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Family Pets

RSPB Spotlight on Badgers book
James Lowen explores the lives of badgers and their communal living, feeding habits and threats to their conservation. Click here to buy:
Paperback edition
Kindle edition

We are often asked about what effect the presence of badgers will have on family pets.

Firstly, badgers are opportunistic feeders. In order words they mainly eat things they come across, and do not go out on "tours" looking for particular animals to eat or species to kill.

Badgers are also very keen to eat carrion (i.e. dead meat), and will often succeed in taking meals from other species like small dogs, cats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs and foxes. For every 100 instances of badgers being seen eating family pets (like cats, dogs and rabbits), it is probably less than 2 that the badger has actually done the killing. In our over-crowded island, a badger is far more likely to find a dead cat that has been killed by a car than to kill the cat itself. Of course, the "witness" frequently assumes the badger killed that cat, but all they actually saw was the badger eating an already-dead victim of a traffic accident.

That said, people still want to take whatever precautions they can, and our advice as as follows:

  • Listen to your pet. If your cat suddenly grips its claws into the carpet and really does not want to be put outside, it might be able to see an unfriendly face in the garden (that you can't see). If your terrier suddenly becomes very excitable and is desperate to go outside, it may have heard a badger or a fox come into the garden. Putting either pet outside just then may well result in injury, so just wait half-an-hour and try again (if need be).
  • Try and make sure free-living pets have an escape route if they encounter a badger.
  • Avoid feeding pets at the end of enclosed alleyways or in where they can be cornered by a badger or a fox (such as in sheds or outhouses).
  • Make sure your pet can always get to safety - for example through a snug-fitting cat flap or by jumping into the house through a ground-floor waist-level window which is ajar or by climbing a tree.
  • Rarely, dogs are stupid enough to square up to a fight with a badger; and can get seriously hurt in the process. The best way to avoid this is to avoid letting your dog roam free during the hours of darkness. Keep it on a short lead at night; and especially if it is the sort of inquisitive dog that likes to explore burrows and tunnels in the woods. This advice is especially important between about December and August, when badgers will do their utmost to protect their cubs. Terriers especially should be kept on a lead on woodland walks from the onset of dusk through until early dawn.
  • Cats may get very upset if the badger is eating the meal you have put out for the cat; but exceptionally few cats are suicidal enough to confront a badger. In the vast majority of cases, a cat will use it's intelligence and speed to run away from a fight.
  • Pens or runs made from thin wood or chicken wire are not badger-proof; and badgers may on rare occasions attack any small penned animal, chicken or duck they come across. This will be a small risk if you keep rabbits, chickens (or ducks), guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, or ferrets in a pen in your countryside garden. The solution is to buy a professionally-built animal house, with a substantial tough floor, walls and roof; and to pen your pets in at night. Make sure doors and entry flaps are securely locked (and not just closed). A badger will find it easy to lift up most cheap lightweight rabbit hutches; and many will be able to lift up the sort of hutch roofs that are held in place simply by their own weight. Remember too that domestic cats and dogs and wild foxes will attack pets far more often than badgers will.
  • A badger will be able to get through rotten wood very easily indeed, so make sure the wood remains in very good condition. This is especially important under drinking receptacles and areas soaked in excrement or urine; as this will cause the wood to weaken and rot very quickly. Take note too of human-sized doors into animal houses. If they have loose hinges or are flexible enough to bend, they may allow a badger enough room to claw away at the edges of the door and eventually gain entry.
  • If your pets are very young (and wouldn't know to be scared of a badger), or infirm (and couldn't run away) or if your pets have just moved from the "city" to the "countryside", they may be at slightly higher risk. Avoid putting them outside between dusk and dawn if badgers come into your garden or if your pet may stray into badger territory. After a "scare" most new pets quickly get used to their new surroundings and learn what is friendly from what is not.

In terms of the level of risk; we would say that of more than 5,000 emails handled by Badgerland only 3 have recorded instances of cats or dogs being injured by badgers. By all means be aware that the risks are slight, and most pets are unharmed if you and they use common-sense.

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