Top 10 Animal Threats to Your Pet

In the human-pet world, humans tend get off easy when it comes to bites.

While we usually have to fend off only the seasonal mosquito or spider, our furry and not-so furry friends can face serious danger in parks or in their own back yards.

This week, one of the largest pet health insurers in the country -- Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. -- released the most common wildlife attack claims of 2008.

From the dreaded porcupine to Arizona's rare javelina, pets from coast to coast face different threats. Although not on the list, VPI received claims for injuries caused by goats, beavers, woodchucks, black bears, mountain lions, hawks, rabbits, sea urchins and a jellyfish.

VPI couldn't include the most common bite -- those from other pets -- but it did comment on how expensive these wildlife encounters can be.

"Costs can range from hundreds of dollars for bandages or stitches to thousands of dollars for surgery for damaged organs or broken limbs," the company wrote in a press release.

The following is a list of the most common animals to attack pets, as well as advice from veterinarians about how to protect your beloved dog or cat.

Pet Biter No. 1: Snakes

Although the whole country has snakes, veterinarians say snakes only pose a big problem for pets in certain states.

"In Colorado and Arizona, we see a lot of snake bites -- but those are often dogs coming unleashed in an area where snakes are," said Elizabeth Rozanski, assistant professor of emergency and critical care at Tufts University's Foster Hospital for Small Animals in North Grafton, Mass.

That means most pet owners can rest easy about a rattlesnake on their front porch every morning. But it doesn't mean an owner should ignore a limping dog after a snake bite.

The bite could be from a nonpoisonous snake, or it could be from a coral snake or a pit viper -- the two main types of poisonous snakes in the United States.

Coral snakes tend to bite only when provoked but, as Rozanski pointed out, pit vipers can be quite aggressive if they perceive a threat.

Pit vipers include rattlesnakes, copperheads and the cottonmouth moccasin, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia.

VPI reported paying for antivenom, which can counteract the toxins in most types of snake venom, so there must be a good ending for some of the claims.

Pet Biter No. 2: the Coyote

Of all the animals on VPI's list, veterinarians say the coyote is most likely to attack out of aggression, not self-defense.

In fact, coyotes might be hunting your favorite pet.

"Coyotes definitely do attack. Unfortunately, what coyotes do is kill cats, not injure them, usually," said Rozanski. "If you're in an area that there's coyotes around, that's definitely a cause for concern."

The adult coyote weighs about 30 pounds and can run 30 miles per hour on a hunt, according to the Columbia Encyclopedia. That may be a large match for a small dog or cat.

Recently, a community outside Denver decided to go after aggressive coyotes with paintballs to keep them away.

Once much more prevalent in deserts and prairies, coyotes have expended their range as humans eradicated their top predators and deforested more areas. Now, pet owners in New England may come across a coyote.

Luckily, the animals give plenty of warning that they're in the area. Just listen for the howls and yelps in the evening, or look for two little reflective eyes. While they do attack pets, coyotes usually hunt rodents and eat carrion or small birds.

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