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Pet Safety in a Desert Environment

by Ardra Fitzgerald

There have been a number of questions in the RV Forum about taking pets to desert parks and we try to help those asking to be aware of the dangers to their pets. For example, it's common sense that pets in the desert need to drink more water - just like their owners. The other day I was reading the Anza-Borrego newsletter in which the question was asked "Why aren't dogs allowed on trails in wilderness areas?" Even though we don't have furry kids, the article should be of special interest to those who do. I'll just outline it's contents as food for thought.

In some parks, such as Anza-Borrego, it is illegal to take pets on park trails. These laws are designed to protect both the local wildlife and your pets.

Park animals smell canine scent and think "Predator" so the local critters avoid areas where there's canine scent. This means they may not be able to search for food or find safety in their usual places.

Diseases may spread from your pet to local wildlife or vice versa. The diseases include plague and Lyme disease which also can spread to humans. Fleas and ticks spread some of these diseases. If your pet attracts fleas and brings them into your RV, the fleas will get into the carpet and lay their eggs in the carpet. Flea bites are not fun! You want to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks, but you also need to protect yourself by never feeding or touching wildlife like chipmunks, squirrels, prairie dogs, and mice which carry the plague, especially in the Western U.S. where it is believed most of the wild rodent population carries this disease. Check both your pet and yourself for ticks before going inside your RV.

Cholla cactus are especially problematic to pets because the spines or thorns become embedded in their paws, then their mouth, then the other paws, as the animal tries to remove the irritation. Emergency medical care may be more than an hour away so pets with cholla spines can suffer quite a bit before they reach care. ALWAYS CARRY TWEEZERS OR PLIERS WHEN WALKING YOUR DOG IN AREAS WITH CHOLLA CACTUS! If you don't know what the Cholla Cactus looks like, you can Google it and find photos. There are hundreds of Cholla types and one of the most pesky is what's called a Jumping Cholla Cactus. Remember watching cowboy movies in which the cowboys wore leather chaps? The chaps had many uses but they especially protected the cowboys from Cholla needles "jumping" off the plant and onto them.

Consider this scenario: You have a dog that weighs 40, 50, or 60 pounds and you take him onto a desert trail. He gets cactus spines in his feet, hair, tongue, and elsewhere. Could you carry your dog back to the car or RV that might be a mile or two away? Then, suppose you and the pet go inside the RV and spread the cholla spines inside. These Cholla spines are surprisingly strong and can get embedded in carpet, clothing, shoes, and even tires. Check both your pet and yourself for Cholla spines before going inside your RV.

Rattlesnakes can be a very real threat because dogs may not understand the warning of rattles and get bitten. Rattlesnake bites (as well as scorpion bites) can kill a dog or cat.

Local wildlife often are predators and they can be a real threat, especially to smaller dogs and cats. Coyotes and other hunter critters look at domesticated animals like dogs and cats as their next meal. They're also very smart and have been known to trick potential prey. For example, there may be a pack of coyotes. One will stand in the open and pose to attract the attention of a pet while the others stay hidden. Then, when the pet chases the coyote, others in the pack will attack the pet which doesn't stand a chance of protecting itself from an entire pack. Coyotes are found all over North America, including Newfoundland.

Larger birds, such as eagles and hawks, also fall into the predator category. They might spot a little dog, swoop down, grab it with their talons, and take it for their next meal.

Desert heat can burn the pads of your pet's feet. Carrying your pet or having them wear doggie booties might help.

Rocky terrain might cut your pet's paws. Again, carrying your pet or having them wear doggie booties might help.

I hope this helps those of you who are new to the desert. It can be a beautiful experience, but not if your furry kid is hurt because you don't know about the dangers it faces or if you don't follow the rules that were put in place to protect both them and the local wildlife.