Beware! When out hiking, a buzzing sound in the brush is not only alarming, but potentially deadly…especially to our furry four legged friends! As you may or may not know, rattlesnakes are a threat in most of the western states including the Reno-Tahoe area. “Part Two” of this series explores how to avoid rattlesnakes, how to react if your pet is bitten and what to expect from the veterinarian.
Not only do rattlesnakes inhabit rocky areas, sagebrush, grasslands, and agricultural areas, but they’ve also been seen at elevations of over 12,000 feet!
Map source. http://www.californiaherps.com/index.html
The Nevada Division of Wildlife identifies five venomous snake species commonly found out west that can be dangerous to people and pets. They are the sidewinder, Mohave, speckled, western diamondback and Great Basin rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes have broad, triangular shaped heads, where as non-venomous snakes have a narrow head. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) populates a large area of the West Coast; it can be found through most of California into Canada and expanding east into Western Colorado. The subspecies, Great Basin Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) is found in California and a small region east of the Sierras near Mono Lake. It is the most common rattlesnake found in the Tahoe Basin.
Pictures of Great Basin Rattlesnakes from http://www.californiaherps.com/index.html
Below are some recommendations on how to react if an encounter occurs.
Tips from the Tech
- Be aware of your surroundings and keep your pet on a leash when hiking this summer. If you do spot a snake, move slowly and give ‘em space. Keeping your dog on a leash in areas having high rattlesnake risk, will allow you to be in control and avoid the bite in the first place. Most snakes don’t want confrontation, and rattlesnakes are no different; they just want to escape. But when a dog comes sniffing and poking his or her nose into a snake’s territory…whammo!! This common dog behavior usually results in a bite on the face, neck or leg. This will be a high stress situation, but remain calm. It does neither you nor your pet any good if you get bitten too.
- Seek veterinary medical attention IMMEDIATELY. Untreated bites lead to difficulty breathing, further tissue necrosis, shock and even death. Again reacting calmly in this situation is key. An increase in your dog’s pulse from anxiety circulates venom more quickly. Until you make it to the vet, limit your pet’s activity to keep venom from spreading as rapidly. If your dog is small enough, carry them. Use cold water baths or cold compresses to control swelling. A tourniquet can be applied using a belt or long stocking, but be sure to loosen it for 3o seconds every five to ten minutes. DO NOT do anything further to try to extract the venom. This only makes things worse.
- Because rattlesnake venom produces both local and systemic effects, your veterinarian’s recommended treatment plan may include: blood testing, blood pressure monitoring, intravenous fluids, pain medication and in some cases Antivenin administration. Antivenin isn’t always used due to cost and possible side effects; be sure to ask your vet if it’s an effective treatment for your pet. Snake bites take several days, sometimes weeks, to heal; some pets may need to be hospitalized for best chance of recovery.
Remember to take rattlesnakes seriously. Avoidance is the most effect solution. Just following these simple suggestions may help save your pets life and could prevent a costly trip to your veterinarian.
The rattlesnake vaccine is made by Red Rock Biologics and stimulates your dog’s immunity to protect them against rattlesnake venom. There is however controversy about the vaccine and potential side effects. I don’t vaccinate my dogs with it anymore. After the injections, both our dogs got a pus filled pocket under their skin at the injection site. It took weeks of hot and cold packing before it was resolved, and Godiva still has a defect where it was given. At Lone Mountain Veterinary Hospital, my current employer, we only administer the vaccine when owners insist. Before vaccination, we inform them regarding the side effects and they are required to sign a waiver. It is my recommendation to not use the vaccine, but check with your pets veterinarian to determine what is right for you.
This is one way to prevent snake bites. Due to the method, this doesn’t go without criticism. While no training is guaranteed 100%, rattlesnake avoidance training has proven highly effective in preventing envenomation by rattlesnakes. Both my dogs have been through training, and are registered again this year. The dogs are lead to caged rattlesnakes where the can see, hear and smell them. Once the dog becomes curious and goes to inspect the snake they are given a quick controlled electronic correction signaling an undesired behavior. The process is repeated to ensure the training is clear and the dog associates getting close to the site, smell or sound of the snake with the correction. Personally, I think the short discomfort felt from the “shock” of the remote training collar outweighs the days of pain induced by a venomous snake bite.
Although there is no way to guarantee a safe outing, following these techniques in rattlesnake country will give you a better chance in successfully avoiding or dealing with an encounter should it happen. If you’ve heard of suggestions or advice that differs from mine please let me know! I would love to discuss the topic further to help you and your pet!
Stay tuned for the additional parts in this series. It will help you and your pet have a great hiking season!
Resources for Avoidance Training