Desert Dangers: Rattlesnakes
There are four ways to protect your pets from rattlesnakes and they are:
- Common Sense
We’re continuing our discussion of the deadly dangers in the desert for pets. Today, we’re discussing one of the more well-known dangers: rattlesnakes.
Rattlesnakes (and reptiles in general) are a CRITICAL part of our desert’s ecosystem. We rely on them to keep rodent populations under control and offer many different benefits to us. Yet, there is a pervasive fear of them.
Since I’ve lived here, I’ve seen my fair share of snakes. An avid hiker, we tend to see them stretched across trails soaking up the warmth from the sun or hiding from the sun behind rocks and in dark crevices.
Rattlesnakes are very common in the Sonoran Desert and you’ll eventually meet up with one of them if you spend any amount of time hiking or working outdoors. Just having a yard that hasn’t been snake-proofed will increase your chances of seeing one.
Rattlesnakes and Your Pets
One of the questions we receive often is how people can protect their pets from rattlesnakes. A valid question since around 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten each year by snakes. So, let’s get right to how you can prevent your dog or cat from being injured by a rattlesnake.
Rattlesnake Proofing Your Yard
It may come as a surprise that you can rattlesnake proof your yard, but it’s true. However, it’s important to call in a professional to handle this project. If you don’t understand rattlesnake behavior, you have no way to anticipate problem areas and your attempt to install fencing will fail.
There are several professionals who not only understand and appreciate the importance of snakes in the area, but who also provide fencing services. For information on installing rattlesnake fencing, contact Rattlesnake Solutions, LLC.
If you have pets who enjoy being out in the yard, this should be one of your first calls.
Snake Aversion Therapy
Snake Aversion Therapy is one of the more effective way to train a pet to avoid of a snake.
Many Arizona dog trainers offer Snake Aversion Therapy. We consider this a valid option and have heard some amazing success stories (even of dogs who have warned their owners of snakes coming into the yard). However, it’s certainly not for all dogs.
Why? Because it requires the use of a shock collar to train (or at least at the time of writing, we have been unable to locate a snake aversion program that utilizes positive reinforcement).
There are questions of its effectiveness, retraining requirements, and more. So even if you do enroll in this program, it’s certainly not 100% efficient. However, it’s often better than nothing.
The only time we will ever support the use of a shock collar is while snake-Training your dogs.
But be aware that if you have a very sensitive dog, you should never use any type of aversion training. Ever. Even when snake training – it’s too easy to do more damage than good…
Positive Training for Dogs
There are some less intrusive training programs popping up and we’re thrilled to see them! I have not tried positive training for snake avoidance, so I can’t comment on it’s effectiveness, but I would always push for a positive approach over aversion therapy and support you in using positive training before any other.
- Snake Avoidance without Shock appears to be a great resource.
- Penny DiLorento, owner of K9DogPark in San Diego, offers Snake Avoidance classes: We like this concept because she utilizes all five senses by using rattlesnake sight, sound, smell, simulations and pyrotechnics as an alternative to programs that use shock, prong and choke collars.
- Seize the Leash facility in Tucson, Arizona and The Canine Center for Training and Behavior in Austin, Texas teach your dogs to alert you upon encountering a snake. Their services function quite similarly to a basic service dog training and utilize real life scenarios (such as hiking on trails).
The good news:
- Snakes don’t want to waste their venom on you or your pet. 25% of bites are “dry” bites: Snakes don’t want to waste their venom any more than you want it injected into you, so it often won’t bother to inject any venom. Nevertheless, you should treat it bite as if it is venomous.
- Snakes Will Not “Chase” You: They will only strike if they feel threatened or if they are eating. So unless you have a pet rat, you don’t need to worry about your pet getting eaten.
- If you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. Never threaten or try to move a snake. If its just lying in the sun, leave it alone. If its lying on a trail, give it a wide berth. Just leave it alone.
The Bad News:
- Most dogs will run up on a snake because its their natural way of doing things. This activates the snake’s natural defense mechanism.
- Your dog may receive an actual poisonous bite depending on its size, the time of year, the hunger level of the snake, how long ago it last used venom and more. These are a lot of factors to consider to “take a chance”.
Hiking with Pets
The only way to truly see the beauty of the desert is to get out there and hike through it, but you have to overcome your fear of snakes to do this. I can only tell you that our desert is far too beautiful to avoid over a fear of snakes. This article is intended to make you aware, not to scare you away.
If you do happen to encounter a rattlesnake while hiking, here’s your best practice:
- Back away slowly.
- Turn and leave the area.
- Keep your dog between yourself and the snake: I know it sucks, but the bottom line is you can drive to the vet, your dog can’t drive you to the ER.
It’s up to you to keep your dogs on leash, respectful of wildlife, and teach them to be aware of dangers. Learn more about hiking safely with your pets.
What Happens if Your Dog is Bitten by A Rattlesnake?
We have had a dog that was bitten by a rattlesnake and I will describe it one word – horrifying.
We saved the dog, but only after thousands of dollars in vet bills, several days at the veterinarian hospital, and he still had problems afterwards that he never got over…
Rattlesnake Vaccines for Dogs
There is now a rattlesnake vaccine that you can get for your dog, but there are a few things you need to know about it before you commit to it for your pets.
1. It May Not Work in Your Area
The rattlesnake vaccine is only formulated to protect against the Western Diamondback. That means, it will NOT protect against these other venomous snakes (which are active in Arizona):
- Southwester Speckled Rattlesnake
- Northern Black Tailed Rattlesnake
- Tiger Rattlesnake
- Arizona Black Rattlesnake
- Sonoran Sidewinder
- Mojave Rattlesnake
- Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake
- Banded Rock Rattlesnake
- Desert Massasauga
- Great Basin Rattlesnake
- Grand Canyon Rattlesnake
- Midget Faded Rattlesnake
- Prairie Rattlesnake
- Sonoran Lyre Snake
If you travel to another area of the country and encounter a copperhead or other type of venomous snake, the vaccine will not help your pet.
2. It Must Be Renewed Frequently
- The Rattlesnake vaccine only works for a limited time and it’s an extensive (and expensive) process.
- Your dog will need 2-3 vaccinations over the course of 4-6 weeks.
- Your dog will need a booster vaccine every 6-12 months.
If Your Dog is Bitten By A Snake
If Your Pet Is Bitten By A Snake: This is an IMMEDIATE emergency call to the vet. No questions. Don’t get online and research it. Just go to the vet immediately.
Why is this such an emergency? Let me tell you a little about how venom works…
Rattlesnakes are constantly evolving and they now produce a complex brew of toxic peptides, polypeptides, and enzymes.
According to Natural History Magazine, “Rattlesnakes harbor so many biochemical mixtures for venom that toxicologists who analyze the stuff confront a range of variations rather than a standard formula for each species.”
Bottom line – what used to be just a straightforward bite of venom that worked solely on your heart or blood, victims can now receive both types of poison from a single bite.
Types of Venom
This poison begins the digestion of prey before it’s even swallowed. Great for the snake, not so great for the victim. The venom will begin eating away at cells in the muscle to collapse tissue. Cytoxins are some of the most primitive forms of venom and they’re still around for a reason – they work…
2. Hemotoxic Venom:
Once the tissue begins to break down, the snakes cocktail of poison works on other issues, particularly the blood. If untreated, the area around the bite would become gangrenous and turn black. Sometimes the venom can attack the kidneys.
This poison focuses on the neurological system by blocking nerve impulses to muscles. Bottom line: You won’t be able to breathe, move, yell for help, swallow, scream. Its’ a nasty toxin. It used to be found in vipers (like the cobra) but now they are seeing it in Mojave rattlesnakes – making it the most deadly rattlesnake in the United States. Death can occur in as little as 10 minutes.
Dry Bite Suffocation
Even if your pets receive a “dry” bite (no poison), you still need to get to the ER. Most animals investigate things with their nose, which means they are bitten on the nose. The bite will cause your pets face to swell and they can suffocate. This is how a rattlesnake kills a horse.
And that is why you have to run to the nearest veterinary hospital if your cat, your dog, any other pets, or yourself is bitten. If you’re bitten, go to the ER. Okay?