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Can Pets Be Left Alone Outside to Fend for Themselves?

I have owned cats for over 60 years. Between them and their vets, I have learned a great deal about how they tick.

Pets rely on their humans for care, and they can't fend for themselves in the wild.

Pets rely on their humans for care, and they can't fend for themselves in the wild.

Can a Pet Take Care of Itself Outside?

In general, the answer to this question is no. The very word 'pet' tells us that the animal has been kept by a person or family. By 'kept,' we mean they were fed, pampered, sheltered, loved, and generally taught to rely on humans.

Why Can't Pets Take Care of Themselves?

Because pets are fed, they don't have to hunt or fight for their food. Many don't know that killing for food is necessary. Food is given to them by humans, who unknowingly place their scent on it before giving it to the pet. Because they have shelter provided, they don't have to sit unprotected from the elements. Once again, humans have provided something for the pet that contains their scent.

Because humans clean their messes, they don't have to worry about where or when to relieve themselves. Many don't even know that urine and excrement can play a key role in the wild, such as marking territory, marking a scent trail, warning others to stay away, or guiding family to their location. Many don't know how to survive without help.

What Do Animals Need to Know in Order to Survive Outside?

Animals in the wild, whether they are dogs, cats, birds, snakes, rats, etc., are taught the following things from birth:

  • They are taught how to hunt, seek shelter, and survive attacks from predators.
  • They are taught to follow their instincts and their natural abilities.
  • Their parents teach them the basics of survival. They get a few chances to try out their new skills in a safe environment with their parents watching and protecting them.
  • They soon learn that if their skills are not strong, they will go hungry.
  • They learn that if their fighting skills are not strong, they will die.

Predators, weather, and illness are the main reasons wild animals die. Predators, weather, and illness can be a death sentence for pets who have not been naturally trained to survive. Although that may not be true for some pets, it is true for most of them.

Which Survival Instincts Are Lost as a Result of Domestication?

The natural instinct of animals is to avoid humans and predators of any kind. They sense danger when humans are about. They run because instinct tells them that they may become prey if they remain near humans.

However, pets are taught from an early age that humans are not dangerous. They learn to ignore their instincts because they are fed by human hands. They learn that they don't need to fight for shelter and protection because those things are always provided for them by humans. Their instincts tell them one thing, but they learn something else. Soon, they become complacent in their association with humans, thus ignoring their instinctual tendencies.

Pets See Humans as Their Families

Pets begin to think of humans as part of their herd, clan, or familial group of some sort. They believe that humans are now family. Family is trusted, loving, and protective. Families do not abandon members to the dangers of weather and predators. Families stick together in most cases.

Why Your Pet's Instincts Go Dormant

What pets learn from their 'family' is that they can relax and play. There is no need to struggle or fight. No need for instincts. Once they have learned this 'trust', they lose their instincts. Of course, the instincts are actually still there, but the pet has had no need for them for so long that their instincts become dormant.

Animals that are specially bred generally have many of their survival instincts bred from them to make them more suitable for domestication.

Could a pet dog survive outside in the wild?

Could a pet dog survive outside in the wild?

Health Risks in the Wild

Another concern for pets that are released to 'survive on their own' is illness. Animals in the wild have diseases that pets are not generally subjected to, such as rabies. True, most pets are immunized against rabies and other such diseases, but those immunizations do run out. How many pet owners can afford to get their pets immunized yearly? That means that many are not up-to-date with their immunizations and are susceptible to those illnesses.

Parasites are another concern. Humans medicate their pets against parasites like heart-worm and fleas. These things happen in the wild, too. In the wild, no human will be administering preventative medicine.


Can Pets Be Released into the Wild?

The answer is generally 'no'. Don't endanger your pets by releasing them to fend for themselves. Some animals have a strong survival instinct that helps them overcome hardships until they can relearn how to survive. That number, however, is small in comparison to how many pets are actually released into the wild.

Why Pets Can't Survive in the Wild

  • Pets tend to wait around for a human to give them food.
  • They tend to ignore dangerous weather signs because they expect humans to give them shelter.
  • They don't look for danger because they have never had to face anything more dangerous than their human's kids.
  • Most pets are adults when released, so they have never been taught to survive.
  • Babies, such as kittens and puppies, will definitely not survive if released. They will simply become a predator's food because they cannot fight.

Neglected Pets

Sadly, not all pets are treated as described above. These pets might actually be able to survive in the wild because they have had to fight for their existence. Rarely, however, are these pets allowed the chance to test their instincts because they usually don't survive human care.

These pets are the ones given little or no shelter during freezing cold or boiling hot weather. These pets are only fed occasionally and rarely have water. Though their instincts are strong, they are chained or caged and unable to use them.

Can a Pet Take Care of Itself Indoors?

No. Animals left in cages or homes will most definitely die because there is no food, water, or heat. They have no way to get out. They will die!

Instead of Abandoning a Pet, Consider a Shelter

If you cannot take your pets with you when moving or if you cannot care for them properly, please call your local animal control officer, the Humane Society, or The ASPCA. There are shelters out there. There are people who will take the animal and care for it. There is help!

Quick Review

  • Pets are taught from birth to rely on humans for their survival.
  • Pets lose their instincts because they are taught to trust humans.
  • Pets are not taught how to survive in the wild.
  • Most pets cannot survive without human care once they become adults.
  • Pets that are still very young and are released into the wild will not survive.

If you see an animal that is starving or injured, please call animal control or one of the organizations listed above to get the animal the care they need.

Pssssst—the answer is feline. They have a better adaptation ability which means they are more capable of survival under harsh conditions.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Cheryl Simonds

I would love to hear from you!

Cheryl Simonds (author) from Connecticut on February 02, 2017:

Nancy Owens, thank you for adding that in, I know there are some rescuing groups out there that do that. It makes it better when the animal can go back to the wild.

Nancy Owens from USA on February 01, 2017:

I think it would depend on the species, as well as the individual animal. On my area, for example, when wild animals that are rescued care is taken not to tame them down more than necessary so they will better adapt when they are re-released.