Felines easy prey for other animals

Raccoons can be a danger to cats. They also are considered a primary carrier of the rabies virus in the U.S., along with red and gray foxes, skunks and bats. (Photo by Linda Hylton)

Don’t be so quick to blame a coyote if your cat goes missing.

Great horned owls, weasels, and even raccoons can be just as deadly to cats, according to Lock Boyce, owner of Boyce-Holland Veterinary Service.

Raccoons don’t preferentially seek cats out, Boyce said. Felines are not on “their regular menu, but if it came right down to it, they will kill a cat.”

Boyce said raccoons are more likely to kill if, for instance, a bowl of dry cat food is left outside and the cat doesn’t run away when the raccoon came to eat. He said raccoons love cat food.

If feeding together, there is a risk of cat and raccoon fighting, Boyce said. With thick skin, a raccoon is “practically armored. They have a really tough hide” and also have hands to help defend or mount an offense, he said.

Additionally, “every wild raccoon we’ve tested lately has tested positive for rabies,” Boyce said.

Raccoons infected with the rabies virus generally do not behave normally, Boyce said.

“They may attack a cat or anything else that’s moving,” he said, and added a raccoon in Patrick County tested positive for rabies as recently as last week.

“It’s very important that cats and dogs be vaccinated because that protects you from rabies,” Boyce said of the disease that can be prevented, but otherwise affects the central nervous system, causes disease in the brain and ultimately, death.

Boyce said no domestic animals have tested positive for the disease so far this year. He attributes that to animal owners understanding the importance of making sure their animals are vaccinated.

While raccoons are opportunistic eaters, with a diet influenced by the environment, great horned owls are a more common cat predator, Boyce said.

“The reason for that is, if you handle a great horned owl, they all smell like skunks, and from the air, especially at night, any domestic cat looks like a skunk,” Boyce said.

He and his staff have treated cats which have scars on their back; the markings are made when they are grabbed by a great horned owl, Boyce said. He explained larger cats may survive because it is difficult for an owl to become airborne while holding onto a full grown cat. However, that is not an issue if the owl’s prey is a kitten, he added.

Another common culprit in a dwindling cat population may be an animal that kills even when full.

“Weasels,” Boyce said, and added “we are surrounded by weasels.”

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