dog getting water

Pet Safety in Costa Rica

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It doesn’t take long for our furry companions to take hold of our heart and they quickly become members of our family.  Like young children, they are completely dependent on us for their wellbeing, and we would do anything to protect them.  If you’re considering a move to Costa Rica with your pets, you may be worried about how to keep them safe.

Threats to the safety of pets in Costa Rica include:

  • Parasitic diseases such as ehrlichiosis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, heartworm
  • Predators and venomous creatures such as raptors, snakes, poison dart frogs, cane toads, scorpions, spiders, crocodiles etc.
  • Strays and defensive dogs
  • Temperature and environmental factors
  • Theft or intentional poisoning
Cane toad in my backyard during rainy season

Parasitic Diseases

Several vaccinations are required to bring your dog or cat into Costa Rica, but it’s important to maintain a regular vaccination schedule and internal and external parasitic treatment routine.  There is excellent and affordable veterinary care all over Costa Rica, so get to know your local vet.  It’s also an important contact to have in case of an encounter with a toxic toad or snake bite when you need emergency assistance.

One of the most common risks is the tick-borne infectious disease ehrlichiosis, so tick prevention is critical for the health of your pet.  The usual flea, tick and heartworm medications like Nexguard, Bravecto and Heartgard are all available here.  Check out my post on the cost of living in Costa Rica for more information about veterinary and treatment costs.

Dog vaccinations include canine distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, leptospirosis and rabies.  For cats it includes feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia (feline distemper) and feline leukemia.

Predators and Venomous Creatures

Costa Rica is a beautiful, tropical country with lush jungle vegetation and is one of the most biodiverse places on earth – which translates to a lot of hazards for your pet.  Cats and small dogs can be taken by one of the many raptors, crocodiles (if you’re in a wetland area) or a boa constrictor.  A curious dog can easily have an encounter with one of the venomous snakes such as the deadly fer-de-lance (terciopelo in Spanish), bushmaster, eyelash viper or coral snake, spiders like the Brazilian wandering spider or a poison dart frog.

A common threat to dogs in all parts of the country is the cane toad (aka bufo toad).  They are a noctural species that is everywhere, especially in rainy season, and are the world’s largest toad.  When threatened they secrete a milky-white fluid known as bufotoxin which is toxic to many animals.  Once a dog licks or bites the toad, symptoms will include excessive drooling, extremely red gums, head-shaking, crying, loss of coordination, and/or convulsions. 

If you think your dog has encountered a cane toad, the VCA recommends “a complete flushing of the mouth with running water.  Owners should do this immediately, prior to seeking veterinary care.  It is important to point the dog’s head down so that the water is not swallowed.  If the dog is having seizures, the mouth should be flushed so that the water flows away from the throat to prevent drowning.” 

I recently discovered one sleeping under a planter in my yard.  I was planning to relocate him the next day, but he disappeared overnight and hasn’t been seen since.

Cane toad sleeping
Cane toad discovered under a planter


While not deadly, painful bites and stings from insects like the bark scorpion or bullet ant can also require a trip to the vet.

The best prevention is to keep your pets indoors or under a watchful eye when outside.  To avoid encounters with the potentially-deadly cane toad, keep your dogs inside after dusk and until sunrise.  It’s also advisable to keep a supply of Benadryl on hand in case of allergic reaction.

Strays and Defensive Dogs

There are many stray dogs here living in deplorable conditions, struggling to survive.  There are also a lot of owners who allow their dogs to run loose all day.  In both cases they may be friendly and timid, or they could be vicious.  A dog’s natural tendency is to protect their property.  It’s not an easy place to walk your dog safely on a leash – dogs (and people) are bitten by loose dogs.  When walking it’s a good idea to carry a stick and be prepared to use it to ward off an attack.  Others have suggested a quick-release belt for this purpose.

Are Costa Rican’s less concerned about the well-being of their pets?  No, of course not, but the level of affluence in the west has allowed people to cater to their pets in a way that isn’t possible for nations and people who are struggling to put food on the table.  Don’t judge, and try to offer help where you can.  Contributing to a spay and neuter clinic, offering to help with food or a vet bill, and volunteering with a local rescue are all ways to make a difference.

Temperature and Environmental Factors

The tropical climate means heat and humidity, especially along the coasts, so it’s important to consider the comfort and safety of your pet.  Some dog breeds like the chihuahua, Yorkshire terrier, great dane, doberman and others are well-suited to a hot climate, while it can be more challenging for others.  Keep your pet’s coat short, make sure you always have a good supply of water and shade, and limit activity in the hot sun.

High humidity can lead to problems with yeast infections, especially in dogs, so if your pet is scratching their ears or biting their feet excessively it may be time to see the veterinarian.  The best prevention is to keep your dog’s feet and ears dry and their coat clean (but don’t overdo bathing).

Theft or Intentional Poisoning

Not unique to Costa Rica, there are people who don’t like dogs or cats, and who will take harmful and drastic action if a neighbor’s pet is wandering or a dog barks excessively.  Sometimes thieves will intentionally poison dogs at a home they are targeting.  A dog seen as a potential guard dog or valuable pure breed puppy may be stolen. 

While not a significant problem in most areas it is something to be aware of.  The ideal solution is to teach your dog not to eat or touch anything until directed, as it can help avoid poisoning and the risk from toads and other threats.

The Upside

It can all sound very intimidating, and as a pet parent you’re probably wondering whether it’s worth the risk to your furry family member. 

As long as you take precautions, work with your veterinarian, and are watchful over your pet’s activities outdoors they can live a very long, safe and happy life in Costa Rica.  The beautiful climate year-round allows for plenty of outdoor time and enjoying the pura vida.   My three Canadian pooches couldn’t be happier and are living their very best life!

chihuahua smiling
Little Tulie loving her Costa Rica life


Feature image credit: Matan Ray Vizel via Pixabay


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