By Dale E. Smith
The weather is finally warm in the entire country and many of us can’t wait to get outside with our pooch, or in our case, pooches, in tow. The grandeur of the great outdoors pulls some of us to her like a magnet. We can hardly wait to get off the beaten path. Our dogs are no different than most people, every time I put on a certain hat and pick up a day pack of any kind, our dogs take that as a signal that it is time to go somewhere. Yes, summer brings outdoor adventure and for those of us who take those adventures with our four legged friends it also can bring unforeseen perils.
Taking a dog into the wild can place man’s best friend into precarious and dangerous situations. Canines are curious by nature. Though domesticated, they have a natural prey drive in their DNA. Thousands of years of the will to hunt is not easily tamed. This urge, however, can get your best buddy in a heap of trouble. When in the wild a dog is a non-natural predator. Dogs can, and often will, find animals that are higher in the food chain. Depending where you are in the country, your pooch could run into bears, mountain lions, alligators, scorpions, snakes, wolverines, badgers, large birds of prey, the list goes on and on.
We have already talked about the king of the forest, the Grizzly bear, in the article Camping and hiking and bears, Oh My! Today let’s talk about snakes. Not the little harmless ones you found and played with as a kid, but the kind that when startled, can kill you.
You will see from the list of snakes below, it doesn’t matter in which part of the country you are at any given time there are venomous snakes virtually everywhere in the US. So everyone that goes outdoors with their dog should pay attention.
Let’s first talk about the snakes themselves, then what to do to protect you and your pooch from what could be a fatal encounter of the slithery kind.
Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake -
Commonly found in the Southeastern U.S. in lower coastal plains; SE North Carolina to Florida Keys, W to S Mississippi and E Louisiana. This snake attains a maximum length of 96″, which makes it our largest rattlesnake and has a reputation for being the most dangerous snake in North America. It can be found from sea level to 500′.
Timber Rattlesnake -
Commonly found in most of the eastern US, except the extreme northern regions. It attains a maximum length of about 75″ and prefers remote wooded hillsides with rock outcrops, swampy areas and floodplains. It can be found from sea level to 6,600′.
Mojave Rattlesnake -
Commonly found in southeastern US; S Nevada, S California and SW Utah. It attains maximum length of about 51″ and prefers upland desert flatland supporting mesquite, creosote bush and cacti; also arid lowland with sparse vegetation, grassy plains, Joshua tree forests, and rock hills. Found from sea level to 8,300′.
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake -
Commonly found in the southwestern US, from SE California eastward to central Arkansas. It attains a maximum length of about 84″. Prefers arid and semiarid areas; brush desert, rocky canyons, bluffs along rivers and rocky foothills. Found from sea level to 7,000′.
Speckled Rattlesnake -
Commonly found in the desert areas of the southwestern U.S. Attains maximum length of about 52″. It prefers rugged rocky terrain, rock outcrops, deep canyons, talus and chapparal amid rock piles and boulders and can be found from sea level to 8,000′. Active during the day in spring and fall, at night in summer.
Pygmy Rattlesnake -
Usually 15 – 31″ long and ranges from eastern North Carolina to the Florida Keys west to eastern Oklahoma and east Texas. It prefers mixed pine-hardwood forest, sandhills, marshes and the areas near ponds.
This rattlesnake is usually 18 – 39″ long. Unlike other rattlers, it has 9 enlarged scales on top of its head. It ranges from northwest Pennsylvania west to eastern Iowa and southwest into Texas. Its habitat ranges from dry woodlands to rocky hillsides to bogs and swamps.
Commonly found in the desert areas of the southwestern U.S. Attains maximum length of about 33″. Prefers arid desert flatland with sandy washes or mesquite-crowned sand hammocks. Can be found from below sea level to 5,000′. Travels over shifting surfaces by “sidewinding,” a process by which the snake makes use of static friction to keep from slipping when crossing soft sandy areas. It leaves a trail of parallel J-shaped markings behind it. Primarily nocturnal, it is usually encountered crossing roads (and trails) between sundown and midnight in spring. During the day, it occupies mammal burrows or hides beneath bushes.
Black-tailed Rattlesnake -
Usually 28 – 49 inches in length. Likes rocky mountainous areas; among rimrock and limestone outcrops, wooded stony canyons, chaparral, rocky streambeds; found near sea level to about 9,000′. Ranges from Arizona east to central Texas, south through central Mexico.
Tiger Rattlesnake -
Usually 20 – 36 inches long. Prefers arid rocky foothills and canyons, primarily in ocotilla-mesquite-creosote bush and saguaro-paloverde associations; sea level to 4,800′. Ranges from Central Arizona south to S Sonora, Mexico.
Cottonmouth or Water Moccasin -
Commonly found in most parts of SE U.S. and in S Missouri to south-central Oklahoma and central Texas. Attains maximum length of about 75″. A very dangerous and aggressive snake. Prefers lowland swamps, lakes, rivers, bayheads, sloughs, irrigation ditches and small clear rocky streams. Found from sea level to 1,500′.
The Eastern Copperhead is commonly found in the southeastern U.S. and also in E Texas and E Oklahoma. The Northern Copperhead is found from SW Massachusetts to SW Illinois, south to NE Mississippi, N Alabama, N and central Georgia and piedmont of South Carolina. Attains maximum length of 53″. Prefers wooded hillsides with rock outcrops above streams or ponds; edges of swamps. Found from sea level to 5,000′.
Western Coral Snake -
Prefers rocky areas, plains to lower mountain slopes; rocky upland desert in arroyos and river bottoms. Found from sea level to 5,900′. Habitat ranges from central Arizona to sw New Mexico south to Mexico. Do not confuse this poisonous snake with other species that are harmless, such as the Milk Snake. The Coral snake has red and yellow bands that are adjacent, the non venomous species have red and black bands that are adjacent. Remember the jingle, “Red and yellow kill a fellow, but red and black is a friend of Jack”.
Eastern Coral Snake -
This beautiful snake is commonly found from SE North Carolina to S Florida (and the Florida Keys) west to S Texas. Attains a maximum length of about 48″. Prefers moist, densely vegetated hammocks near ponds or streams in hardwood forests; pine flatwoods; rocky hillsides and canyons. Note that the red and yellow bands are adjacent. Do not confuse this poisonous snake with other species that are harmless, such as the Scarlet Snake and Scarlet Kingsnake. For these non-poisonous species, the red and black bands are adjacent. Remember the jingle, “Red and black, friend of Jack; red and yellow kill a fellow”.
Texas Coral Snake -
Usually 22 – 47 inches long. Prefers ponds or streams in hardwood forests; pine flatwoods; rocky hillsides and canyons. Ranges from Southern Arkansas, W Louisiana, S Texas into NE Mexico. Like other species of Coral snake, the red and yellow bands are adjacent. For the non-poisonous look-alikes, the red and black bands are adjacent.
Snake Proofing your pet is a term that some trainers use in areas with a high concentration of Rattlesnakes. The idea is to train the dog with an electronic collar (e-collar). The dog receives a very uncomfortable shock to detour its natural curiosity from the smell, sound or movement a snake can make. Many swear by this training, some say it doesn’t work. I say check with a trainer in your area; after all, they are supposed to be the professional in these matters.
Many trails and wilderness areas throughout the US have rules to keep your pets leashed. Some trails don’t even allow your dog to be on the trail. These rules are in place for other reasons rather than the people who made them just don’t like dogs. They are in place to protect the lands you are hiking or camping on. They are in place to protect the wildlife. They are there to protect your dog and they are there to protect you. Know your surroundings and study the area you are going to prior to letting Rover roam freely. Remember your dog is along way removed from his wild canine cousins.
According to snake bite statistics, “There are approximately 15,000 dogs and cats bitten by poisonous snakes in the United States annually. The highest envenomation fatality rates occurred in Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas. In dogs, 70-80 percent of bites occur on the face and head, and 20-30 percent occur on the legs, with only rare cases occurring on the body. Rattlesnakes account for 80 percent of dog envenomations, while cottonmouth/water moccasin and copperheads are responsible for the remaining 20 percent.
If you are unlucky enough to encounter a snake and you or your dog is bitten, here are a few tips:
1 ~ Allow the bite to bleed freely at first for a minute or two
2 ~ In humans, remove constrictive clothing, shoes, watch, rings etc. In dogs, loosen or remove collar as soon as the dog is contained in such a way that you are fairly certain that he/she cannot get loose.
3 ~ Cleanse/disinfect the bite thoroughly, if possible, for 30 seconds
4 ~ Apply hard direct pressure with gauze pad over the bite area. (Be careful of contact with bodily fluids.)
5 ~ Soak gauze pad with Betadine, if possible, before application.
6 ~ Wrap affected extremity with 2″-3″ elastic bandaging, BUT only as tightly as one would for a sprain!
7 ~ Keep affected extremity positioned at, or as close to, heart level as possible. (Sometimes a challenge with animals. But please make the effort.)
8 ~ Immobilize affected extremity; use a splint if possible.
9 ~ Get medical attention as soon as possible.
10 ~ ALSO, identify (and/or kill & bring in with you) the snake for positive identification, but ONLY IF you can do so WITHOUT being bitten yourself!!!!
1 ~ Do not feed or give anything to drink.
2 ~ Do not allow your pet to engage in any physical activity.
3 ~ Do NOT cut or incise bite marks, and do not apply oral suction to bite!
4 ~ Do not give anything alcoholic orally or any medications. (Unless okayed by your vet before the fact. Ask!)
5 ~ Do not apply cold or hot packs, or a constrictive tourniquet!!!!
6 ~ Do not apply electric shock of any kind!
7 ~ Do not remove dressings/elastic wrap until arrival at the hospital.
Hopefully you will get or already have a very good and complete first aid kit for you and your pet. There are great ones that can be found at most camping supply stores and some of the larger pet supply stores. You can also search online.
The responsibility to keep your pet safe always falls on us, the pet owner. If you are always prepared you can avoid some hazards and if they are unavoidable you can minimize panic, and pain. Sometimes by being prepared you can stop a mishap from becoming a tragedy. Do your research, be prepared and by all means for all of your outdoor adventures, take your pet along for the fun!