Pets can be the perfect country-living companions, but if you’re going bring a domesticated animal into an unfamiliar rural environment, you need to take proper precautions. Here are some key threats to watch out for.
Curious pets often come into contact with local inhabitants who don’t appreciate the invasion. Among the most common run-ins are porcupines, who are armed with 30,000 quills that they’ll release into your furry friend if they feel threatened. It’s an incredibly painful experience for your pets, but don’t attempt to remove the quills yourself! They can easily break on contact, embedding themselves farther into the skin. If they migrate deeper, they can cause infections and abscesses, or even puncture vital organs. Try to keep your pet still so they don’t endanger themselves, and transport them to a vet who will put them under anesthesia and carefully remove the quills.
There are also a number of predators to be wary of, although encounters are far less common. Fishers (a member of the weasel family found in Ontario) have been known to tussle with dogs, and coyote attacks are becoming more common throughout Canada. To protect your pets, your best defense against wild animals is to keep any pets who are unaccustomed to the area on a leash, and never leave any food or garbage where it might lure wildlife into your area.
Lake and pond water
If your dogs are fond of swimming, they’ll likely gulp down a lot of lake water while they frolic and play. And even if they’re wary of the water, they might take a few sips to quench their thirst. Unfortunately, they could ingest a water-borne bacteria called Giardia and catch something called “beaver fever” (which got it’s nickname because a lot of people caught it from water inhabited by beavers). The bacteria can cause diarrhea, and while it doesn’t always require treatment, your dog will continually re-ingest the bacteria if he drinks from the same water source. Always keep a bowl of water outdoors to give your dog an alternative drinking option, and bathe them frequently under the tail and chin if they start to exhibit any symptoms.
Blue-green algae is another toxin-producing bacteria found in freshwater. If your lake or pond has patches that are the colour of pea soup, it probably contains algae. It’s usually concentrated near the shore in the late summer months when temperatures are high. Most blue-green algae will not produce toxins, but it’s impossible to tell without testing, so all of it should be considered dangerous. If your pet drinks toxic algae, the symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, blood in their stool, disorientation, and excessive salivation. It can be fatal if not treated promptly, so take them to the vet if you suspect anything.
Natural and unnatural poisons
If you let your pets run free, they can easily chow down on poisonous materials, so it’s important to be aware of specific things to avoid. Wild mushrooms can wreak havoc on all pets, and lilies are particularly damaging to cats. But there are also a few manmade hazards to avoid in cottage country. Many people will leave rat poison out at their cottage over the winter and forget to remove it when they return in the spring. To your household pet, it’s a tasty snack that could prove deadly. Other cottagers may also be using fertilizers, insecticides, and mulches (e.g., cocoa mulch) that could be harmful, so try to keep your pets contained to your own property.
In Ontario, rabies should not be an issue unless you’re a delinquent pet owner, because you’re required by law to vaccinate your household animals against the disease. Not all other provinces have the same regulations, but the veterinary associations all recommend that pet owners take the precaution anyway. If your pets aren’t up to date on their shots, watch out for skunks, raccoons, and bats—all are potential carriers of rabies.
Deer ticks can carry Lyme disease, which your pet can be vaccinated against. It’s not a required shot, but it could be advisable if your pet is often cottage bound. Ticks are most common in the early spring and early fall when the weather is slightly cooler. They generally hide out in long grass or wooded areas, so if you enjoy hiking through the forest with your dog, check him carefully for ticks afterwards.
It’s impossible to completely protect your furry friends from these ubiquitous pests. They will get nipped. But mosquitos can be more than a simple nuisance. They can spread a dangerous parasitic worm called Dirofilaria immitis that will invade the heart and lungs of your cat or dog. This condition, called “heartworm disease” can be life threatening, and treatment is very expensive. The Village Animal Hospital in Lakefield, Ontario, which operates as an emergency vet, has seen several severe cases recently. They recommend that pet owners focus on prevention and put their pets on heartworm pills from June to November.