Dog versus rattlesnake: Keep your pets safe

Stock image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE Warmer weather in Southern Utah means residents and tourists alike are heading outside to hike, bike and enjoy the countryside; but it also means there’s a greater chance that you and your pet could meet up with a rattlesnake.

Rattlesnakes are a very important part of Utah’s ecosystem,” Krissy Wilson, native aquatic species coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said in a news release emphasizing rattlesnake safety tips. “They control pests such as mice and voles. They’re fascinating creatures.”

Coming across one of these “fascinating creatures” can be frightening – there are eight rattlesnake subspecies living in Utah – but it doesn’t have to be if you’re prepared for the encounter, Wilson said. Utah law actually protects rattlesnakes; it’s illegal to harass or kill one so it’s best to learn what to do if you come across one.

There are certain things you can do to prevent a bite. And there are things you must do if your pet is bitten.

Stay on the trail

Stock image. St. George News

This should be a no-brainer. It won’t totally protect your pet, but snakes tend to hide in the brush and rocks off the trail. Plus you’re more likely to see a snake catching a few rays on the trail ahead of you and avoid it.

Another tip is to walk your dog on no more than a 6-foot leash. Dogs that are off-leash can disturb nesting snakes and other animals.

Wild Aware Utah provides a helpful brochure – titled Dogs and Wildlife – complete with tips for keeping your dog safe while the two of you are out and about.

If you encounter a rattlesnake

Stay calm. Slowly back away until you are out of striking distance (about 1 1/2 times the length of the snake). When the snake stops rattling, carefully leave the area. Be aware that if there is one snake, there are probably more in the same area.

Know the symptoms of a rattlesnake bite and how to deal with it

Not recognizing these symptoms could delay your dog getting to a vet. That would probably be fatal.

Poisonous Viper Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Stock Image, St. George News

Immediate symptoms include puncture wounds, whether bleeding or not, severe pain, swelling, restlessness, panting or drooling.

Depending on the amount of venom injected and the size of your dog, more severe symptoms may include muscle tremors, diarrhea, seizures and depressed breathing.

If your dog is bitten on its face, there will be immediate swelling.

“They almost always go into the encounter with the nose,” Charlene Williams, a veterinary technician for Dr. Moe Bracken, DVM’s Animal Medical Hospital in St. George, said. “The big problem is the swelling will cut off their breathing if (the bite is) on their face. They need to get to a vet as soon as possible after the dog has been bitten.”

If you can, carry your dog to your car. If you can’t, walk them calmly to your car. You are trying to limit the amount of movement your dog makes to keep the venom from circulating throughout their body. Then get them to a vet immediately. The faster your dog gets the anti-venom the better their chances for survival.

This June 2016 file photo provided by Chelsey Austin; her boyfriend found their miniature pit bull Leroy and miniature dachshund Dudley dead in their yard in Leeds from rattlesnake bites. Read more here. Leeds, Utah, June 7, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Chelsey Austin via Christian Warmsley, St. George News

Snake-proof your yard

Your fence may keep your dog in, but it probably won’t keep snakes out. You need to have a solid cement base, like a block wall.

If your fence is wood or iron, hardware cloth is recommended along the base of the fence, including gate areas; 22 inches is the recommended depth to bury it and leave 18 inches above the ground attached to your fence.

Keep your yard grass cut short, get rid of the brush and piles of rocks. Snakes love to hide in those. Get rid of gophers and other rodents that may be living in your yard. Those are a favorite prey for snakes.

Have your dog vaccinated

Here’s a relatively new one. A company called Red Rock Biologics manufactures a dog vaccine for rattlesnake bites. It’s made from snake venom and is designed so if your dog is bitten, the reaction to the bite will be delayed and reduced.

“It’s one shot, a month later the dog gets another shot, then it’s yearly after that. Most of the vets around here carry the rattlesnake vaccine,” Williams said. “If they (the dogs) are bitten after they’ve had that, because they’re getting a dose of the venom, they have built up a resistance.”

Toby The Wonder Dog and Scratch consider rattlesnake warning in a desert area south of the Bloomington neighborhood in St. George, Utah, circa 2014 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

The risk is not completely eliminated, so your dog will still need to get to the vet as soon as possible.

“The rattlesnake vaccination costs about $25, and can greatly reduce the amount of anti-venom serum the dog needs and the severity of the reaction to the bite,” Dr. Liz Koskenmaki, DVM of Burbank, California, said in a conversation with

“It sure makes it a lot easier,” Williams agreed. “It’s not as life-threatening after they’ve had those shots.”

With some anti-venom vials running between $500 and $1,000 per vial, you’re not only saving your beloved dog, you’re saving a lot of money as well.

Helpful sources

For information about living with venomous reptiles download this brochure, provided by the Southwest Partners Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group.

More great information about safely enjoying Utah outdoors can be found online here at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website.

Wild Aware Utah is an education program providing Utah residents and visitors with wildlife awareness and safety information.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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