Navigating the wild side: protecting your dog from animal (or insect) attacks

December 22, 2023 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Dog with bandage on it's head

Plenty of dogs love the great outdoors, but they’re not always attuned to the threats that lurk in the bushes, the grass, and the air.

Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to protect your pet from the indigenous beasts of an unforgiving environment—or maybe a backyard with a few flying insects. Read on to learn how to keep your pet safe from animal attacks, whether you live in a bustling metropolis, a tranquil countryside, or the Alaskan wilderness.

Coyotes: The urban predator

coyote

Coyotes, once primarily the inhabitants of rural areas, have increasingly made their way into urban and suburban landscapes.

These adaptable predators pose a significant threat to domestic dogs, especially smaller breeds. Coyote attacks are more likely during certain times of year, such as the winter mating season or when they’re raising their pups.

Coyotes are opportunistic and may view small pets as prey. They’re most active during dusk and dawn, so supervise your dog during these times, especially if you live in an area where coyote sightings are common.

Here are some key coyote precautions:

  • Always supervise your dog when they’re outside, especially after dark, at dawn, and/or in areas known for coyote activity.

  • Keep your yard secure with adequate fencing. Coyotes can jump over low fences, so consider installing coyote rollers or taller barriers.

  • Don’t leave food or garbage outside, as this can attract coyotes.

  • Consider walking your dog on a leash in areas where coyotes have been sighted.

  • Install motion-sensor lights in your yard to deter coyotes.

In the rare event of a coyote encounter, make yourself appear larger and louder to intimidate the coyote. Don’t run away (and try to prevent your dog from running), or you might trigger the coyote's prey drive. Instead, calmly back away while maintaining eye contact.

Cougars: stealthy threats

cougar

Cougars, a.k.a. mountain lions, are formidable predators.

In the US, they’re mostly found in the western states and in a much smaller population in Florida. These solitary and elusive big cats can pose a threat to dogs in areas where their habitats overlap with those of human communities.

To protect your dog from cougars:

  • Stay vigilant in cougar-prone areas, especially during dawn and dusk.

  • Keep dogs indoors at night and avoid leaving food outdoors.

  • Keep dogs on a leash during outdoor activities in these regions.

  • Make noise while hiking to avoid surprising a cougar.

If you encounter a cougar with your dog, stand tall, make noise, and try to appear intimidating. Don’t run, and try to prevent your dog from running too. Much like coyotes, cougars have a natural instinct to chase animals who run away.

Raccoons: small but mighty

raccoon

Raccoons may seem like more of a threat to your garbage can than anything else, but they can seriously hurt your dog.

These intelligent, nocturnal creatures—common across the US—have adapted well to urban environments. They can become aggressive when they’re cornered and may attack dogs, especially if they feel their young are threatened.

Raccoons bite and scratch with remarkable speed and ferocity. Their bites often penetrate the chest wall, leading to collapsed lungs, and may penetrate the abdomen, causing severe infections. They may even attempt to scratch out a dog’s eyes. Plus, raccoons can carry rabies.

To protect your dog from raccoons:

  • Secure your trash cans and avoid leaving pet food outside, as these attract raccoons.

  • Supervise your dog during evening and nighttime outings.

  • Make sure your yard is secure to prevent wildlife from entering.

  • If you encounter a raccoon, keep your dog at a safe distance and slowly back away.

Finally, make sure your dog is vaccinated for rabies. It’s true that no vaccine is 100% effective, and your vet may still recommend emergency prophylaxis in the case of exposure. But a vaccinated dog is dramatically less likely to contract the disease from a raccoon attack or for any other reason.

Venomous snakes: Coiled and ready to strike

dog chasing snake

Venomous snakes are primarily found in the southeastern states and throughout many rural and wilderness areas. For example, Alabama has species like the Eastern Diamondback, while Arizona is known for various rattlesnakes. In California, all venomous snakes are rattlesnakes, and Florida hosts species like the Eastern Coral Snake. These snakes pose a very real threat to dogs.

To protect your pup from venomous snakes:

  • Educate yourself about local venomous snakes and their habitats.

  • Maintain a clean yard to discourage snakes from entering.

  • When walking your dog, stick to clear paths to avoid hidden snakes.

  • Always watch your dog closely in areas known for snake activity.

Finally, you might consider training your dog to avoid snakes, which you can do through various specialized training programs like this one or this one.

Skunks: Defensive sprayers

Skunk

Skunks can strike olfactory fear into the hearts of all nose-bearing creatures. Their pungent spray is certainly one of nature’s yuckier (and more effective) evolutionary adaptations. Apart from the difficult-to-remove odor, the spray can also cause irritation and even temporary blindness in dogs.

While not typically aggressive, skunks will spray when threatened. Dogs can be on the receiving end of this unpleasant defense mechanism.

And skunks may pose an even greater risk to dogs than humans, partly due to dogs' eye-level proximity, which makes them more susceptible to direct skunk spray.

To protect your dog from skunk encounters:

  • Supervise your dog during the evening hours, when skunks are most active.

  • Train your dog to come when called, to quickly remove them from potential skunk encounters.

  • Keep your yard clean to discourage skunks from entering.

If your pup is unfortunate enough to be sprayed, you can use a mixture of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap for cleaning.

If your dog shows signs of eye irritation, persistent odor, or any unusual behavior after cleaning, you’d be wise to visit a vet to make sure there are no complications.

Porcupines: A prickly problem

Dog attacked by Porcupine

Porcupines are most commonly found in wooded and forested areas across the northern and western United States.

Out of curiosity or aggression, your pup might provoke a porcupine and end up with painful quills embedded in their skin. These quills can be difficult to remove and may require veterinary care.

To protect your dog from porcupines:

  • Keep your dog on a leash in areas known to have porcupines.

  • Train your dog to avoid approaching wildlife.

  • Monitor your dog closely in wooded areas where porcupines might be present.

And if your dog gets quilled, be sure to seek immediate veterinary assistance.

Mosquitoes: Tiny pests, big risks

When you hear the phrase “dangerous animal,” these small flying pests probably aren’t the first creatures that spring to mind. But mosquitoes are actually one of the most dangerous natural threats to dogs for one specific reason: they transmit heartworms.

These parasites pose a serious canine health risk, potentially leading to heart failure and other severe complications.

Mosquito bites are the sole method of heartworm transmission in dogs. These parasites reside in the dog's heart and lungs. And unfortunately, symptoms may not appear until the disease is very advanced.

But there’s plenty you can do to prevent heartworm disease in your dog:

Signs of mosquito bites include scratching, swelling, or irritation on the skin. If your dog shows signs of mosquito bites, monitor them closely for any symptoms of heartworm disease. While preventative heartworm meds tend to be quite effective, they’re not 100% foolproof.

Regular heartworm testing is also crucial, especially if you live in an area with a high mosquito population.

Other dogs

While wildlife poses various threats to dogs, the most common risk often comes from encounters with other dogs. Dog-on-dog aggression can stem from many factors, including territorial disputes, fear, a lack of socialization, or protective behavior. Here are some things you can do to keep your pup safe:

  • Socialize your dog from a young age to make sure they’re comfortable around other dogs.

  • Always supervise interactions with unfamiliar dogs, and approach them carefully if at all.

  • Keep your dog on a leash in public spaces to maintain control.

  • If a dog shows signs of aggression, calmly remove your dog from the situation.

  • Never put your hands between two fighting dogs; you could get seriously injured.

If your dog is the one who’s initiating conflicts or displaying signs of aggression, consult a professional trainer or behaviorist. Oh, and here are some tips for training an aggressive dog.

Spaying or neutering your dog can also reduce aggression. And regular exercise and mental stimulation can also help prevent behavioral issues as well.

The bottom line

It’s your job to keep your dog safe. For one thing, preventative care is crucial. By keeping up with check-ups and vaccinations, you can catch potential health issues early and keep your dog healthy.

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for detecting hidden injuries from animal attacks that might be concealed by fur. And vaccinations help keep your dog in overall good health, preparing them to withstand and recover from any health complications that arise from animal encounters.

A Wellness Plan — like the optional, non-insurance plan offered by ManyPets, can help reimburse you for preventative care like vaccinations, parasite testing, and heartworm medication.

Of course, no matter how responsible you are, accidents and injuries can happen. A dog insurance policy can prepare you for unexpected veterinary expenses, so you can focus on treating your pup instead of worrying about your finances.


David Teich
Lead Content Editor

David Teich is Lead Content Editor at ManyPets. He loves pets, Scrabble, Oxford commas, and typing loudly.