Myth 5: My backyard is safe at night

Updated November 29, 2020

In Adelaide, Rabbits, Chickens, Ducks, Guinea Pigs, Native Mammals and any other small pets commonly live in outside hutches, pens or coops. And without their owners being aware of the risk, they are in great danger. If they are not adequately protected, one night can be all it takes to lose them. Please read on but this story may be upsetting for some.

Why? Foxes! Some readers will be nodding in agreement, and others will be shaking their heads in disbelief. Believe it or not, we have a large and thriving urban fox population in Adelaide. During the day they are denned up somewhere, but at night they roam through our backyards easily climbing fences on the prowl for anything edible.

Cats are seemingly not at risk. Foxes and cats seem to regard each other as worthy adversaries and tend to ignore each other, but I would worry about a kitten out at night. But we need to remember that with cats, night also brings danger. Most cats hit by cars happen at night, probably misjudging the speed and distance of car headlights. Severe cat fights also tend to occur at night when the strays are on the move.

Small pets can live happily in yards for years without problems, then suddenly one nightmarish morning they are all found dead. Foxes will kill as many as they can catch, usually the whole group, and bury the bodies they cannot carry. A fox is a wily and cunning predator, and will attempt to break into animal enclosures if there are any weak points. The pets inside will sometimes die of neck fractures from their panic even if the attempt is unsuccessful.

Nature may be ‘red in tooth and claw’ but we like to imagine our pets don’t have to contend with such horrors. So here are our recommendations:

  1. Keep small pets inside at night, at least in the laundry or an enclosed patio area. 
  2. Chickens and ducks must be locked in a secure coop with an enclosed roof every night
  3. House train your rabbit! It’s fun and easy for a patient person and then they can live with us at all times (if electical cords are protected and you don’t mind furniture legs being chewed)
  4. Screen rabbits from biting insects to help prevent myxomatosis

But all of these animals will need time out of their enclosure to roam and explore. Rabbits particularly suffer from being kept permanently in hutches which do not protect them from extremes in temperature.

Now read an example of what can happen at Case Study: From The Jaws Of Death. We have lots of pages about caring for rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens at Pet Care Advice.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

2 Replies to “Myth 5: My backyard is safe at night”

  1. Dear Vet, 2 quick questions, a friend kindly gave me 4 chooks but she had already clipped their wings on one side, my perches are about 140 cm off the ground, will they be able to jump/ fly up on them, and do wings grow back eventualy.

    Thank you Richard

    1. Hi Richard. The feathers will grow back at the next moult but that might be six months or more away. In the meantime, you’ll probably need to have intermediate perches or steps for them to get up so high. Remember that these will also allow foxes to climb up if your coop is not secure.

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