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. Snakes will not seek interaction with your pet, but will strike out if provoked. Follow this advice to keep your pet out of the serpent’s way.

  • Never leave your pet alone outside.
  • Keep your pet leashed at all times.
  • Monitor anything your pet is investigating. Most snake bites are caused by a pet’s natural curiosity.
  • Do not let your pet investigate under heavy vegetation or in holes.
  • Walk on well-used trails so you can see what is ahead.
  • If you see a snake, avoid interaction.

The Western rattlesnake’s hemotoxic venom causes excessive bleeding and tissue damage, and their bite can be deadly, especially if your pet is bitten on their face or chest. Excessive tissue damage can result in the need for skin grafts or limb amputation. The extent of the bite damage to your pet depends on the snake’s size in relation to your pet, and the location and number of bites. A snake bite vaccine has been created for dogs and may neutralize some effects of the Western rattlesnake’s venom. The vaccine is not protective against the venom. It only delays the damage, allowing you more time to seek emergency care for your pet. If your pet is bitten by a snake, take them to the nearest emergency facility that stocks antivenom as quickly as possible. Call ahead to ensure the facility has antivenom on hand. Highlands Veterinary Hospital does not stock antivenom. 

Wildlife encounters can be frightening, but they do not have to end in tragedy. Following these simple tips will help keep your pet safe when exploring the beautiful Montana countryside. If your pet is injured by a wild animal, or you have questions about protection, do not hesitate to contact our team at Highlands Veterinary Hospital.