Rx for Disaster: A Small Dog in the Backyard — Without You There to Protect Him

A lot can go wrong when a little dog is left alone outside.


More than half of all pet dogs in the United States weigh fewer than 25 pounds, and the trend appears to be edging downward, with many dogs weighing significantly less than that. Is it safe to let a toy breed or other very small dog out in the backyard by himself?

No, says Florina Tseng, DVM, former Director of the Wildlife Clinic at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and currently the Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Climate. Some people may worry about a tiny dog being carried off by a raptor — a bird who feeds on live captured prey as well as carrion, but that’s not the issue.

The reason is that a bird cannot carry more than its own weight, and even a very large hawk weighs only about 2.5 pounds — larger than all but the very smallest of dogs. True, a large owl (also a raptor) might weigh close to 6 pounds, but most dogs are heavier than that, too. And while an eagle can weigh up to 15 pounds, eagles are not interested in dogs. They hunt for fish (if they’re bald eagles), other birds, and small mammals like squirrels and rabbits.

Still, even if a raptor doesn’t carry a small dog away, it can attack and kill a little pet. Granted, it’s a rare event, and for good reason. Why would a bird go after a dog, which has sharp teeth and will try to mount a counterattack, when there are so many smaller animals out there? But why take any chances?

More concerning is that a very small dog alone in the backyard is a sitting duck for other types of animals, including coyotes, which are becoming more and more comfortable in suburban habitats. Because dogs weighing fewer than 15 pounds are vulnerable when it comes to coyotes and other species, Dr. Tseng recommends that they never be left outdoors unsupervised. A fenced-in yard will keep your dog from getting out, but it won’t necessarily keep other animals from getting in.


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