As the summer months roll on, many of us enjoy taking advantage of the weather and scenery with nice hike with our pets. While there are many things that we need to be cautious of, in Northern Colorado, rattlesnakes are a big concern.
The prairie rattlesnake is common to the western 2/3 of Colorado. While we know that they are dangerous, our furry friends do not. Snakes like to hide in brush and under rocks. Most people get bit on the legs, but because dogs hunt with their noses, they tend to get bit in the face. There are many steps that we can take to avoid encounters with rattlesnakes. They include:
Always keep your pet on a leash- A six foot leash is best. It gives your pet a little room to roam, but you still have control. Retractable leashes are not recommended.
Hike on well-traveled trails- If there are none, make sure that you and your pet avoid loose rocks and brush.
Be aware of when rattlesnakes are most likely to be active- Usually in the summer evenings when it starts to cool off. Unfortunately, this is about the time when our eyes have trouble adjusting to the light.
Enroll your pet in a snake aversion class- Many training facilities, including the Canine Learning Center here in Fort Collins offer these classes.
Use the rattlesnake vaccine- Many veterinarians in the area, including Family Member Animal Hospital in Loveland and Cache la Poudre Veterinary Clinic in Fort Collins carry the vaccine. It was designed for the western diamondback rattlesnake, but has shown some effectiveness with prairie rattlesnakes. According to the manufacturer, the vaccine reduces pain, inflammation, and possibly delays the damaging effects of the venom on tissue and blood. Some veterinarians swear by it and some question its effectiveness, but they all agree ANY rattlesnake bite is an emergency, vaccinated or not.
If you do happen to encounter a rattlesnake, remain calm. Slowly back away out of striking distance (at least the length of the snake) and until the snake stops rattling, and leave the area. If there is one snake there are likely to more in the same area.
Here are some symptoms to look for if you suspect that your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake:
Painful swelling in the bite area
Increased salivation or drooling
If your pet has been bitten, remain calm and keep your pet calm. Do not try to suck out the venom. The tissue is already compromised, adding bacteria makes it more susceptible to infection. Do not apply a tourniquet or ice to the area. Make sure you immobilize the affected area, and if possible, carry your pet as much as you can. Be cautious, your pet will be in pain and may try to bite. Get to an emergency vet as soon as possible. The sooner you are able to get to the vet, the better the prognosis. All of the local emergency hospitals in the area are equipped to handle rattlesnake bites and they are open 24/7. I called around and got estimates for the cost for treatment for a bite, they ranged anywhere from $1500-$2500 on average. One extreme case was near $10,000.
To conclude, taking measures to avoid snake bites in the first place will save you and your pet from a lot of headache and trauma, not to mention saving in the wallet