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Rattlesnakes and your Pet

Rattlesnakes are very diverse creatures and can be found in a wide variety of terrains and climates. You can find rattlesnakes in rocky mountains, woods, wetlands, deserts, just about anywhere that has warm weather. These snakes are more active during warm weather and can be found year around in the warmest climates. Rattlesnakes in Arizona are most active between March and October. They also have more venom during the warm months. There are 36 species of rattlesnakes in North America and 13 can be found in Arizona. One way you can protect your dog from the dangers of snakebites is to be able to identify the most common snakes in your area. Learn how to identify Snakes of Arizona.

Symptoms of a Snakebite

Symptoms observed after a snake bite are due to the venom’s destruction of muscle, blood cells, surrounding tissue and it’s effect on the neurological system. Swelling, bruising, and pain may be observed around the bite wound. Sometimes the swelling will obscure the puncture wounds left by the teeth of the snake. The venom of the snake can interfere with blood clotting, so excessive bleeding at the site can be a sign of a snake bite. Other symptoms include weakness and collapse, trembling, twitching, shaking, excessive salivation, dilated pupils, diarrhea, vomiting, bloody urine, and paralysis.

What to do if you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake.

If you believe your pet has been bitten by a snake, even a non-venomous one, immediately take your pet to your veterinarian. Though not as serious, nonvenomous snake bites can still cause inflammation and potential infection and may require anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. Dogs who have been vaccinated against rattlesnake venom should also be taken immediately to the hospital. The vaccine is only beneficial if bitten by a Diamondback. It also does not prevent inflammation or other symptoms; it simply decreases the amount and duration of treatment needed.

When transporting your pet to the hospital, make sure the bite wound stays below the level of the heart. This will slow the advancement of the toxin to the heart and throughout the body. DO NOT try to suck out the venom. Once the toxin is in the body, there is no removing it. DO NOT use a tourniquet on the limb. This can deprive the injured area of blood, oxygen, and nutrients it needs and can worsen the death of tissue surrounding the wound. Instead, to slow the circulation of the toxin, use a tightly wrapped bandage that still has room to insert one finger between it and your pet.

80% of dogs will survive a snake bite. Snakebites in smaller dogs and cats can be more severe and lethal due to the small size of the pet and the amount of venom injected. Dogs who have been vaccinated often still require treatment, but the amount and duration of treatment is typically decreased due to vaccination. Antivenom treatment is generally administered when available along with supportive care such as IV fluids, antibiotics, pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and wound care.

Snakebite prevention.

Most snake bites occur in your own backyard. Keep your yard tidy by clearing away undergrowth, toys and tools that make great hiding places for snakes. Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs. Clean up any spilled food, fruit or bird seed, which can attract rodents-and therefore snakes-to your yard. When walking your pet, keep him on a leash. Steer your pet clear of long grasses, bushes and rocks. Snakes can strike across a distance equal to about half their body length. If you see a snake, head back the way you came. Familiarize yourself with snakes who are common in your area. In the event of a bite, identifying the type of snake may help with your pet’s treatment. Snakes of Arizona.

A rattlesnake vaccine is available and uses an inactive portion of the Diamondback venom to stimulate your dog’s immune system to produce antibodies that will help neutralize snake venom in the event of a snake bite. Unfortunately, this vaccine is not very effective against other types of rattlesnake venom. However, the Diamondback is the most common snake in the area and, therefore, is still beneficial. Dogs should receive this vaccine every year prior to March when rattlesnakes become more active. Dogs who are vaccinated will still require treatment if bitten. The vaccine, however, can greatly decrease the amount and duration of treatment needed.

Rattlesnake avoidance training for your dog can also be beneficial. This training uses either negative or positive reinforcement training or a combination of the two and teaches your dog to recognize and avoid the scent and sound of a rattlesnake.

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