Down To Business: Ferrets As Pets

Pets can come in all shapes and sizes. While some animal lovers may consider themselves “dog” or “cat” people, others enjoy smaller pets, also referred to as “pocket pets,” like ferrets.

A ferret curled upMany people like ferrets because they are relatively low maintenance, similar to a cat, according to Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Unlike cats, ferrets are happy to spend part of their day inside of a cage, which can allow their owner to rest easy knowing that their pet is safe from harm and easily accessible in case of an emergency.

The general rule is that ferret cages should be the largest you can afford that fits in your house. Like any other animal, however, ferrets should be given plenty of time outside of their cages to run around and get exercise. Blue-McLendon said they may even play with other pets in the home, most often with cats and smaller dogs.

“All ferrets need to be allowed bigger areas to run in, whether it’s a bedroom or living room, but they should never be in a house unsupervised, because they eat all kinds of little things.” Blue-McLendon said.

“One of the things potential owners need to be aware of is that pet ferrets are really curious, so they’ll eat what we would consider foreign bodies, which means they eat things that can then get stuck in their stomach or intestines that can cause illness and death, if not dealt with,” she said.

Pet ferrets also can have an odor if they haven’t been spayed or neutered, according to Blue-McLendon.

“Pet ferrets should get spayed or neutered, and some people will get them de-scented,” Blue-McLendon said.

De-scenting is a surgery that removes some of the glands that produce odor. Pet owners should consult their veterinarian to see if this procedure is right for them.

To keep your home clean and reduce any foul smells, ferrets can be trained to use a litter box, just like pet cats.

“Ferrets naturally will go to a certain spot, so oftentimes owners will just put the litter pan in that spot to get them to use it,” Blue-McLendon said. “Some of them will inherently use a litter pan because they’re generally neat little animals.”

Blue-McLendon said the time commitment associated with having a ferret is about the same as a cat.

“You’ve got to clean their litter pan, make sure they have food and fresh water, and give them love and attention,” she said. “Be sure that you’ve spent the time to know about the general husbandry.”

Ferrets live on a simple diet, but they’ll need to have constant access to their food since they tend to eat many meals throughout the day.

“There’s a number of commercial ferret diets on the market that can be supplemented with additional treats,” Blue-McLendon said. Healthy treats for pet ferrets include bits of cooked egg or meat, like chicken.

When considering getting any new pet, Blue-McLendon believes future pet owners should do their research before making the decision.

“Before people get ferrets, just like all small mammals, they should really do their homework and consider whether they are prepared to put in the time that it takes to give their ferret exercise in their house,” Blue-McLendon said.

If a ferret is right for you and your family, they can be an inquisitive and adorable companion that provides years of pint-sized love. When it comes to choosing a pet, a ferret might not be your first thought, but one could be your first choice.

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Lynx Finds Fur-ever Home at Texas A&M Wildlife Center

Close up on Kisa the lynx's face
Kisa the Eurasian Lynx

Story by Megan Myers

As the newest exotic animal resident of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Winnie Carter Wildlife Center, Kisa the lynx has found the purr-fect place to call home.

The 11-year-old Eurasian lynx came to Texas A&M in February from a conservation breeding facility in Arkansas. Because Kisa (киса, in Russian, means “kitty”) is now considered “middle-aged,” she is retiring from conservation work and taking on the role of an ambassador species for Texas A&M’s Wildlife Center.

“She will be one of our educational animals; she will help teach students about the special routine care and feeding of exotic cats, including preventative veterinary care,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, director of the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center.

The Wildlife Center also cares for two other species of small exotic cats, a serval and three Asian leopard cats, so the addition of a lynx will increase the variety of learning opportunities for students and emphasize the differences between similar species.

“Even though the management of the species might be very similar, the animals’ behavior will be different,” Blue-McLendon said. “The animals have different personalities even though they may be similar in size.”

Kisa’s arrival also provided an opportunity for collaboration across colleges; soon after Blue-McLendon knew she would need to build a habitat for Kisa, she reached out to Dr. José Fernández Solís, an associate instructional professor of construction science at the Texas A&M College of Architecture, for help designing the perfect space.

“It’s really been fun to work with Dr. Solís because he just loves students and he loves to have projects,” Blue-McLendon said. “His input has been delightful and he has really understood that I wanted to do sustainable construction as best we could. He drew up some plans for us and had all kinds of interesting ideas.”

As the vice president of architecture at Lord Aeck Sargent, a design firm headquartered in Atlanta, Solís has experience designing exotic animal habitats from his work on a multilevel renovation and addition to the Atlanta Zoo’s orangutan habitat in 1996.

“No two wildlife projects are the same but all have a common theme—what is the natural habitat of the wildlife that can best be represented in a confined space?” Solís said.

Kisa in a shelter

For the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center’s lynx enclosure project, Solís’ design was based on a close collaboration with Blue-McLendon and Dave Goltz, director of the College of Architecture’s Automated Fabrication and Design Lab.

“We worked hand-in-hand to solve issues and develop alternative solutions that resulted in this new facility,” Solís said. “Vertical wire fence was embedded four to six inches into a steel reinforced-grade beam so neither the lynx nor any future exotic animal will be able to dig under.

“The collective interdisciplinary effort was very rewarding and interactive,” he said. “The design maximizes what a group of volunteer students could build with oversight from the Wildlife Center, Department of Construction Science, and additional supervisors.”

The creation of Kisa’s habitat was made possible thanks to the generosity of many who donated time, money, and resources. From concrete to cedar logs, most of the materials for the enclosure were freely given by people who wanted to support the Wildlife Center’s goal to give Kisa the best home possible.

Kisa’s finished enclosure is 2,000 square feet full of shelters, climbing objects, and several other forms of enrichment.

“One of the best enrichments is that she will have lots of people around all day long,” Blue-McLendon said. “She’s apparently been around humans her entire life and she likes the presence of people. Just providing lots of students to talk to her will be fantastic.”

Enrichment coordinators, the Wildlife Center’s new volunteer student positions, will be in charge of conducting research online and at other wildlife sanctuaries to find new ways to entertain Kisa as time goes on.

“They’ve already built one structure, a cedar log with another log coming out at an angle and they’re going to hang a PVC toy from it that’s wrapped in rope,” Blue-McLendon said. “I got the idea for this after visiting another wildlife facility recently; their leopard had one and absolutely loved it.”

Best of all, Kisa will have access to the best veterinary care from Blue-McLendon and other talented specialists at the CVM. Using training and the benefits of her custom enclosure, Kisa’s veterinarians will be able to regularly examine her to monitor her weight and health.

As Kisa settles into her new home, Blue-McLendon and veterinary students at the Wildlife Center are looking forward to getting to know her and seeing her personality bloom.

“We’re excited. It’s really fun to partner with people and get people excited about things,” Blue-McLendon said. “It’s been fun to interact with lots of different people who understand the mission of providing sanctuary for an animal for the rest of its life and allowing students to get exposure to things that they normally could not on a college campus.”


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Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences;; 979-862-4216

Turtles and tortoises as pets

turtle on a groundIf you’re looking for a unique, low-cost pet that enjoys a relaxed lifestyle, a pet turtle or tortoise may be for you.

What is the difference between turtles and tortoises? Most turtles have webbed feet or flippers and primarily live in water, while tortoises primarily live on land and do not have webbed feet. In fact, if you took a tortoise to a body of water, it likely would not know how to swim.

Whether you are interested in a turtle or a tortoise, Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said doing your research before getting one as a pet is extremely important.

Different breeds of turtles and tortoises require a specific diet and habitat.

Additionally, the adult size of turtles and tortoises vary by breed. For instance, the sulcata tortoise can easily weigh up to 200 pounds, which may not make it a suitable family pet. Other breeds are much smaller and can be easily held by supervised children.

The sulcata tortoise may not be the best option for a pet (especially since they are capable of out-living humans), but other tortoises, such as the Hermann’s tortoise and red-footed tortoise, can make great pets. For turtles, Blue-McLendon recommends the red-eared slider.

Be sure to get your pet turtle or tortoise from a reputable breeder.

“In almost all circumstances you should not take an animal from the wild and turn them into a pet,” Blue-McLendon said. “You change their life forever and potentially decrease their life expectancy.”

No matter the breed you choose, you should consider their adult maximum size before purchasing a tank and setting up their habitat. Additionally, doing your research will help you determine the appropriate temperature, bedding (for tortoises), and amount of lighting for your turtle or tortoise.

You should also determine through research an appropriate diet for your breed and the life stage of the turtle or tortoise. Although some commercial food is conveniently sold at pet stores, this food may not be nutritionally balanced.

Blue-McLendon recommends primarily feeding your pet turtle or tortoise leafy greens, since they are herbivores. Some species may enjoy fruit as a special treat. Additionally, drinking water for tortoises should be available at all times.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all reptiles carry Salmonella, including turtles and tortoises. Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause temporary infection in humans, especially in children under 5 years old, elderly adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system. Therefore, these individuals should avoid handling turtles and tortoises.

If you are set on getting a turtle or tortoise, the CDC recommends washing your hands thoroughly after handling your pet. Additionally, you should disinfect surfaces that your pet touches and not let your pet come into contact with the kitchen sink or other areas that might contaminate human food and drinks.

If you want a unique pet, a pet turtle or tortoise may convince you to come out of your shell. However, be sure you are ready for the commitment.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Game Warden and Veterinarian Couple Save Fawn

fawn being bottle-fedWhen we think of veterinarians, we typically see them caring for house pets, such as cats and dogs. However, veterinarians gain experience in treating a variety of animals, including livestock, “pocket pets”—such as gerbils or hamsters—and even wildlife.

Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explained the important role veterinarians play in animal emergencies by telling the story of Leva, an 8-week-old White-tailed fawn.

“We recently started caring for Leva at the CVM’s Winne Carter Wildlife Center,” Blue-McLendon said. “We call her our ‘miracle baby’ because she survived her mother’s fatal accident thanks to a husband and wife—a game warden and veterinarian respectively.

“The game warden, who was called to assist with the situation, found Leva’s mother with three fractured legs and severe head trauma,” Blue-McLendon continued. “Then he saw legs ascending from the birth canal and realized she was in labor. He knew the fawn was still alive because the legs were moving. With that kind of trauma, it was amazing that she survived.”

For the first six weeks of Leva’s life, she was bottle-fed and cared for by the game warden’s wife, a veterinarian who had recently graduated from Texas A&M’s CVM.

After struggling to find a rehabilitation center that would accept the fawn and help her regain her health so she could be released back into the wild, the couple contacted Blue-McLendon.

“Because of our educational permit, Leva can live here the rest of her life and will be taken care of,” Blue-McLendon said. “She’ll eventually join our herd of White-tailed deer and also interact with students who are interested in caring for wildlife.”

Though Leva was in dire need of veterinary care, Blue-McLendon reminded community members that wildlife, especially fawns, are best left alone unless they are in life-threatening danger or are injured.

“A lot of people find fawns by themselves and think they need to be rescued,” Blue-McLendon explained. “But it’s just the nature of fawns to stay hidden; most of the time, fawns are not abandoned and their mothers come back.”

The Winne Carter Wildlife Center staff were happy to provide the kind, compassionate care that Leva needed to survive; no matter the species, a veterinarian, and in this case a game warden, can help save an animal’s life.


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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to .

Pet Trade Troubles

Many people are fascinated with non-domestic animals—whether exotic or native species—and think these animals would make great pets. However, non-domestic

African spurred tortoise
African spurred tortoise (Centrochelys sulcata), also known as the sulcata tortoise. Wild life animal.

animals, including certain species of snakes and tortoises, do not make great additions to households despite being included in the pet trade. In fact, it may cause more harm than good to bring a non-domestic animal home. Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, provided some insight on having non-domesticated animals as pets.

“There are a number of species of non-domestic animals that are available for purchase in the pet trade, but a lot of times people don’t consider the long-term consequences of housing these animals or if they are qualified to care for the animal,” Blue-McLendon said. “Therefore, a lot of non-domesticated animals should not be sold to the general public.”

One example of a non-domestic animal sold in the pet trade is the African Sulcata tortoise. Although the tortoise may be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand as a hatchling, Sulcata tortoises grow to be the third largest tortoise species in the world. “We have three Sulcata tortoises here at the Winne Carter Wildlife Center and all three were rescues,” Blue-McLendon explained. “Two of the tortoises were pets that people bought when they were tiny and didn’t know how huge they would get. They can grow in excess of 200 pounds and most people cannot accommodate an animal that big in their back yard. So, a lot of large tortoises end up in rescue centers.”

Non-domestic animals like the African Sulcata tortoise are safest in their natural habitat or in zoos or sanctuaries where they can be provided the correct habitat for their large size. If kept as a pet, it may be hard to provide the appropriate habitat which can put the health of the animal at risk. “It is a challenge to provide the appropriate habitat for many wildlife and exotic animal species,” Blue-McLendon said. “For example, people that live in cold climates have to figure out a way to get the animal inside. If it’s a 200 pound tortoise, it’s not like a dog where you can put a leash on the animal and tell it to follow you into your garage or house. You have to be creative about how to keep the animal safe in different variations of weather.”

Part of providing the suitable habitat for non-domesticated animals includes an appropriate diet. For example, snake species will only eat live food, so owners of such snakes need to be able to get live prey. If a sustainable habitat and diet cannot be provided for non-domesticated species, there may be serious consequences for humans, the environment, non-domesticated animals, and other native species.

For example, the Burmese python, a snake species in the pet trade, has become overpopulated in Florida as a result of either escaping or being intentionally released by their owners. “The Burmese python is an example of how an exotic animal was made available to the pet trade, but then people got tired of caring for them and the snakes were either let go or they escaped into the wild,” Blue-McLendon said. “The snakes survived and did well in the wild, and now their populations have become a huge problem because they’re not a native species. They compete for the habitat of native species, and they may consume native species. They can breed and live well in the Florida environment, and have become a problem for homeowners living on the fringes of the everglades as well as for indigenous species.”

To prevent situations like this, Blue-McLendon advises people to educate themselves about suitable pets before buying one. In addition, there may be specific state laws that prohibit the ownership of some non-domestic animals.

“I think people have a fascination with non-domestic animals, whether they’re exotic or native species,” Blue-McLendon said. “That is understandable, but people have to resist the urge to own a non-domestic animal without first learning as much as they can about the animal species. A lot of animals are fascinating, but people should wait to see those animals in their native habitats or in zoos or wildlife parks.”

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to .

Exotic, Domesticated, and Wild Pets

Group of pets, isolated on whiteAlthough the words “exotic” and “wild” are frequently used interchangeably, many people do not fully understand how these categories differ when it comes to pets. It is important to understand the difference between wild and exotic animals and the requirements and responsibilities of owning such animals as pets.

According to Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, a wild or exotic animal is anything that is not one of seven domesticated species: dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, sheep, or goats.

In addition, there is an important distinction between wild and exotic animals. “A wild animal is an indigenous, non-domesticated animal, meaning that it is native to the country where you are located,” Blue-McLendon explained. “For Texans, White-tailed deer, pronghorn sheep, raccoons, skunks, and bighorn sheep are wild animals. The important difference is that an exotic animal is one that is wild but is from a different continent than where you live.” For example, a hedgehog in Texas would be considered an exotic animal, but in the hedgehog’s native country, it would be considered wildlife.

Another misconception is the domestication of wild and exotic animals. Many people erroneously think friendly wild and exotic animals are domesticated, when they are actually considered tame. The seven domesticated species are classified by their close association with humans for thousands of years. “If you take a wild or exotic animal and raise it with humans, that doesn’t make it domesticated,” Blue-McLendon explained. “It’s still a wild animal; it’s just one that is more accustomed to humans.  Sometimes people confuse a domesticated animal with a wild animal that is tame, and they are not the same thing.”

What kind of responsibility does it take to own a wild or exotic animal? According to Blue-McLendon, it is a big commitment. In addition, there are state laws regulating the ownership of exotic and wild animals. In Texas, people must request a permit to own animals native to Texas, such as a White-tailed deer. It is important for pet owners to do some research before becoming an owner of a wild or exotic pet to ensure they do not own an animal illegally. Furthermore, Blue-McLendon stressed that it is inappropriate to take animals from the wild and keep them as pets. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website is a good resource to find the specific rules on possessing native species.

“When people choose to take wild animals from the wild and make them a so-called pet, they completely alter that individual’s life,” she said. “It is not appropriate to take animals from the wild for a couple of reasons. One reason is that people usually cannot provide the care that the animal needs. The second reason is that state regulations protect wildlife, so it often illegal for people to possess wild animals, that are, especially, Texas-native wild animals. You cannot possess wild animals native to Texas without some sort of a permit.

Blue-McLendon discourages the ownership of wild and exotic pets, but said “pocket pets” are the exception. “Pocket pets, which are smaller creatures like hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs, are the exception,” she said. “Those pets are fine because they are not dangerous, and they are easy to care for. You also do not need a permit for them. I think small pets like that can be good first pets for a lot of kids to learn about the care of animals.”

In conclusion, Blue-McLendon gave one final thought, “People should not acquire non-domestic animals, whether they’re wildlife or exotic animals, unless they really understand how big the animal’s going to grow, what its behavior will be, its diet requirements, and what kind of environmental conditions it needs. However, pocket pets are appropriate exotic and wild animals and can be beneficial to teach young people how to care for animals.”

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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to .

Security Dogs

Since their domestication thousands of years ago, dogs have been used to protect the home and the workplace, giving owners a sense of security against intruders. The most common dogs used for protection are larger breeds like Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Chows, and Pit Bulls.

“But pet owners should be careful when using a dog solely for protection,” says Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“When dogs are trained to protect the home, they are using their natural territorial instinct and can attack anyone unfamiliar to them, which may include a friendly visitor,” says Blue-McLendon.

Dogs used for protection can also be unreliable depending on their own unique personality.

Some dogs are naturally aggressive and may attack any animals or humans that violate their territory. Guard dogs are often trained to be aggressive toward people and may view anyone outside the family as a potential threat. This may present a constant danger since owners can never be completely sure that their pet will not someday view a family member or friend as a threat.

Aggressive behavior in a pet dog may become an added liability for its owner, especially if the animal has bitten before.

“Many cities have laws regulating aggressive dogs and some require a special type of permit for those that have bitten other animals or people. In most cases, owners of protection dogs should look into increasing their liability insurance,” said Blue-McLendon.

However, if you do need a specially trained guard dog, try to maintain control of the animal. Dogs in the wild remain submissive to the dog they view as the leader, referred to as the “alpha dog,” and will protect it and the surrounding territory.

“Owners and family members should all assume the role of ‘alpha dog’ by taking control of their pet while they are still young,” says Blue-McLendon. “Puppies often view humans as dominant because of their greater size and age.  Owners can further reinforce this image by controlling access to toys and food.”

Rewarding animals for good behavior helps them to see the owner as the leader or alpha figure, which provides them with greater control of their pet and may prevent attacks.

“Most guard dog owners do not realize that the presence of a dog is usually security enough and that specialized training may be excessive,” said Blue-McLendon. “Dogs are sensitive to their surroundings and will usually alert their owners to a disturbance by barking, which may be enough to scare away potential intruders.”

Other security animals include some surprising ones – peacocks, geese and parrots, which can also offer some protection by using vocalized, “alarm calls” to announce someone’s approach.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Feather Plucking

Nail-biting, gum smacking, knuckle popping – they can be irritating habits people have.  Even birds display their share of odd behaviors.

Feather plucking is a common habit among parrot-type birds, says Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a veterinarian with the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

While most adult birds lose their feathers naturally once or twice a year in a process called molting, it is not natural for a bird to pluck out its own feathers, says Blue-McLendon.  One of the clues that a bird is plucking its feathers is to look at the bird’s head.   Since a parrot cannot pluck feathers from its own scalp, a feather-plucking bird will have a full head of feathers but be missing a lot of feathers on other parts of its body.

As simple as it may sound, the most common reason for a bird to pluck out its own feathers is boredom, says Blue-McLendon.  “When a bird isn’t stimulated by its environment, it may begin plucking its feathers for entertainment or out of frustration,” she says.

Because of birds’ high intelligence level, environmental enrichment is extremely important for them, Blue-McLendon notes.  They need plenty of toys to play with, especially ones they can chew.

“The more time they spend chewing on toys and food, the less time they have to chew on their feathers,” she adds.

Some birds enjoy playing with their own feathers after they have fallen out naturally through molting.  Although feathers are cheap and simple toys, they aren’t appropriate ones.

Playing with loose feathers may spawn a nasty plucking habit.  “You don’t want to encourage your bird to pluck its feathers out to have something to play with,” Blue-McLendon  says.  “Remove the feathers from the cage as soon as they fall out.”

Excessive grooming, or “preening” as it is known in the avian arena, is also not an appropriate pastime for birds.

“You should curb this behavior early,” says Blue-McLendon. “If you allow it to continue, some birds, especially cockatoos, can become overzealous in their preening.”

Preening can be another common precursor to feather plucking.  Again, occupying its time with other activities can help rid your bird of its obsession with grooming, Blue-McLendon explains.

She says it’s important to try to break any bad habits as soon as you notice them.

“Temporarily changing your bird’s environment is a good start,” Blue-McLendon explains.  “Try adding new toys to its cage or simply rearranging its existing toys.  Also, consider moving its cage to another area of the house, possibly one with heavier traffic.”

If your bird’s meals consist of only seeds, try to incorporate new foods and flavors into its diet, says Blue-McLendon.  Add colorful fruits and vegetables, especially those that can double as chew toys like celery, carrots, and green beans.

However, know that change is not always the best remedy.  Sometimes variation, especially sudden and dramatic variation, in a bird’s environment can also lead to feather plucking, says Blue-McLendon.

Stressful events, such as moving, a death in the family or a reduction in time spent with its owner, can more than ruffle your bird’s feathers.  They can cause anxiety-based behaviors like screaming and, of course, feather plucking.  Be sure to make changes gradually and monitor your bird’s progress.

Also, before you make any changes, be sure your bird doesn’t have a medical reason for plucking its feathers such as mite infestation, a hormone imbalance or skin infection.  These problems would warrant a visit to your veterinarian.

“Breaking a bad habit can be quite a feat,” Blue-McLendon adds.  “But, if your mother could convince you to stop biting your nails, there’s a good chance you can help your bird eliminate its feather fixation.”



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to


The late night ruckus coming from the back porch may not be a robber or even the friendly neighborhood cat.  Raccoons love to filter through the trash and can frequently be seen doing so during the late hours of the night.

However fascinating this may be, experts advise people to stay away from cute little Rocky the Raccoon.

“Homeowners should use caution when they see raccoons in their neighborhood,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University.

“Although they are not inherently vicious, they can carry a number of diseases, including rabies, and can attack humans and pets if provoked,” explained Blue-McLendon.

Raccoons are one of the most recognizable creatures in the United States and are found in almost every major habitat.  They have the unique ability to adapt to the changing environment and to navigate through storm sewers that lead to residential neighborhoods.

By surviving on a highly diverse diet ranging from acorns to fish, they often cause problems for fruit and vegetable gardeners.

Their characteristic “bandit” mask may be the least visible sign of their troublesome behavior.  Raccoons have been known to rummage through trash cans, pillage gardens, and even enter households through pet doors. They have been seen taking up residence in barns, attics, chimneys, and the crawl spaces under buildings and homes, often leaving a mess and destruction behind.

“Aside from the property damage they cause, raccoons can carry rabies as well as an intestinal parasite that can cause serious brain damage and death if ingested,” said Blue-McLendon.

This zoonotic parasite called Baylisascaris procyonis or, “raccoon roundworm,” is contracted through feces.  If ingested, larvae can hatch, migrate through tissue, and can invade the brain and eye area, causing serious injury.

Young children who still orally explore their surroundings, or those simply playing in areas where fecal matter may be accidentally ingested may be affected.

Blue-McLendon advises against keeping raccoons as pets due to the increasing prevalence of rabies.

“Aside from the risk of disease, it is incredibly hard to tame these animals; they have sharp teeth and claws that can inflict pain and injury,” explained Blue-McLendon.

For people who live in areas frequented by raccoons, making sure family members wash their hands regularly when playing or working outdoors is a good precaution to take. To protect a home and yard from the destruction left behind by raccoons, trash cans should be secured and if possible, kept in the garage or shed until the morning of removal.

Chicken wire can be used to close crawl spaces under homes and entries into attics.  Locks can be placed on pet doors and caps can be installed on chimneys.

“The nuisance and damage caused by raccoons can be minimized when homeowners understand the behaviors of these animals,” said Blue-McLendon, “Like other urban wildlife species, raccoons are very mobile and will usually move on in a few weeks.”

However, if homeowners find their patience growing thin, raccoons can be safely encouraged to relocate with the help of an animal control specialist.



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 Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

Boarding a Pet

Sometimes, you may find yourself in the position of needing to leave your animals for a few days. If you cannot find a sitter to care for your pets in your home, you may want to consider boarding them at a kennel. And since there are more than 9,000 boarding kennels in the United States and Canada, there is probably one near you.

Fees can range from $12 to $45 a day, depending on the facility, the type of services offered, and other factors. While boarding a pet may seem like a simple procedure, there are still some questions you might want to ask, says Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, Clinical Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

“A good way to find out who the best boarders are is usually by word of mouth,” Blue-McLendon believes. “People tend to be picky about their pets, and they know who the good boarders are and which ones to avoid.”

Blue-McLendon says a prospective boarder should try to tour a facility before boarding the pet.

“Look to see if the facility is clean,” she advises. “Also, inquire about temperature control, whether 24-hour care is available and if the facility allows multiple animals from the same household to be in the same holding area.”

Also, are cats kept in a separate area away from dogs? If not, they could experience some trauma. In addition, is there proper security at the facility to keep intruders out and your pet from escaping?

Is there adequate lighting at the facility, and is the bedding for the animal sufficient for its needs?

If the owner is to be away for an extended time, Blue-McLendon says it’s a good idea to ask how often the animals get exercise or some form of entertainment. Dogs will usually enjoy a brisk walk, she says, but some facilities may not have the manpower for such activity.

Parasites can often be a problem for some boarding facilities, and the diseases they carry can be harmful to your pet, Blue-McLendon adds.

A common ailment associated with boarding of animals is bordetella, commonly known as “kennel cough.” Although usually not serious, the ailment can be a nagging problem and is caused by the pet’s close proximity with other animals. Vaccinations are available to prevent it, Blue-McLendon says.

Once the animal has been picked up at the boarding facility, you may want to see the log kept during its stay.  Most facilities keep daily records of how often the pet was fed, exercised or groomed.

“Boarding a pet can be a tough time for some animals, especially if they are not used to it,” Blue-McLendon says. “The best solution is usually to keep the animal at home and have someone care for it in its own environment. But if that isn’t possible, boarding is necessary and that’s when the owner needs to do a little homework.  Most facilities are properly run, but it’s always best to do a little checking around before you board your pet.”




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