Guide to Canadian wildlife: How to stay safe and survive attacks
By: Callum Denault
Published on: March 20 2023
Canada is home to a beautiful and diverse group of animals. While they mostly stay out of people’s way, learning how to live alongside wild animals is a must for Canadians, even in urban settings.
When camping, it is best to bring bear spray with you, camp in large groups, and avoid leaving out food that would attract bears. If you see a bear, stay calm and give it as much distance as possible without turning around to run away or climb up a tree. Bears are good climbers and can run faster than humans. Running away from bears also triggers their aggressive instincts.
Laying down and pretending to be dead can work against brown bears such as grizzlies, but if you are being attacked by a black bear or polar bear you should never play dead and always fight back.
Deer and moose
While deer and moose are typically not aggressive, they may still attack, and they can be a problem when driving. Hitting one of these large animals would not only injure the poor beast, but it could cause serious, possibly lethal harm to people inside the car.
Look for deer signs when driving, and keep all your windows and mirrors clean so you can keep a good lookout for incoming wildlife. Deer are most active during dawn and dusk, and they typically move in groups.
Coyotes and dogs
Coyote attacks have been recently reported in major Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver. Walking with a dog on a leash can be helpful in keeping you and your pet safe. However, keep in mind that coyotes may work in pairs, with one acting friendly towards your dog while another circles around to attack.
While dogs are mostly friendly towards humans, large, aggressive dogs can be very dangerous. Similar to bears and coyotes, they are faster than humans and running away triggers their hunting instinct. Only run away if you are facing a group of hostile canines, or if you have somewhere close you can escape to, like the roof of a car.
Do not look directly in a dog’s eyes or show your teeth—such as by smiling—because they take this as a threatening challenge.
If you have to fight a dog, find anything you can use to quickly block the dog’s attacks, such as your jacket, bag, or a nearby stick. If a dog is going to bite you, it is better that it bites your arm than somewhere more vulnerable like your face, throat, or groin. This works better if you can wrap your arm in a jacket before using it to block a bite.
Try and sprawl on top of the dog to keep it pinned down under your weight, and if necessary, attack its eyes or throat. You can also pull or sweep its legs to throw the dog off balance, or put something like a coat or bag on its head to subdue it. Grabbing a dog by the loose skin around its neck—known as the scruff—is also effective.
If you are lying on top of a dog that is still fighting back and no one is able to help you, you may need to either strike it at the base of the skull or use a chokehold on it. Rear naked chokeholds and guillotine chokes are among the most effective, basic techniques.
Rabies: Spotting this deadly illness in animals
Rabies is a virus that mainly spreads through saliva, which takes over the brain, causing the victim to lose mental control before eventually dying. While many countries are free of rabies, it is still sadly found in many parts of the world including Canada. Infected dogs and bats are among the most likely to spread rabies, but it can infect several other mammals, including cats, horses, racoons, coyotes, skunks, ferrets, and humans.
Symptoms of rabies include partial paralysis, aggressive behaviour, hydrophobia (fear of water), foaming of spit at the mouth, and sickness leading to death. It is mainly spread through an infected animal’s spit getting into someone else’s bloodstream.
Rabies can be prevented by making sure your pets are vaccinated against it. If you get into contact with an animal that you suspect has rabies, go to a doctor immediately. Rabies can be successfully treated, but getting treatment early on is vital in order to stop the virus from reaching your central nervous system and brain.
While rabies is usually transmitted through bites, it can also be spread if an infected animal—including one that is not yet showing symptoms of the virus—licks you over an open cut. It is also possible to be bitten in your sleep, which is why you should make sure to remove any bats from your home, and seek medical attention if you find a bat close to where you were sleeping.
Dealing with skunks and racoons: The stinky pests and masked bandits
Skunks are cute, non-violent animals, yet they leave behind a notoriously horrible smell, and also spray their stinky oils at anyone they feel threatened by. If you see a skunk, give it space to avoid being sprayed, especially if the skunk is warning you by stomping its feet, raising its tail, making short charges towards you, or by turning its rear to face you.
Skunks spray through a couple of glands on their rear end, and their emissions can reach up to 15 feet away from them. If a musty, acrid smell persists near your home for some time, you may have skunks living nearby.
The best way to keep skunks off your property is by making sure they have no reason to nest there, such as filling in holes with soil, straw, crumpled paper, or similar materials. Give the skunks a couple days—or longer, during winter—to push their way out of the hole. If enough time goes by without the hole being reopened, that means there are probably not any skunks living inside the hole so it is safe to permanently seal.
If a skunk is inside your home or garage, it is most likely trapped there. Make sure to leave a way for it to escape, such as opening a door or window.
Here are some tips on removing the odour if you, a pet, or your property have been sprayed by a skunk.
For dealing with raccoons, the City of Toronto recommends people store garbage properly in secure containers and avoid leaving anything edible that would attract them to your property. Raccoons eat many different foods, including trash.
They also like to nest in holes, which is why you should block off any way they can get into your home, such as unused chimneys, gaps in your roof or outside walls, and cover air vents with screens. Raccoons are good climbers, which is why the City of Toronto recommends you take down any unused towers, and trim the branches of nearby trees.
Normally raccoons are more active at night, unless they were driven out of hiding. They act calm and fearless around humans in urban settings, and may be aggressive when cornered. If you notice a raccoon that looks blind, confused, physically disabled, aggressive, and/or has mucus dripping out of its face, call 311. These are all possible signs the raccoon has either rabies or canine distemper.