Big city living: Dogs and the danger of rats

Big city living: Dogs and the danger of rats

It’s no secret that North American cities are breeding grounds for rats. What can you do to make sure your dog is safe?

August 29, 2019

My husband and I were sitting at the dining room table after our Thanksgiving meal when the garage door swung open with a bang and my kids screamed for me in utter panic. Heart pounding, I ran downstairs where they were holding our dog and crying. I’d asked them to take Amber, our Ridgeback-Greyhound rescue, to the park for a run after lunch. They’d been gone a good half hour when the alarm sounded.

“Amber’s bleeding!” they cried, breathless. I immediately saw a scratch on Amber’s upper lip. It was bright red, swollen and dripping with blood but the cut didn’t appear to be deep and looked like it would heal easily. That was the good news. Relieved that my children weren’t hurt, I asked what had happened. Amber and a neighbour’s Newfoundlander were happily playing fetch when they ditched the ball for something much more interesting—a furry object scurrying across the field. It was a rat! Amber picked it up in her mouth and tossed it into the air. The kids screamed for her to drop it, which she did, but not until the rodent’s defensive strike had done its damage.

Amber has found dead rats in that park in the past, which I’ve bagged and dropped in the trash can. But a live one? My first concern was whether the rat was diseased. I quickly texted my niece, who’s a vet, and she reassured me that “the biggest worry is rabies, but since Amber is vaccinated, there’s no immediate danger.” She told me to clean the wound and watch for infection. I also kept an eye on her for signs of illness and odd behaviour.

I live in Chicago. Rats—and rat traps—are everywhere. For the past several years, Chicago has held the dubious honour of being the “rattiest US city” according to Orkin, a worldwide pest control company, and Lakeview, where I live, is the neighbourhood which contains the third most baited traps. It seems, though, that rats are living too well off our garbage and dog poop to be bothered with those traps!

Chicago is not alone. Rat populations are also on the rise in cities across Canada. In Vancouver, infestation rates were up 200% in 2016 compared to the previous year, according to Excel Pest Solutions, and likely due to construction projects disrupting their habitats as well as milder winters. According to Orkin, Toronto and Ottawa have the highest rates of rodent infestation in Ontario, which comes as no surprise: The more populous the city, the more food is available, and the worse the rat problem. Montreal and Halifax are not immune either, according to Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, for much the same reasons, in addition to their proximity to large bodies of water. I seem to remember having rats come into our Westmount home through a dry toilet in the basement when I was a child ... I think it’s safe to say that if you’re an urbanite, it’s wise to watch out for vermin. Rats are prolific procreators and extraordinary survivors, making it nearly impossible for cities to get rid of them completely.

The Government of Canada issues pest control guidelines which are a good starting point for protecting the well-being of your pet—and your family. Poisons can play a central role in killing vermin but be sure to protect your children and pets when using them.

So, what’s your pet’s best defence against city wildlife? Keep their rabies vaccinations up to date and if you are at all worried, don’t hesitate to call your vet. It was a huge relief to me!

To learn about Canada’s pest control guidelines:

Photo credit: Graham Mauer
Photo 1: Amber, surrounded by her family.

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