Koalas and dogs - how to be a responsible pet owner

Tips for dog owners

  • Check trees for Koalas before leaving dogs unattended in your yard.
  • If a Koala enters your yard, put your dog inside your house or garage until the Koala has left.
  • In addition to the danger of attack, Koalas are very easily stressed by dogs.
  • Don’t allow your dog to “play” with Koalas.
  • Take your dog on regular walks so it doesn’t get bored.
  • If you must take your dog into the bush, use a leash. In most areas, it is illegal to allow a dog anywhere outside your yard unless it is on a leash, except in fenced dog parks.
  • At night, lock up your dog. It is not enough to just keep it in your yard - Koalas can climb most fences or trees into yards.
  • Notify your local council immediately about roaming dogs or about irresponsible dog ownership.

Questions and Answers

The Australian Koala Foundation is often asked what its views are in relation to dogs and Koalas. Here are some common questions, with answers that reflect our current position on issues.

Q: Are you against dogs and cats?
A: No. Many of our staff and volunteers have dogs and cats and we love our pets. All of us, though, recognise the potential risk our pets pose to wildlife and diligently exercise responsible pet ownership. We do not, however, believe dogs and cats should be allowed in new developments on land which supports or is near to highly significant Koala populations and habitat (see below). New residents move into these areas knowing they are not permitted to keep a dog or cat. We do not (and have never) proposed the banning of cats and dogs in existing suburbs.

Q: Do you support the idea of shire-wide restrictions placed on residents? For example, the introduction of legislation that requires people to restrain their dogs at night in shires with vulnerable Koala populations?
A: No. While we are not prepared to lend our name to arguments that take this position in individual shires or council areas, we strongly encourage people who live in areas that support wild Koalas and other wildlife to restrain their dogs and cats at night. There are at least 320 councils and shires in Australia that have Koalas. We do not think it is realistic to expect all of these areas to legislate for and police the restraining of dogs and other pets at night as part of blanket bans. Instead, we urge the local governments of these areas to locate and map existing Koala habitat as a matter of urgency and as a precursor to devising targeted legislation and education campaigns in priority parts of the shire in terms of Koala habitat and movement.

Q: What do you recommend?
A:

  1. We urge local governments in Koala areas to adequately locate and map existing Koala habitat as a matter of urgency.
  2. We recommend local councils prohibit dogs and cats from new developments on land which supports or is near to highly significant Koala populations and habitat. Koala Beach at Pottsville (more on Koala Beach) is a successful example of this, proving there is a viable market for such developments, with residents enjoying the added quietness of the estate and the benefits of sharing this environment with Koalas and other wildlife.
  3. We recommend pet owners start a neighbourhood trend and encourage other local residents to practice the following (with councils supporting and educating communities to do so):
  • Keep your dog or cat in a Koala-proof fenced enclosure or inside a garage or dwelling overnight (from dusk until dawn). This is when Koalas are most active.
  • Design your pet enclosure in a place close to your main dwelling, using fencing material that prevents Koalas from climbing in (eg apply colour-bond sheeting on the outside of the fence). Cat enclosures need to be designed in a way that prevents cats from climbing out.
  • Ensure this area does not contain any trees favoured by Koalas. (click here for a list of preferred koala food trees. For other areas, contact the AKF, your local council or Koala group or your nearest National Parks office for advice).

For more information and advice for those living in Koala areas:

My dog wouldn’t hurt anything

Some misconceptions about dogs and Koalas (With thanks to the Koala Action Group, Capalaba Qld, for advice in this section)

Many people don’t believe that their cute pet could pose a threat to Koalas. However, even the most gentle of dogs can become very protective of its territory when a Koala enters it.

The presence of dogs and fences tends not to deter Koalas from entering people’s backyards. Koalas will show great determination in trying to reach certain food and habitat trees. If Koalas are already using the trees in your yard, then these trees are likely to be home trees for the Koalas. It’s up to you to make it as safe as possible for the Koalas to enter your yard.

However, dog owners who encourage Koalas into their yards when they are not prepared to restrain their dogs are irresponsible. It would be more humane to deter Koalas from entering your yard altogether by having a Koala-proof fence, with no overhanging trees to allow Koalas access.

My dog wouldn’t hurt anything. Has your dog ever seen a Koala? Most dogs feel threatened by the sight of a Koala in their yard and will naturally attack to protect their territory.

My dog would only play with it. Even a quick bite is enough to kill a Koala. A Koala’s skin is very pliable, with little fat for protection, and internal organs are easily punctured. Some Koalas may appear to have survived a dog attack with very few visible signs of external trauma but may be suffering from internal injuries and may die later from shock or infection. Stress alone might also be enough to trigger other problems such as disease.

We bought this property to give our dogs room to run. Dogs have all day to play and tend to do most of their exercise when you take them for a walk. At night, when Koalas and other nocturnal wildlife are most active, your dog is better off close by your side. By locking up your dogs at night, many attacks can be avoided.

It’s cruel to chain a dog. We don't believe in chaining, but dogs tend to enjoy the routine of being “tucked in” every night, especially if you practice this from a young age. An alternative to chaining is to put your dog in your garage or laundry for the night. (Dogs actually prefer to sleep in a confined, den-like space, so long as they are comfortable, watered and have been exercised during the day.)

I want my dog loose on my property for protection. Unrestrained dogs can easily be baited or distracted by an intruder. Your dog is much safer up at the house where it can guard you best. These days, there is a range of home security systems available which remove the need for guard dogs.

But I have a fence and no trees anyway. Koalas can climb most fences and often must cross yards to reach other nearby gum trees.

There’s plenty of bush for the Koalas at the end of the street. Koalas cannot be expected to stay put - moving around to find mates or to preferred food trees is part of their natural behaviour. Nor can Koalas solely rely on diminishing remnant bushland. In many areas, suburban gardens are now an essential part of their territory.