Desert Road Trip Tips
Keep your dog safe from rattlesnake bites

lucky1206“Approximately 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. Rattlesnake venom can cause serious injury and even death.”

Summer is in full swing.  The days are longer and we spend more time doing things outdoors.  If you take your dog on hikes and on road trips you need to make sure they are comfortable and safe.  This includes the heat as well as dangers you may encounter on the trails such as rattlesnakes, scorpions and other hazards.  This tip is about how to keep your dog safe from rattlesnakes.

When out on the trail, dogs love to romp and play in the bushes and nearby streams.  These are the areas where they may run into rattlesnakes.  The snakes like to hide in the shade under bushes, in holes, under rocks and in areas where there is water.  

To avoid snakes . . .

– Keep your dog on a leash
– Stay on the trail or path
– Don’t let your dogs dig in holes
– Keep your dogs away from piles of debris, logs and rock piles
– Be careful around the banks of ponds, creeks and streams

It is not always easy to keep your dog on a leash and out of trouble, especially when your dog has a ton of energy and wants to go explore, but a leash may save your dogs life.  Especially if you are in a remote area far from emergency services.

Snakes typically find shade on sunny days and come out at dusk when the temperatures are cooler and when their prey is most active.  Rattlesnakes tend to be more active in the spring when they first come out of hibernation and in the late summer, early fall when they breed.

If you frequently go out on the trail with your dog in areas where rattlesnakes are common or if you live in an area where rattlesnakes are abundant, you may also want to invest in snake avoidance training in addition to the rattlesnake vaccination now available in the U.S.

When hiking with your dog remember to take the following things with you . . .

-Make sure you have the phone number of the closest 24-hour emergency vet service if you are hiking or walking after hours or on the weekend.

-Pack a lightweight towel or blanket to use as a sling in case your dog needs to be carried back to your car.

-Always carry water and a bowl (collapsible) for your dog to drink water during your hike.

If your dog gets bitten by a rattlesnake you will need to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.  If you have a small dog they may react faster to the venom than a larger dog.  If your dog is too heavy to carry you may have a problem.  Dogs can go into shock within minutes of a rattlesnake bite.  If there are two adults, a towel or blanket can be used as a sling to carry your dog back to your car.  Don’t cut the dog to try and suck out the poison.  Do not put ice on the wound as it will damage the tissue around the bite area.  You can use soap and water to clean the wound.

Snake Proofing aka avoidance training
There are professional dog trainers who can teach your dog to avoid rattlesnakes.  The techniques are a combination of shock collars with live snakes that have had their fangs removed.  It is important to choose a trainer with a good reputation for humane training techniques.   Trainers who use the highest level on the collar first are not taking the dogs responsiveness into consideration.  They should use a low level on the shock collar and increase it only as needed to get the response of avoidance from your dog.  Trainers who pull the dog towards the snake when the dog does not want to go near the snake is also considered inhumane.  The rattlesnakes should have their fangs removed for training purposes. They can grow a new pair of fangs within hours of initial fang removal.  Gluing or suturing a snakes mouth shut is considered inhumane.  Check references when taking your dog in for training.  You should also be involved in the training so you can learn what to do when you do encounter a snake with your dog.

Rattlesnake Vaccine
There is a new rattlesnake vaccine that helps a dog develop antibodies that help prevent an allergic reaction to the bite of a Western Diamondback Rattler.  The venom of other venomous snakes in the United States is similar to the venom of the Western Diamondback.  Because of these similarities, this vaccine also provides protection against the venoms of the Western Rattlesnake (including the Prairie, Great Basin, Northern and Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes), Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and the Copperhead. This vaccine provides partial protection against the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Dogs who are vaccinated have less pain, less swelling, less tissue damage and recover faster when bitten by a rattlesnake than dogs that are not vaccinated.  Even if your dog is vaccinated, a rattlesnake bite still needs medical attention.

Dogs who live and play where rattlesnakes are found are candidates for the vaccine. The vaccine is only available through a licensed veterinarian, so check with your vet to see if your dog should be vaccinated.

For more information about the vaccine please visit the Red Rock Biologics Web site.

Snake Encounters
If you and your dog encounter a snake you should remain calm and act cautiously.  A rattlesnake can strike up to half the distance their length when coiled.  If they are on a ledge or on higher ground they can strike even longer distances.  If you are in striking distance get your dog to sit or remain still.  The snake will try and get away from you, but if you are too close or make a lot of movement they may strike at you or your dog in self-defense.  If you feel you can back away cautiously, do so slowly without any sudden movements.   If you are not in striking distance turn around and move away from the snake.  Let the snake clear the trail before continuing.  If you can go around it on another path, then do so at a safe distance.

Do NOT provoke the snake.  Do NOT poke it with a stick.  Do NOT try and catch it.  Do NOT tease it.  More snake bites occur when people or dogs try to play with the snake.  Be smart and leave the snake alone.  Keep your dog safe!

Happy trails!