Pet Talk: Proper care of stray animals

April 21, 2010

From College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University

Strayed or lost…what to do? When you find an animal wandering, what steps should you take to reunite them with their owner and keep yourself safe?

“One should be careful when approaching a stray animal,” says Dr. M.A. Crist, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“If the animal is injured or scared, it may inflict bite wounds or scratches to the person approaching or trying to handle the stray animal,” explains Crist. “Because the animal has an unknown vaccination history, we do not know if this animal has been vaccinated for rabies. Therefore, it is recommended that experienced personnel handle stray animals.

“Some rescue groups, animal shelters and city animal control have knowledgeable personnel who are experienced in rescuing stray animals,” notes Dr. Crist. “They can provide veterinary care for the sick or injured, and also check if the pet is microchipped or has any other form of identification that may reconnect it with the original owner.”

Teach your children or young adults not to walk up to any animal that does not have an owner attached to it. Even if there is an owner present, they should ask if they can approach the pet because it may not be friendly. If they are allowed to approach the pet, sometimes it is best to come from the side of the pet and try to avoid a frontal approach.

Crist also suggests one should be mindful of bringing a stray animal into a confined area such as your car. The stray may become frightened and become a fear biter that causes harm to the person. She recommends that if one does obtain a stray and needs to transport the animal, it is best to place it into a pet carrier for transportation.

“Bringing a stray animal into your own home may be concerning,” notes Crist. “The pet has an unknown vaccine history. Again, the animal may become fearful and cause harm to people or other pets in the household. The stray pet should be kept away from your personal animals because one does not know if this animal may be carrying other diseases and expose your pets to these diseases.”

If you decide you want to keep a stray animal, Crist recommends having the animal examined by a veterinarian who can check for a microchip or other form of identification to determine an owner. The veterinarian can advise about what the stray would need to have the best medical treatment and how to care for the pet.

“Good enclosures help to keep pets from escaping and getting lost,” explains Crist. But, if they escape, identifying mechanisms are helpful.

Crist says: “I would strongly encourage pet owners to microchip or permanently identify their pet. It is recommended, if a microchip is used, to supply an additional contact name of a person not in your state. We learned this when Hurricane Katrina came to Louisiana and people were displaced. Lots of pets had contact names of people identified, but these people were displaced as well. The animal with a microchip that had an out-of-state contact gave us a person who helped to identify the pet owner.”

Crist notes that having pets spayed or neutered will certainly help with population control of unwanted animals. It will also help control the unwanted pregnancies of the animals that might escape and become lost.

The way to help a stray…what to do? Stay safe with safety first, seek knowledgeable and equipped personnel, and try to identify the pet’s owner.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

From the April 21-27, 2010 issue

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