Rattlesnakes and Your Dog: What You Need to Know
One minute your dog is smelling what you think is a very compelling community pee spot while you listen to a podcast on your headphones. The next, your dog is cowering and you spot something shooting quickly out of the bush. A rattlesnake.
While it may be a badass story for your dog to retell at the dog park, surviving a rattlesnake bite is costly, painful, and not 100% guaranteed.
Living in the desert, it's a pet owner's responsibility to know the possible dangers and local wildlife they may run into. As someone who was born and raised in Phoenix and knows the value of a healthy ecosystem, I am of the opinion that we are simply guests in the rattlesnake's home. They don't want to be bothered by you and your dog just as much as you don't want to be bothered by them.
So, what can we learn in order to keep everyone safe in the desert?
Venomous snake bites are more common than you may realize. About 150,000 pets in the U.S. are bitten by venomous snakes per year. Five percent of those bitten do not survive.
Over my years as a pet sitter, I've heard of and come across my fair share of rattlesnakes. My neighbor had their dogs off leash in the desert when one of them was bit. It was a terrifying scramble for them to get to their car since they'd been hiking in the desert. Last year, while walking a big dog in a subdivision of north Phoenix, I saw a rattlesnake THREE times in one week. The dog had no idea it was right off the sidewalk, even when one gave us a warning rattle.
Snake venom works immediately to immobilize and predigest the body tissues of its victims. Think about it: a rattlesnake's defense is its venom, so if it feels threatened, they want to do the most damage possible as quickly as possible. They have the ability to concentrate their venom, making it more effective, and smaller dogs (or cats!) are in more danger because their body can't disburse the venom as well as bigger dogs.
If a snake bites your dog, your first concern should be to get them to the emergency vet. Despite myths about sucking venom out of bites, or 'cutting off its path' by placing a tourniquet on the affected limb, the most helpful things you can do are to limit activity and keep the bitten area at or below heart level while you are on the way to the emergency vet. Be sure to call ahead and make sure where you're going has anti-venom on site and is prepared to treat a rattlesnake bite! Don't waste valuable time trying to identify the snake; snake anti-venom has come a long way and is not dependent on snake species.
Anti-venom is expensive and often needs more than one vial to work. On average, one vial of anti-venom costs $600-$1000, in addition to the cost of care your pet receives at the vet (usually a 12-24 hour stay, blood work to check that the anti-venom is working, and continued care). If you have pet insurance, be sure to check with them on if they cover any portion of this cost.
Most rattlesnake bites are preventable! When temperatures in Phoenix are more moderate (or what we consider our favorite time of year!), snakes will also be out; 70°-90°F is their favorite time. Familiarize yourself with the notorious 'rattle' of the rattlesnake's tail, and its other warning noises. More urban areas of Phoenix are less likely to have these reptiles slithering around, but it is not unheard of. Most of our homes butt up against the desert or a mountain, or have native yards where snakes can thrive. Rattlers are great camouflagers, so it's important to pay attention during walks, looking 10 feet ahead and to the sides of where your dog walks, sticking to an established sidewalk or trail, having your pup not stick their nose in a bush or hole, and having your ears free of any other noise so you can hear the rattlesnake's warning.
Here's the best prevention and something not everyone knows about: there is rattlesnake avoidance training available...and it's more affordable than you may think (typically under $200)!
Here are some Phoenix local rattlesnake aversion trainers we found and ones that come highly recommended by some of our pet owners from Hand and Hound Pet Sitting:*
*We are not affiliated with any of these organizations/businesses and receive no compensation for our recommendation.
-your Hand and Hound Pet Sitters