Hearing the word Snake fills many people with fear and anxiety. Even the brave and daring Indiana Jones hated snakes. While snakes can be a pest, we should keep in mind how important they are to our ecosystem. As one of the Earth’s most efficient predators, snakes help keep the rodent population in check. Without that, we would have a serious pest problem.
Rattlesnakes, while helpful maintaining balance in nature, can also be a big problem for humans and their pets – especially dogs.
According to the Animal Medical Center of Southern California, dogs are 20 times more likely to be bitten by a venomous snake than humans, and 25 times more likely to die as a result. Snake bites are life-threatening, painful, expensive to treat, and can cause permanent damage – even when the dog survives.
99% of snakes that bite are Pit Vipers – Copperheads, Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins), and Rattlesnakes (which have a dozen different species). The remaining 1% are Coral Snake bites in the American Southeast and Mexican border. Pit Vipers are called Hemotoxic, which means their venom disrupts the integrity of blood vessels. Dramatic swelling, blood loss, and uncontrolled bleeding can occur, which can quickly lead to shock and death.
Because snake bites can go from bad to worse in very little time, it is not recommended that one spends time on first aid. Snake bites need immediate medical attention and treatment, whether your dog is showing signs of distress or not.
- Stay calm
- Wash the bite with clean water and soap
- Keep your dog quiet
- Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart
- Seek immediate veterinary help, even if you are not certain that it is a Rattlesnake bite
- Call an emergency vet clinic ahead so (a.)You can see if they have necessary treatment available and (b.) They can prepare for your arrival
- Remove any restrictive collars, choke chains, etc. before swelling begins.
- Unless the bite is on the head or face, consider using a muzzle on your dog to protect anyone handling her, since extreme pain can cause any dog to bite.
Antivenom, which has been created for dozens of poisonous snakes, spiders, and scorpions around the world, is considered the most effective if administered within 4 hours of the bite, and less effective if administered after 8 hours. The anitvenom is still recommended as a treatment within 24 hours of severe symptoms. However, a lot depends on the bite’s location, the dog’s size and overall health, and the snake bite’s toxicity.
Not all snake bites are equally toxic. Baby rattlesnakes are more potent than adults because when they bite they release all of their venom. Whereas, adults snakes release venom according to the size of their prey.
An estimated 20-25% of rattlesnake bites to dogs don’t contain venom. But still 30% cause mild symptoms of pain and swelling, 40% are severe, and about 5% are fatal.
To avoid the emotional and financial nightmare, do your best to avoid the whole situation.
- Rattlesnakes are most likely to be seen while hiking, camping, climbing, or walking on a trail. In Orange County there are several regional parks that are home to snakes.
- Rattlesnakes tend to be more active in the summer months, but with pretty mild weather in Southern California all year long, Rattlesnakes can be active here all year long. Their favorite temperatures are 70°F- 90°F.
- Encounters are most likely to happen around rocks, bushes, brush, woodpiles, and wherever snakes can hide. So when walking in potential snake zones, keep your dog on a short leash – avoiding any potential hiding place for a snake.
- Don’t let your dog explore holes, dig under rocks, or investigate a dead snake (as they can still be poisonous).
- If you notice a snake, back away quickly and quietly. A snake can strike at a distance of 2/3 its body length, and at a speed the human eye cannot follow. So keep a good distance if you can.
- Be careful around water because Rattlesnakes can swim. And anything that looks like a long stick could be a snake.
- Keep your property rodent free to avoid inviting snakes around. Block and plug any holes or cracks under doorways that a snake might use to find a hiding place. And store firewood away from your house.
- It is not recommended that you use caustic Lye (or products such as gels, powders, and ropes) that advertise to deter snakes, since they are ineffective and potentially harmful to children and pets.