Safety Considerations for Papillon Caretakers
An article by Kim Marlowe
Owners and caretakers of toy breeds have additional safety factors to consider for their smaller dogs. Our little dogs can fall prey to predators such as the coyotes, wildcats, alligators (unsafe for any size dog!), some members of the weasel family, certain snakes, several birds of prey, and unfortunately some domestic dogs. Other dangers include careless handling by people and a possibility of low-blood sugar problems especially while young that larger breeds just donít usually see.
Most Papillon breeders are well aware of these dangers, so this article is geared to the new Papillon owner, as well as to offer fellow breeders literature to use in their educational efforts as well.
Some of the dangers Iíve listed above are not taken seriously by non-toy-breed people, and, unfortunately, even some who do own toy breeds! I have been surprised that many people donít realize or believe that there are birds that will snatch and kill prey as large as a Papillon. Before I share some of my research to prove the validity of needing to protect our Paps from certain birds of prey ("raptors"), letís mention some of the less-questioned risks that Papillons need to be protected from.
Here are the easy ones: coyotes, wild cats such as mountain lions and lynx, and alligators. It is pretty much undisputable that these predators are dangerous to domestic cats and smaller dogs. Luckily, these creatures are not in all regions!
According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, "Very small dogs, e.g., small poodles, are viewed by coyotes as easy prey and are at risk to be killed year round. One myth on coyotes is that they donít come out in broad daylight Ė wrong! I grew up in a neighborhood where it was not uncommon for them to walk down the road in broad daylight. Unfortunately, as cities encroach upon natural habitats, the coyotes are becoming braver. They often hunt in packs, but do not need to for prey as small as Papillons. Coyotes are extremely clever and will conserve energy as they let their prey wear themselves out until they are easily caught. The Missouri Department of Conservation and the California Department of Fish and Game, as well as many other state wildlife departments, recommend to "keep small pets inside." The CDFG also adds, "Donít allow them to run free at any time. They are easy, favored prey."
Wild cats, such as mountain lions, are a threat in some areas. Mountain Lions also go by the names cougar and puma. The California Department of Fish and Game tells residents to "KEEP PETS SECURE: Roaming pets are easy prey for hungry mountain lions. Either bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside; this can attract raccoons and other mountain lion prey.". About half of California is prime mountain lion country. Formerly distributed throughout North America, the mountain lion is now found mostly in the remote areas of the western U.S., as well as western Canada and much of Mexico. A small population still exists in southern Florida, where the species is considered endangered. Lynx are mentioned to sometimes (though not commonly) kill dogs, and other cats such as Ocelots, bobcats, and Florida panthers can be threats. According to the National Wildlife Federation, many of the big cats are vanishing from the United States, however, if you live where there are any, our tiny dogs are definitely at risk!
Alligators, thank goodness, are not a threat in most areas of the United States. However, since our Nationals in 2003 are in Florida I wanted to make sure to include them! Dogs are snatched by alligators when they are close to the body of water that the alligator inhabits. This is very important. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissionís brochure on "Living with Alligators" warns "Donít - allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in waters not known to be free of alligators or in designated swimming areas with humans. Dogs suffer many more attacks than humans, probably because dogs more closely resemble natural prey items of large alligators. Alligators are more likely to attack small animals than larger ones." Dewey Weaver from the same department stated, "Alligators often attack dogs if owners allow their dogs to get near water." Alligators sometimes wander in areas where you wouldnít expect them to be, like outside of the Tampa mall! An man and his adult 70-pound Labrador/Weimaraner mix found this out the hard way back in March 2002. Luckily the man was able to grab the dog out of the pond and rush it to the car in time to save it, but it did receive "a cut more than 1 inch long on her face, lost a tooth and suffered a broken leg." Iím sure we all know a Pap wouldnít fare so well.
Members of the Weasel family, including Fishers, Wolverines and Martens prey on small mammals the size of Papillons. Not only this, they are very ferocious predators and quite scary, often taking on animals much larger than themselves! Fishers prefer lower altitudes. "Fisherís live in the northern mountainous parts of North America. They prefer forested wilderness areas, although they will live near rural homes as well. When dining out, Fishers choose a restaurant with a good selection of rabbits and porcupines. They will also hunt house cats and small dogs, so be careful letting your pets out if you live in a Fisherís habitat."
Different poisonous snakes live in areas all over the United States. These pose a threat to large dogs as well as toy breeds, however, the venom is more serious to toys as there is just less body weight to distribute the poison. Dangerous snakes include: sidewinder, rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (also called water moccasins), and copperheads. Poisonous snakes can be identified by having triangular-shaped heads. To find out which types of poisonous snakes are in your area, and how to keep them out of your Papillon yard, contact your local department of Fish and Game or Parks and Wildlife services. Please donít forget to check your yards, especially piles of wood or "junk", before letting your Paps out to make sure they donít run into any deadly surprises!
There are ten birds of prey, also called raptors, that can be lethal to very small dogs which include our Papillons, that are in the United States. These are the Caracara Falcon (member of the Hawk family), Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, Stellerís Sea Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, and the Snowy Owl. Not as commonly, Vultures (Black, King and Turkey) have been reported to kill live calves, domestic ducks, baby lambs, skunks, opossums and baby pigs. Black vultures, en masse, attack and kill skunks and opossums and eat them.
According to the Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds, "after catching the victim, which eagles and virtually all hawks kill with the grasping feet and talons, they either hold their prey on the ground and eat it or carry it in the talons or in the bill (if it is light enough to be carried) to a perch above the ground." Unfortunately, that means that the weight-carrying capacity of individual raptors may not be important, as they donít have to carry off their prey to be lethal. Urban Legends Reference Pages by Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, make quite an issue of whether stories of small dogs being carried off by birds of prey are true or not, and claim they are not true (though with scarce proof), though they do admit that certain owls "have no trouble taking off with a hare in their talons, so a small dog is well within their capabilities." Personally, I donít care if itís true whether the bird actually carries off my Papillon or not, the fact that they can and will kill it is enough for me!
Papillons usually weigh around 6 to 8 pounds, with many smaller and larger versions. In questioning the validity of raptors being able to attack and/or carry off our Papillons as prey, letís consider weights of common prey of the above-listed raptors.
Falcons and Hawks have extraordinary eyesight; in experiments in Germany, peregrine falcons recognized sitting doves 3,000 feet away, and a white handkerchief used in "feather play" about 5,100 feet away.
Caracara Falcons are found in Mexico, Texas, Arizona and some left in Florida. Their feeding habits include catching and eating skunks, prairie dogs, and opossums. The Prairie Falcon found in arid plains, hills and mountains in the interior of western North America eats jackrabbits and young prairie dogs.
The Golden Eagle is a scary and formidable predator. In British Columbia in 1956 it was documented that one caught a 10 pound black bear cub, carried it 100 feet into the air, dropped it to its death on the rocks, then descended on it to feed. Golden Eagles have been used in the art of Falconry to hunt antelopes, foxes and wolves (the eagle holds it while the hunter kills it). They are fearless! It is recorded that they occasionally kill and eat porcupines, marmots, foxes and young deer and antelope. Golden Eagles are found in North America, Eurasia, and northern Africa. The breeding range in North America includes north-central Mexico, the western United States as far east as the Dakotas, Kansas and Texas, Alaska and across northern Canada. No nesting records exist for Minnesota. During the winter, they can be found in southern Alaska and Canada, the western United States and Mexico. A few Golden Eagles are seen in Minnesota every fall during the migration and occasionally on the Mississippi river in the winter. Food for Golden Eagles range from insects, small mammals, snakes, and turtles, to skunks, prairie dogs, marmots, ground squirrels, to rare extremes of full-grown deer, antelopes, and even Great Horned Owls. One of the greatest ornithologists of America has the following information in his Life Histories of North American Birds:
According to Mr. Bent, "The golden eagle is such a large and powerful bird that it can attack and kill many large mammals and birds, and it shows great courage in attacking animals larger than itself, many of which are capable of inflicting severe injury on the brave bird."
The Ferruginous Hawk can be found in open dry country in the Great Plains and Great Basin of western United States. It is large, powerful, and "swoops down from great height in air to catch prairie dogs; also very fond of jackrabbits, cottontails, mice, gophers, even attacks stray cats and tries to carry off."
The Red-Shouldered Hawk (also called Red-Bellied Hawk) is a resident of eastern North America, southern Canada, to Florida, west to Great Plains, and an isolated population in California and Oregon. Their prey includes opossums and skunks.
Red-tailed Hawk is one of the more common raptors. Itís breeding range extends from central Alaska through Canada and across the entire United States, south through Mexico and into Central America. In winter,. Many of the northern birds move south, however, Red-Tailed hawks are commonly seen as far north as Minnesota each winter. Feeding habits for these hawks include gophers, prairie dogs, cottontail rabbits, weasels, skunks, porcupines, may attack wild house cats, and many others including other birds and snakes. The following interesting account of a redtail attacking a cat is published by E. D. Nauman (1929):
The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds states that, "Owls strike their prey on the ground or out of the air, grasping the bird, mammal, snake, insect , or other prey in their powerful feet and sharp talons; usually bring prey back to perch to eat it." The Barn Owl can be found all over the United States and roosts in trees during the day or towers of old buildings and flies over fields at night looking for prey. Their prey includes jackrabbits and occasionally skunks. The Barred Owl is often found in deep woods east of the prairie states, especially in Florida. They can fly noiselessly through and around trees in forests. They eat red and gray foxes, minks, opossums, weasels and rabbits. Large hares have often been found in their stomachs.
Great Horned Owls are another one of the especially scary and real threats to toy dogs. The Raptor Center says they are "considered by many to be the most voracious of all raptors, the Great Horned Owl feeds on an extremely wide variety of prey." They are widespread over the United States, in wooded areas, city parks, and suburbs. The are one of the largest (wingspreads up to five feet!) and most powerful of all North American owls, hunting both by day and by night in woods, mountains, marshes, dunes and in open desert. They also fly silently. Their prey includes large hares and rabbits, weasels, skunks (they often smell of skunk), opossum, porcupines, large snakes and domestic cats. Microsoftís Encarta Encyclopedia writes, "They feed on almost any living prey, such as mammals from mice to small dogsÖ" Mr. Bent writes, ". It is so powerful and aggressive that it can attack and kill surprisingly large mammals or birds." In his book, Life Histories of North American Birds, we find:
The last of the raptors Iím including is the Snowy Owl, which is another of the largest most powerful owls. These owls are not found in trees but more likely on the ground, posts, poles, haystacks, roofs or even on ice near water. Usually found in cold, northern climates, they do regularly visit the Great Plains and are irregularly found in: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia. Snowy Owls usually eat smaller prey like mice, lemmings, fish and small birds, however, they feed on hares and rabbits. According the The Raptor Center, "this large owl is also capable of taking hares."
Hopefully everyone is sufficiently petrified of large birds of prey now?!
The next topic is one that is rather uncomfortable for most people. We all like to think of our dogs as loving, faithful, sensitive and "good" creatures. However, dogs are animals and they kill other animals. Sometimes they do it for fun, for food, out of protectiveness, or even in play by mistake. There are 7 types of aggression identified for dogs by professional canine behaviorists, including protection, territorial, maternal, and dominance. All of these can be seen in our most loving pets! It is normal and natural, and doesnít mean the dog isnít "good" Ė it means itís a dog.
Dogs that are larger or especially aggressive (some terriers) can pose great threats to our little guys. Even larger dogs that are just being playful can easily step on or have a playful paw cause a back break and accidental death to Papillons. Stray dogs can be a danger to our Papillons, but so can people walking their dogs or dogs at dog parks (often off leash), and even at dog shows. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of grabbing your dog and holding it up high with itís tail tucked within your arms (so as not to dangle and get grabbed) whenever a large, unknown dog comes anywhere near your Papillon!! There are many incidences of toy dogs getting attacked and killed at dog shows. Please do not stereotype and think your dog is safe around breeds like Labradors or if itís an "obedience dog". All large dogs can be dangerous to a toy breed. Just last month at a dog show (March 2003) in Raleigh, North Carolina, I witnessed an obedience competitor laugh as her black Labrador lunged to attack two different dogs that walked by. Iím not kidding, she thought it was funny. Iím a canine behaviorist specializing in dominance aggression and pack theory and I can assure you that Lab was NOT playing and if the two dogs had not been out of leash range they would have been severely attacked. This could have been dominance and/or owner protection. Neither time was the Lab corrected by this "obedience" person. I have also witnessed similar, scary almost-attacks and some completed attacks at obedience classes offered to the public. Iíve been showing and going to obedience classes (often with rescues I was training for re-homing) for over 25 years. Many instructors do not understand canine behavior as well as they ought to and sometimes put innocent students with aggressive dogs in tempting and dangerous positions.
Reports of dog attack incidents at American Kennel Club (AKC) shows can be found on their website (www.akc.org) and in the Secretaryís Pages of the AKC Gazette. Instructions to judges on how to handle dogs attacking dogs in the shows are found in the regulations for each performance activity such as the Obedience Regulations, Agility Judges Guidelines, etc., and the AKC even has itís own form, "Dog on Dog Attack Form Ė AEDSQ3(9/02)", for judges to fill out for these incidents! I am in no way blaming the AKC, by the way. That organization offers wonderful opportunities for doggie people to enjoy their dogs in a wide variety of activities ó itís the owners and handlers of the dogs that are at fault!
Please take responsibility for your own dog and do NOT trust others to be aware of or control their own dogs. Many, many people refuse to believe their dog is aggressive or a problem. One client told me their dog was really sweet and they know it will be ok even though it has attacked their human child in the face twice already. Hereís another example: the owner of a large Chow at an obedience class recently got upset at me for asking her to remove the face of her Chow from my lap where my Papillon puppy was lying. She told me that "itís ok, she likes little dogs Ė she lives with a Toy Poodle". Would you guys feel ok with this? I didnít! Her Chow was raised with the poodle as part of its pack and has apparently accepted it. My dog is NOT a part of its pack and could easily be perceived as a rodent to protect its master from, or a challenge to establish pecking order, or even a chew toy. I was not willing to find out which way that Chow viewed my Papillon and I strongly encourage all of you to not find out how other strange dogs feel about your precious, fragile companion.
Human visitors can pose a threat to Papillons! Papillons are notorious for thinking they can fly. Often a person, including responsible adults, lean down to put a Papillon back on the floor and it leaps out of their arms in anticipation. If the height is high enough the dog can be injured. I suggest warning all visitors about this and if you allow them to hold your Pap be very close to supervise and catch, if needed, flying Papillons. Many people can be told this and are still unsuspecting and caught by surprise (even when they really are trying to be careful). I tend to make people sit on the floor or on a couch when they want to meet and play with my Papillons, just in case.
How about children? All children visiting Papillons in my house MUST sit on the floor. I sit with them and we get surrounded (ok, flooded) with Papillon love and kisses and no one gets hurt. Please be careful with children under 8 or so because they may not understand or realize their own strength and can easily crush a ribcage while simply trying to give your Papillon a nice, loving hug. For young children like this, I only put my larger, sturdier Papillons out first to evaluate the interaction. If the child is gentle and careful, I let the rest out.
For mothers who are considering toy breed as a pet, or have just purchased one, please realize that you now have an extra task: to always monitor every interaction with your children and the dog. Toy dogs just are not like other dogs. Their small, light bones break SO easily, and they are much more prone to getting hurt, scared and defensive (for self-protection). Children can be very loving and gentle, but they can also have short attention spans and are still learning body awareness and control. It is not fair to a child to force the responsibility of safe-guarding a tiny creature before the child is really ready, and the price of underestimating your child can be the death of your pet and resulting guilt and trauma to your child. Pet Orphans, an Atlanta, Georgia-based dog and cat adoption website (www.petorphans.com), has a wonderful article about Kids and Small Dogs. They recommend dogs over 15 pounds for children and list the following excellent reasons why children are hard for dogs under 15 pounds:
Toy breeds, chiefly puppies, are prone to a blood sugar level drops (hypoglycemia), which cause weakness and death. This is something definitely new to me once I entered the Papillon World. Large dogs can skip meals and it is no big deal. It is common for medium to large dogs to be remedied from picky eating by leaving food down and knowing "theyíll eat when they are hungry enough". Responsible, loving owners have had their Papillons die trying this technique. When a toy dog is not eating, you must react immediately. Have your veterinarian determine reasons and help you with how to get nutrition and fluids into your dog. You may need to use a syringe (without the needle!) to get water and broth or NutriCal "soup" into your dog. Do not take it lightly when a Papillon stops eating and/or seems weak. Unlike larger dogs, once a tiny dog starts to "go down", they go downhill fast and can and will die unless medical attention is received in time. Most Papillons breeders in the US recommend feeding Papillons at least twice a day to keep a more consistent blood-sugar level. One skipped meal, especially in Papillons under 6 months, is a Big concern.
According to Dr. Debra Primovic, graduate of the Ohio State University School of Nursing and the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine:
The College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee explains the causes of hypoglycemia in toy breed puppies: "Puppy Hypoglycemia" is seen in toy breed dogs less than 5 months of age. These dogs have more brain mass per body weight compared to other breeds and therefore need more glucose for brain function. Other causes include excessive exercise in sporting breeds, liver disease, cancer, pregnancy, severe infection, prolonged starvation, and poor adrenal gland function."
Last but not least, toy dogs can fit through openings in fences, or beneath them, that you may not be aware of or even believe! New owners of Papillons should double-check all areas where you plan to confine your dog, with the mindset that Papillons, particularly puppies or very small Paps, can fit into rat-sized openings! One of my Papillons, who is within the breed standard, could easily fit through regular-sized chain-link fencing holes at three months old. As an adult she cannot, but we added chicken wire just to be safe. I do not recommend leaving Papillons outside unsupervised in any type of fencing because of the threat of raptors.
In summary, Papillons can be killed by animals and birds we may not otherwise worry about, they are somewhat fragile and break fairly easily, can fit through very small openings in fences, and their food intake needs to be monitored.
Toy breeds come with added responsibilities that need to be shouldered when you choose to own one!