Central Texas Wildlife: Which Are Friends or Foes of Your Pet's?

Central Texas Wildlife: Which Are Friends or Foes of Your Pet's?

From coyotes to salamanders, Central Texas is home to some of the most amazing and unique wildlife in the country.

And, as animal and pet lovers, it's important to know:

  1. If you find a vulnerable wild animal, how should you care for or protect it?
  2. Which Central Texas wild animals are dangerous to my pet, and which are friendly neighbors?

To keep you and your dog or cat safe, we partnered with local Texas wildlife experts to answer those very questions.

Let's meet 12 common Texas Hill Country animals and understand which require precautions for your pet!

Rabbits | Opossum | Squirrels | Deer | Turtles | Armadillos | Racoons | Bats | Owls | Foxes | Coyotes | Salamanders 

Friendly Fauna of Central Texas

#1 Rabbits

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail rabbits are the most common rabbits in Central Texas! 

One thing to look out for are nests. A cottontail's nest is a shallow ground burrow, hidden in tall grass made with grasses and some of mom’s fur.

A nest cannot be relocated and, unfortunately, they don't always choose the best location. It's good practice to double check your lawn before mowing!

How to Help a Wild Bunny

Found a nest of baby bunnies and worried it's abandoned? Don't disturb the buns! 

Austin Wildlife Rescue (AWR) recommends arranging string in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the nest. Then, check back in the morning to see if the string is disturbed. If so, that means momma bunny has been back.

If there is no change overnight, call a rehabilitator like AWR or Moonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation. Organizations like these can walk you through what to do and what NOT to do. 

Threat Level? 1/5

Your dog or cat is much bigger threat to rabbits than rabbits are to pets. Tell Fido to leave the buns in peace!

#2 Opossum

Opossum

Opossums are the only marsupials in North America, which means they carry their young inside their pouch!

A common misconception is that opossums are rabid, usually because their only defense mechanism is to open their mouth, show their 50 teeth, and drool. However, their body temperature is too low to carry rabies.

Local rescues work hard to educate the public on opossums and their benefits to a healthy ecosystem. In fact, larger opossums are immune to snake venom and some even prey on rattlesnakes. 🤯

Opossums are also voracious eaters of disease carrying insects, like ticks! This is great news for outdoor cats and dogs.

How to Help a Opossum

AWR advises that if you see an adult opossum during the day, it's not necessarily sick; it is usually a hungry mama with a lot of babies in her pouch. If she's in the road, simply help her get across in the direction she's going.

But, if you see a baby opossum by itself, it needs to be brought to a wildlife rescue immediately.

Threat Level? 1/5

Your dog or cat is much bigger threat to opossums than opossums are to pets. Tell Fido to leave the opossums alone!

#3 Squirrels

Squirrels

Meet your pup's arch enemy: the Central Texas squirrel. Or as we like to call them: professional tree planters. 

Squirrels don’t come back for up to 50% of the nuts they bury. So while many believe they are pests, they are essential to Austin's beautiful, tree filled landscape!

While squirrels tend to get themselves in unfavorable situations (attics), trapping is not the answer. AWR answers their phones 365 days/year to help with exclusion methods.

How to Help a Squirrel

AWR recommends that if you do find a baby squirrel, leave it outside for an hour to see if mom comes back for it. Sometimes they fall out of the tree or mom is relocating her nest and needs a little time. If she hasn’t come back within the hour, it needs to be brought to a wildlife rescue.

Threat Level? 1/5 

While it may be news to your dog, squirrels are no threat to pets. 

#4 Deer

Deer

Did you know the Hill Country holds over 40% of the White Tailed Deer Population in Texas? Oh, deer - that's almost 500,000!

How to Help a Fawn

It is very common to see a spotted fawn instinctively lying very still and flat without an adult nearby. Leave the fawn in peace and observe for up to 24 hours.

According to Moonshine Wildlife Rehab, female deer leave their babies unattended for long periods of time while foraging for food and return only to briefly nurse the baby. The mother deer is usually in the area observing from a distance.  

An early sign that a fawn needs help? If the tips of their ears curl back--this is a sign of dehydration. Check out Moonshine Wildlife Rehab's checklist for other signs that a fawn is in need of help.

If you do determine that a fawn needs help, contact your nearest wildlife rehab.

Threat Level? 1/5 

Deer are no threat to your pets. 

#5 Turtles

Texas Map Turtle - Photo by Adam Dawson

Source: Austin Reptile Service - Photo by Adam Dawson

Central Texas is home to several types of turtles, all of whom are big eaters of mollusks, insects, carrion, and vegetation. Yum!

How to Help a Wild Turtle

If you see a wild turtle out and about, leave it be!

Especially in the springtime, female turtles are often spotted in yards and parks. They are not lost pets; rather, they are looking for somewhere safe to lay their eggs. Let them do their thing. 

If you spot a turtle in a dangerous place--like the middle of the road--simply move them to a safe place in the direction they were headed.

Threat Level? 2/5

Don't let your pet's play with or disturb local turtles.

Not only can they can deliver a strong bite, especially Texas snapping turtles, but they are known to carry salmonella. Which, can be harmful to you and your pet!

Coexist with Caution

#6 Armadillos

Armadillo

The state animal, the Armadillo!

Armadillos can wreak havoc on a garden. But, their high metabolism for insects is a much appreciated benefit that you'll thank them for later. Don't worry, they usually don’t stick around one area for long.

How to Help an Armadillo

AWR recommends not trying to trap the armadillo. If you see an injured or vulnerable dillo, contact a wildlife rescue.

Threat Level? 2/5

Armadillos have been found to carry leprosy, so it's best for you and your pet to keep a distance. 

#7 Racoons

Racoons

Your neighborhood trash bandit, the raccoon, is a very common sight in Central Texas.

Raccoons can carry rabies, but it is rare. 

Raccoons are an important (and cute!) part of the food chain, even though they are sometimes thought of as pests.

How to Help a Raccoon

If you see a sick-looking raccoon, it most likely has distemper. Do not approach or let your pet near the raccoon. Call animal control to come pick it up.

If you have a raccoon problem, consult a wildlife rescue, as sometimes trapping and relocating can have damaging effects.

If you cross paths with a young or infant raccoon, call a rehabilitator like AWR or Moonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation. Organizations like these can walk you through what to do and what NOT to do. 

Threat Level? 2/5

Raccoons aren't afraid to defend themselves, and they're scrappy fighters. Don't let your dog or cat instigate a tussle with these bandits (or any wildlife, for that matter).

#8 Mexican Free Tailed Bats

A Mexican free-tailed bat is in flight. Credit: Bruce D. Taubert/Minden Pictures /Bat Conservation International

Source: TPWD | Bruce D. Taubert/Minden Pictures /Bat Conservation International

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD), Austin's Congress Avenue Bridge hosts the largest, natural, urban bat colony in the world, estimated at 1.5 million bats! This makes a great photo op for visitors - or locals.

Bats are protected by state law - that means no touching or disturbing.

Mexican Free Tailed Bats are essential to farm life and a happy ecosystem here in Texas. They keep crop pests in check as they can eat up to two-thirds of their body weight in insects each night. TPWD reported that these bats can save farmers up to two applications of pesticides per year.

How to Help a Bat

If you accidentally disturb a bat during the day, leave it alone for a few hours; it may be stunned and need a moment to get itself together before flying off.

While not all bats carry rabies, it is important to never handle or pick up bats, even if they are suspected to be in need of help. Instead, report this to Animal Control at 3-1-1.

Threat Level? 2/5

Bats are not aggressive and only pose a threat to humans and pets because of the diseases they can carry. Never disturb a bat, and never let your pets disturb them.

Learn more about Texas bats here!

Steer Clear

#9 Owls

great horned owl in central texas

Central Texas is home to a number of owl species, great and small, including the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, and more.

Owls are excellent neighbors, as they keep the rodent population at bay and sing nice evening lullabies.

Their excellent camouflage and nocturnal lifestyle make for rare sightings--and are part of what makes them such fierce hunters. 

For example, the Great Horned Owl (pictured above) has a talon grip strength of 28 pounds, which it uses to sever the spine of prey much larger than itself. Yikes. 

How to Help an Injured Owl

If the owl is in an unsafe place, put on gloves and gently cover him with a towel before moving him to a safer location. Call a wildlife rescue for backup. 

If the owl is injured but out of harms way, call your wildlife rescue to send someone trained in the handling of raptors.

Threat Level? 4/5

As mentioned, owls are excellent hunters and can catch prey much bigger than themselves. So, keep small dogs and cats inside after dusk and until dawn.

#10 Foxes

Bettina Arrigoni | Gray Fox

Photo source: Bettina Arrigoni | Flickr

The gray fox is the most common fox statewide.

Foxes are omnivores, and as such, they do a handful of helpful things!

Moonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation reports that a huge benefit of foxes is their population control in the hunting of smaller animals, like rabbits, rodents, and even insects. This reduces the number of diseased wildlife lurking around.

They also disperse seeds and offer a free clean-up service to urban areas by eating discarded food and trash!

How to Help an Injured Fox

If you come across a fox that is sick or injured, don't touch it. Foxes will bite when they feel vulnerable or threatened. 

Instead, call your local wildlife rescue org and keep an eye on the fox until experienced help arrives. 

Threat Level? 3/5

While foxes do not hunt or attack household pets, they have been known to swipe a dog toy or two.

#11 Urban Coyotes 

Urban Coyote | Source: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Photo source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and their population has exploded across North America since the early 1900s. Your own NextDoor thread is likely rife with coyote spottings in our own Central Texas backyards and greenbelts.

Larger than foxes, coyotes are the size of medium dogs and travel in packs (6 to 7 at a time).

Because they are opportunist hunters, coyotes will eat anything that's an easy meal, dead or alive.

How to Help an Injured Coyote

As with foxes, don't touch or approach an injured or sick coyote. Call your local wildlife rescue and await backup.

Threat Level? 4/5

Coyotes are excellent, stealthy hunters and have been known to chase and catch small dogs or cats.

Keep trash cans and compost bins closed. Make sure any small pets are indoors by dusk and until after dawn. If you have an outdoor kitty, know that the threat of coyotes comes with the territory.

#12 Scorpions 

Texas Scorpion by Todd Dwyer | Flickr

Photo source: Todd Dwyer | Flickr

Scorpions are sneaky home invaders who are just trying to keep cool in the summer. 

Having a run-in with these critters is a common Texas occurrence, especially in new developments in suburban and exurban areas.

TPWD reports that their sting is very similar to a bee sting. It does cause pain and local swelling but usually is not serious, except for rare instances of allergy for which medical attention should be sought.

We advise to treat, sweep, and inspect your home regularly.

How to Help an Injured Scorpion

Bless your heart for asking. Scorpions have hard exoskeletons that make healing after an injury unlikely. So, unfortunately, there's not much to do for this guy. 

Threat Level? 4/5

If your pet gets stung by a scorpion, call your local and trusted vet clinic immediately. 

Rare and Protected

#13 Salamanders

Texas Parks and Wildlife - Texas Blind Salamander

Photo source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Austin is home to not one, not two, but three aquatic Salamanders: Barton Springs SalamanderAustin Blind Salamander and Jollyville Plateau Salamander

As these are all endangered and threatened species, it is very important you leave these cute, water critters alone - especially when visiting Barton Springs Pool.

If you see one near or in Texas springs, say hello from afar and be on your way and make sure your pet keeps their distance.  

 

Happy exploring!

Whether you are traveling to Texas on your summer vacation or just in your backyard garden, keep your pet safe by knowing your Central Texas wildlife. While some might be more dangerous than others, all are worth protecting. 

"Recognizing the value of these animals ensures a respect for them and nature, and in turn, ensures a healthy ecosystem. Every living thing has a purpose and a place in our world." - Christine McCully Moonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation

But what about danger noodles?! Snakes deserve their own write up. Stay tuned for next week's post: a deep dive into our local snek population. 🐍

Your Outdoor Adventure Checklist 

Now that you know some common wildlife, you're ready to hit the trails and discover the natural beauty of Central Texas.

What should you pack? Here’s your checklist:

  • Leash
  • Collar with ID Tag
  • Poo Bags
  • Water bottle and collapsible bowls
  • Towels
  • Doggy life jacket
  • Cooling vest

Tomlinson's is your go-to pet supply store for natural, healthy pet products in Austin and the Central Texas region. Let us help prepare you and your pet for your outdoor adventures online or in-store.

Visit our shop full of products sold through team members trained in animal nutrition. Pass by our stores with your adorable pet for some treat samples and loving ear rubs.

Sources

Visit AustinCity of AustinTexas Parks and Wildlife DepartmentAustin Reptile ServiceAustin Animal RescueMoonshine Wildlife Rehabilitation

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Featured Products

RC Pet Zephyr Cooling Bandana Toucan Dog Apparel

RC Pet Zephyr Cooling Bandana Toucan Dog Apparel

$12.99

Description Sizes RC Pet Zephyr Cooling Bandana Toucan Dog Apparel is a fun and festive way to help your pet beat the heat this summer! Simply ...

View full details
Size

Yikes! We're running low on this item. Here are our favorite alternatives currently in stock.

  • Description
  • Sizes
  • RC Pet Zephyr Cooling Bandana Toucan Dog Apparel is a fun and festive way to help your pet beat the heat this summer! Simply soak in water and put on your dog. Pop in the freezer and your pooch will be cool as a cucumber for hours.

    This cooling bandana is:

    Lightweight fabric uses an evaporative cooling process to bring down your dog temperature
    Lightweight even when wet

    RC Pets aims to make products to boost the bond between owners and pets by designing smart, sleek products that never fail to perform. RC Pets started outdoors, creating products that were rugged enough for the mountains and responsive enough for the humans using them.

  • Small 8-14"
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