BARC Animal Shelter and Adoptions

Wild Animals in the City of Houston

Wild Animal Classifications
A wild animal lives in natural environments. It has certain inborn behavior patterns and also develops learned behavior to survive in competitive natural environments. It is not possible for a wild animal to adapt to traditional household living and pet owners cannot influence behavior patterns of wild animals. Wild animals are unpredictable and instinctual; when forced into captivity destructive behavior will occur.

A wild animal can pose serious a health threat since we have no way of knowing what diseases the animal may have been exposed to in its natural environment. Diseases such as rabies can have extremely long incubation periods that can last several weeks or even several months. Wild animals also harbor parasites that can be lethal, especially to infants and young children. Internal parasites such as ascarid worms, tapeworms, flukes, and protozoa can cause debilitating and often fatal diseases in humans. External parasites such as ticks and fleas transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, bubonic plague, and other serious diseases. Primates can get and transmit tuberculosis, the common cold, measles, chicken pox and parasites; they bite and their bites can become infected. Reptiles carry salmonella and harbor dangerous bacteria in their mouths that can infect when they bite. All wild animals and reptiles are potentially aggressive.

Wild Animals in Houston
The entire State of Texas has an abundant wild animal population and Houston is no exception. In fact, Houston, with its many miles of bayous and lush outdoors actually fosters one of the most populated and diverse wild animal ecosystems in the state.  Even within concrete urban areas you may stumble upon a raccoon trying to get into a garbage can, an opossum walking down a neighborhood street, bats flying low at an evening ballgame, even the occasional alligator can be spotted quietly gliding down a bayou with no regard for the traffic speeding over the bridge above. A more complete list of wild animals in and around the Houston area includes:

  • Raccoons
  • Bats
  • Skunks
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Bobcats
  • Snakes & Reptiles
  • Turtles
  • Alligators
  • Deer
  • Opossums
  • Armadillos
  • Deer
  • Rats & Mice
  • Squirrels
  • Hawks & Owls

The top 5 of this list are of special concern due to their high risk of rabies. These are bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes and coyotes. Do not touch these animals! Once bitten, dogs and cats can also transmit the disease. Rabies is a very serious disease and it is vitally important that you vaccinate your pet. It is also the law.

Coexisting with Wild Animals
Whether you are a fan of wildlife or not, we must remind ourselves that we are the ones moving into their natural environments. In one way or another, these animals all play vital roles in the balance of our environment. They deserve our respect and understanding of their behaviors. For the safety of these wild animals and for the safety of you, your pets and your family, it is important to take steps to safeguard your home to minimize contact and potential damage.

  • The most important thing you can do to protect your pet and be a responsible pet owner is to vaccinate them against the rabies virus. Not only can wild animals transmit the rabies virus, they are often carriers of fleas and other parasites that can be most harmful to your pets and your family.
  • Raccoons and opossums are omnivorous and will eat pretty much anything. Your trash is irresistible to them. They are highly adaptable and almost acrobatic in the way they get into tempting spaces. Ensure that your outdoor trashcan lids are tightly sealed and make sure the garbage inside is securely bagged and tied to reduce odor.
  • Coyotes have adapted well to suburban and urban living. They are, as are all wild animals, attracted to pet food. Feed your pets inside and keep pet food in a secured area with a tight fitting lid.
  • Squirrels, raccoons, and other rodents love to eat birdseed. Limit bird feeders in your yard to prevent them from becoming a regular food source. Well meaning bird feeders can also attracts feral cats and even coyotes, hawks and owls. The primary diet for most hawks and owls is rodents. If squirrels, mice and rats are dining at your bird feeder it can become a food source for hawks and owls, putting your pets at risk.
  • Squirrels, bats, opossums, mice, rats, birds and raccoons can often be found inside a home...usually they will nest in an attic, chimney, under a porch, inside a garage or even inside the wall. If your home has a chimney, make sure to install a cap or proper cover so that it is not an entry point for these animals. Cut low lying tree limbs that are close to your home. Usual advice is to keep a horizontal distance of 10 feet and a vertical distance of 15 feet between branch and house. Stay on top of your yard care; cut high weeds and keep shrubs and vines around your house well maintained. Keep any potential entry points or vents in porches, overhangs and crawl spaces covered to prevent entry.
  • Clean areas on your property that would seem attractive to wild animals and foster nesting; old appliances, abandoned cars, boxes, wood piles, trash piles, and large containers.
  • Keep cats and dogs indoors to prevent them from catching birds, squirrels and other rodents. Keeping animals indoors can also prevent cat and dog fights as well as confrontations with wild animals, snakes and retiles. If you do have bird baths or fountains in your yard make sure to keep them exceptionally clean and free of mold and fungus. One wild animal with distemper can infect everyone else that frequents the source.
  • Never feed wild animals on your property

What to do if you Encounter a Wild Animal

If you have a wild animal inside living areas of your home, such as a bedroom, call 311.

If you have a wild animal or reptile in your yard, in the vicinity of your home or where you are, it is not necessary to call BARC. Respect the animal and give it plenty of space. Move family and pets into a safe and secure area. Do not attempt to touch, feed or capture the animal. Call a licensed pest control company if the animals are in garages or attics.

If you happen upon an injured wild animal call TWRC Wildlife Center at 713.468.8972 for help. TWRC provides an emergency facility for injured and orphaned wildlife, for the public to drop off their rescued animal. The facility has no resources to provide transportation of wildlife to their facility. Check their website at www.twrcwildlifecenter.org for more information, hours of operation and their location.

Unless you are authorized and licensed by the State of Texas, do not attempt to trap and relocate wild animals. Houston City Code Sec. 6-6. Unauthorized impoundment of animals

(a)  It is unlawful for any person, other than a police officer, an animal control officer, a member or employee of a humane organization approved by the director, or a licensed employee of a licensed pest control service to engage in the catching or impounding of animals.

(b)  It is a defense to prosecution under this section that:

(1)  The animal was unlawfully running at large upon property under the possession or control of the person catching it;

(2)  The animal was caught and held in a humane manner; and

(3)  The capture of the animal was promptly reported to BARC for the pick-up and disposition of the animal as BARC deems appropriate; provided, however, if the captured animal is a domestic animal, the animal was brought to BARC for disposition as BARC deems appropriate.

Triennial Vaccine Notice
The City of Houston has amended its ordinance to authorize the use of a triennial vaccination provided the requirements of the State of Texas are met.  Your veterinarian will be familiar with these vaccination requirements.  If your pet has been previously vaccinated with a triennial vaccine and it comes under the retroactivity clause of the state regulations, your veterinarian must certify this fact for our records, including the date of the vaccination.  We will honor that certification for the remainder of the 3 year period.

Even though you will not be required to vaccinate your pet annually, Houston is still requiring annual licensing since many person have indicated they will continue to vaccinate their pets each year.  Pet owners will continue to receive annual notices for license renewal but it will not be necessary to submit a vaccination certificate each year to renew the license.  If you use the triennial vaccine you will receive a notice on the third year reminding you it is necessary to revaccinate your pet.    

Remember, licensing fees for pets that have been spayed or neutered are substantially less than those for intact animals.  Be sure to spay/neuter your pet and make certain your veterinarian has included the spay/neuter information on the vaccination certificate. If you have questions regarding the use of the triennial vaccine please contact your veterinarian. 

Raccoons
Raccoons are extremely clever, opportunistic, omnivorous (they will eat anything), and are very good at getting into places where you may not want them. Raccoons are a high rabies risk and can become highly aggressive when cornered.

The best way to keep raccoons from becoming a problem is to eliminate human-provided sources of food and shelter. Keep all human and pet food away from raccoons. Keep garbage in secure trashcans, compost in enclosed containers, and feed your pets indoors.

Skunks
Skunks are one of the most abundant species of wildlife in Houston and are a high risk rabies carrier. Skunks can be found living in crawlspaces, under front and rear porches, patios and basements in homes and businesses in and around Houston. Skunks are omnivorous but they mainly eat insects, grubs, small rodents, small birds, fruit, and dog and cat food.

Skunks are usually only aggressive when they are breeding when they are known to take up residency under sheds, in empty hot tubs and outbuildings. Any shelter that seems good for nesting and raising a family will appeal to a skunk. Keep your property maintained and look out for any telltale droppings or signs of burrowing.

Bobcats
Bobcats are native to the Houston area. Though they usually aim to stay as far away from people as much as possible, continued urban growth, severe weather conditions and suburban expansion have resulted in them being spotted in the city. Bobcats naturally walk creeks, ditches, bayous and fields looking for water and food and may wander into populated living areas in doing so.

Their diet consists mainly of birds and small mammals. Bobcats attacks are rare with humans but like any animal, they will become aggressive when cornered by either humans or animals. Anyone who sees a bobcat behaving strangely should report the activity to 311.Bobcats are most active around sunset and sunrise. Keep pets indoors Bobcats may be attracted to a yard that has abundant wildlife, domestic birds, small pets, water, and shade or other shelter. Do not feed bobcats, as this can encourage them to become too comfortable around humans.

Opossums
Opossums are unique for several reasons. They are the only North American marsupials. This means that females have a pouch on the belly where the young, up to 13, are carried and nourished for a time after their birth.

Adult possums are typically about two feet long and about ten pounds. They are omnivorous, and will eat almost anything, including carrion and garbage. Opossums are slow, but excellent climbers, will live in attics if they can get in, but lack the strength and claws to rip and tear openings like a raccoon. They will also live under sheds or decks. They have a very strong immune system, but seldom live more than three years.

They are solitary and nocturnal. They look somewhat fierce, like a giant rat, and they have 50 sharp teeth in their mouth, and sharp claws. Though they are slow moving and not particularly aggressive, like any animal when cornered, they will defend themselves.  When an opossum is frightened and unable to flee, they may display their teeth and hiss, or fall into an involuntary shock-like state, "playing 'possum".

Opossums are low risk for rabies due to their unique low blood temperature.

Foxes
Foxes are a member of the Canid family and like coyotes, pose a high risk for transmitting rabies through a bite. Foxes can range in color from grayish and rust red, even to a flame red but are usually reddish-brown. They are mid-sized and usually have bushy tails with white tips. Foxes are generally active at dawn and dusk but they have been spotted being active in the day.

Foxes use a variety of habitats for dens, including abandoned holes dug by other animals. Their diet is varied, though it mainly consists of small mammals and birds.  Foxes are attracted to pet food. Feed your pets indoors and keep pet food well sealed in a secured area.

Coyotes
Coyotes have adapted well to suburban and urban living. They are, as are most wild animals, attracted to pet food. Coyotes are members of the Canid family, which includes wolves, dogs and foxes. Coyotes are considered a high rabies risk animal.

Adult coyotes weigh an average of 30 to 50 pounds, and are four to five feet long from nose to end of tail. They are carnivores, whose diet consists of mice, rabbits, deer fawns, birds and various invertebrates. They are also scavengers. Feed your pets inside and keep pet food in a secured area with a tight fitting lid. Keep garbage sealed tightly inside cans with well fitting lids.

Snakes & Reptiles
Texas is home to over 100 species and subspecies of non-venomous snakes that are for the most part beneficial and harmless. They are carnivorous and eat mostly rodents and insects. There are 4 species of venomous snakes found in US and they are all found in Houston and our surrounding areas. They are the Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin), Copperhead, Coral Snakes, and the occasional Rattlesnake.

Snakes are and are usually more afraid of humans than you are afraid of it. The best policy is to leave them alone as they will most likely move on...In fact, most people are bitten by snakes when they try to kill it or get a better look at it. You should seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten. If you cannot seek attention immediately, many health-care professionals embrace just a few basic first-aid techniques. According to the American Red Cross, these steps should be taken:

  • wash the bite with soap and water
  • immobilize the bitten area
  • keep the bitten area lower than the heart
  • seek medical attention as soon as possible
  • Call 1.800.222.1222 for anti-venom  information

If you see a snake, it is most likely looking for

  • A place to hide
  • A place to build a nest
  • A place to live
  • Food
  • A mate

DO NOT attempt to handle a snake without an expert identification.

You can minimize the risk of snakes and contact with them on your property by removing old woodpiles, trash piles, rock piles, and animal food that may attract rodents.

Texas Snakes is a good resource for more information on living with and identifying snakes in the Texas area.

Turtles

Box Turtles are a familiar site in and around Houston. Though they are cute and tempting to play with, Box Turtles can bite!

If you see an uninjured turtle, leave it alone. If you see a turtle in danger (in the road), and you can safely get to it, try to coax it off the roadway with a stick and keep them in the direction they were going. Never touch a turtle without gloves.

Box Turtles are unique and an important part of our ecosystem. Discourage children and pets from playing with or harassing box turtles.

Read more about Box Turtles from the The Box Turtle Partnership of Texas (pdf)

Alligators

Due to continued expansion of residential and business development into alligator habitats, encounters between people and alligators have become more frequent in our area. Suburbs continue to expand into what used to be marshland and bayous which is home to these reptiles.

Alligators are most active in the spring when they are searching for new territory to mate and reproduce. You are most likely to see alligator activity in the months of April through July and they are most active at dawn and dusk. Periods of extreme weather conditions such as drought or heavy rains can also prompt alligators to roam in search of new, more ideal living conditions.

It is important to respect these reptiles and learn to coexist safely with them, always treat alligators with the respect they deserve as wild animals.

Common-sense precautions include:

  • Never feed an alligator or allow it to get food
  • Keep a safe distance from gators of at least 20 feet or more
  • Keep your pets on a leash or in a penned enclosure
  • Don’t get too close to or swim in areas where alligators are commonly observed
  • Don’t harass or agitate an alligator
  • Never approach an alligator nest or a pod of young alligators that a female alligator may be guarding