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Protect your dog from rattlesnakes
by Nathan Orme
Jun 08, 2011 | 2425 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Tribune/John Byrne At left, Barkley, a 2-year-old yellow labrador retriever, likes to sniff in the sagebrush around his home in Spanish Springs. But in the summer, his owner is much more careful about letting him run loose because of the danger of rattlesnakes, such as this one photographed recently in Palomino Valley (right).
RENO — The weather is slow to cooperate, but with summer around the corner people will start to go outdoors and enjoy activities such as hiking, hunting and camping. For many, part of the fun is bringing along the dog, who gets to run and sniff and generally frolic in nature alongside their human.

Among the considerations to keep four-legged friends safe on these excursions is the presence of rattlesnakes.

“Nevada is home to five snake species that can be dangerous to people and pets,” according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW). “They are the sidewinder, Mohave, speckled, western diamondback and Great Basin rattlesnakes. With the exception of juveniles, most rattlesnakes encountered in Nevada are 1 1/2 to 4 feet long.”

Rattlesnakes have facial or loreal pit, heat-sensitive depressions, on either side of the head between the nostril and eye, according to NDOW. These pits can detect differences in temperatures less than half a degree and help rattlesnakes to detect prey even in complete darkness.

Avoiding rattlesnakes is the best plan, though not one that always works. For anyone who will be taking their dog to an area where a rattlesnake encounter might occur, there is a vaccine that will act as a safety net until the animal can be taken to a hospital, said Dr. Brad Lingenfelter, with A-Plus Animal Hospital in Reno. If a dog is bitten, he said, the vaccine stimulated its antibodies to help counteract the effects of the reptile’s venom. What the venom does, he said, is affect the vascular system causing the blood vessels to constrict. This cuts off blood flow to legs and other appendages, like someone putting a tourniquet on, Lingenfelter said.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) website,, has some unpleasant photos showing the effects of rattlesnake bites, if you really want to see what can happen.

The vaccine slows the effects of the venom, he said, which can be deadly in as little as half an hour depending on the location of the bite and the size of the animal. Bigger animals or more peripheral bites will have more time to get to the hospital, perhaps a few hours, Lingenfelter said.

“The problem is most of the time these people are out in the hills,” he said.

Polly Conrad, a wildlife diversity biologist with NDOW in Las Vegas, said the risk of a head-to-head encounter with a rattlesnake is pretty slim. Snakes see humans as a threat, she said, so they will camouflage themselves in the dry grass to hide or shake their rattles if a person gets too close. It is pretty easy for a person to steer clear of a rattlesnake, she said.

Dogs are a different story, she said. People need to train their dogs to stay away from rattlesnakes, Conrad said, which is contrary to their natural curiosity.

“If they smell a rattlesnake or hear them, they will go right up to them,” Conrad said.

She said classes often are available that will help people train their dogs not to approach rattlesnakes. The training technique often uses buzz collars, she said, that are set off when a dog is shown a rattlesnake or when it is allowed to smell a rattlesnake through a box — with the venom safely removed.

Whether a dog is vaccinated or not, both Conrad and Lingenfelter say a bit victim needs medical attention as soon as possible.

“The longer you wait, the worse the outcome will potentially be,” Conrad said.

Rattlesnake vaccinations at A-Plus Animal Hospital in Reno cost $50, plus a $50 booster one month after an animal’s first vaccination. Call your local veterinarian for prices and availability.

For information on area snake avoidance classes, visit

NDOW suggestions

The best way to avoid trouble with venomous snakes is to be aware of your surroundings and observe some safety rules.

* Avoid disturbing, removing or killing snakes. Most bites result from

deliberate harassment of reptiles.

* Learn how to identify venomous reptiles.

* Use Caution when hiking

* Determine safety from a distance before placing hands or feet atop or

among rocks, or crevices , entering abandoned dwellings, caves or mines.

* Lift rocks, wood or other potential cover sites so they are between you and

the possible rattlesnake underneath.

* Check under your car on hot days in case a reptile is seeking shade.

* Check where you are going to step before getting in or out of your boat.

* Choose open campsites and always carry a flashlight when walking at night.

* Supervise your children’s activities and teach them not to play with any

snakes they find. Have them report any snakes they see to an adult.

* Keep pets on a leash.

If you believe you have been bitten by a venomous reptile, do not wait for symptoms to show. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately.

1. Immobilize the victim and keep the wound below heart level.

2. Gravity can quicken the spread of the venom if the wound is above the

heart. Do not use a tourniquet, cut and suction, electro-shock, or put ice on

the wound.

3. Calm the victim. A rapid pulse from panic or anxiety circulates venom

more quickly.

4. Watch the victim for any unusual reactions.

5. Remove all jewelry in anticipation of swelling.

6. Identify the snake if possible.

7. This helps the caregiver give the correct medical treatment.

8. Transport the victim to a medical facility immediately.

9. If it is necessary to walk, do so slowly and rest frequently.

Remember that a venous bite does not mean certain death. Annually, only 1/10 of 1 percent of venomous bites result in death, nationwide. Timely medical treatment simplifies recovery. This also applies to pets.
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