Living in the desert of west Texas forces a person to be aware of the possibilities of rattlesnakes in the area. It took me 28 years after we moved to our country home to find the first one and only a week to find the second. I stepped on the first one in the dark one night and thank goodness he was as afraid of me as I was of him. The second one was discovered in our garage by my German Shepherd, Jake. One frantic squeal from me when I heard the rattle of his tail brought Jake immediately to my side. Luckily Rick was able to dispatch both snakes without much problem but the impression on my brain was deeply ingrained.
This time of year when the weather is turning warmer and the plants are all beginning to blossom makes us all want to be outside more. It also forces those of us who live in an area known to have dangerous snakes to be alert to the danger. They are coming out of their dens looking for food during the spring time and our canines babies can be especially vulnerable to the risk.
Our dogs are naturally curious and want to dig around rocks or sticks and explore the deep grass that no doubt carries a multitude of information for them about who has been in the area. Unfortunately, that puts them right in the path of a snake looking to find food or just sun itself on warm days. Having your baby on a leash is even more important this time of year so you can gain control of them quickly.
A vaccine that can be a life saver for our dogs is now available, and your vet can recommend when it is wise to use this vaccine to protect your dogs. The vaccine is most powerful about four weeks after the shot so timing can be very important. The effects of the vaccine can wear off after about six months so that is also a consideration for those of us who live in areas where the weather is warm for longer than a six month period. Dogs that are ill or have had previous reactions to vaccines might not be candidates for this vaccine. It is important to note that this vaccine does not make your dog completely safe from snake bites. It does reduce the pain and swelling they experience but does not change the fact that they need immediate vet care.
Other precautions that will help protect you and your babies is to keep the areas where you walk your dog or where your dog generally roams free of debris and brush. Wood piles are especially dangerous as they harbor rodents that draw in the snakes looking for food. Keeping grass cut is also very important as it minimizes the ability of the snake to remain hidden, and they do want to be hidden. It is also important to note that rattlesnakes are excellent swimmers and may appear in the water as a floating stick. So if your baby likes to fetch sticks thrown into a pond this is a risky time of year for that. In our area where rainfall is minimal this danger is less likely to affect our babies. But because water can be scarce, the likelihood that snakes will wander closer to humans is increased. The year I encountered two snakes was an exceptionally dry year for us and those snakes were no doubt looking for water.
If you do encounter a snake the best advice is to control your dog and back out of the area as quickly as possible. DUH!! Jake and I did not need to do any research to know that was the best plan. One thing important to mention here is that you need to watch your step backing away as you may encounter yet another snake that is close by. Be advised that rattlesnakes can strike silently so you may not receive a warning.
Hopefully, you have had the forethought to know which veterinarians in your area will be stocked with antivenin. If your dog gets bit in the neck area you should remove the collar or harness because swelling of the area is likely. Do not try to apply a tourniquet and DO NOT try to suck the venom out of the wound. Keep your dog as calm as possible and contact the vet while on the way to the clinic to prepare them for your arrival.
The most common victims of snakebites are young males who feel they can “handle” a snake with no problem. False “bravado” is dangerous! In our area the most common animal victims are outdoor cats. They seek out the rodents that are the favored food source for snakes. This puts them in closer proximity to the peril. The year I encountered two snakes we lost several barn cats to what we now fear might have been snake bites. That same spring our son and daughter-in-law who were living close by had a large rattle snake on their lighted porch one night. My daughter recommended they get a donkey as they can and will run snakes off your property. My son’s reaction was classic when he said, “Yes but then we are exchanging a snake problem for a donkey problem!” My daughter replied, “Pick your poison, Bubba.”