Rattlesnakes are widespread in California and are found in a variety of habitat throughout the state from coastal to desert. They may also turn up around homes and yards in brushy areas and under wood piles. Generally not aggressive, rattlesnakes will likely retreat if given room or not deliberately provoked or threatened.
Rattlesnake bites can cause severe injury – even death. Most bites occur between the months of April and October when snakes and humans are most active outdoors, but there are precautions that can and should be taken to lessen the chances of being bitten.
The dos and don’ts regarding rattlesnakes:
Rattlesnakes are not confined to rural areas. They have been found in urban areas, on riverbanks and lakeside parks and at golf courses. The following safety precautions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of an encounter with a rattlesnake.
Leash your dog when hiking. Dogs are at increased risk of being bitten due to holding their nose to the ground while investigating the outdoors.
Get the rattlesnake vaccine for your pet. The vaccine buys you valuable time to get your pet in for treatment.
Be alert. Like all reptiles, rattlesnakes are sensitive to the ambient temperature and will adjust their behavior accordingly. After a cold or cool night, they will attempt to raise their body temperature by basking in the sun midmorning. To prevent overheating during hot days of spring and summer, they will become more active at dawn, dusk or night.
Wear sturdy boots and loose-fitting long pants. Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through brushy, wild areas. Startled rattlesnakes may not rattle before striking defensively.
Children should not wear flip-flops while playing outdoors in snake country.
When hiking, stick to well-used trails. Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see. Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood. Check out stumps or logs before sitting down, and shake out sleeping bags before use.
Never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers. Rattlesnakes can swim.
Be careful when stepping over doorsteps as well. Snakes like to crawl along the edge of buildings where they are protected on one side.
Never hike alone. Always have someone with you who can assist in an emergency.
Do not handle a freshly killed snake, as it can still inject venom.
Teach children early to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
Rattlesnakes belong to a unique group of venomous snakes known as pit vipers and the rattlesnake is the only pit viper found in California. The term “pit” refers to special heat sensors located midway between the snake’s eye and nostril. These special thermoreceptors detect differences in temperature which help the snake pinpoint prey while hunting. The term “viper” is short for Viperidae, the family in which scientists categorize the rattlesnake. Pit vipers are venomous and rely on the use of venom to kill prey to eat. The rattlesnake’s prey of choice is chiefly rodents and other small mammals and this is an important factor in terms of keeping rodent populations in an ecosystem in check.
Keeping snakes out of the yard
The best protection against rattlesnakes in the yard is a “rattlesnake proof” fence. The fence should either be solid or with mesh no larger than one-quarter inch. It should be at least three feet high with the bottom buried a few inches in the ground. Slanting your snake fence outward about a 30-degree angle will help. Keep vegetation away from the fence and remove piles of boards or rocks around the home. Use caution when removing those piles – there may already be a snake there. Encourage and protect natural competitors like gopher snakes, kingsnakes and racers. Kingsnakes actually kill and eat rattlesnakes.
Why Is A Rattlesnake Bite Deadly?
Rattlesnake venom is “hemotoxic” which means that it attacks the blood vessels. The toxin spreads quickly and results in swelling, rapid blood loss and death. Getting your dog emergency help is key to surviving a poisonous snake bite. On-going medical care following a rattlesnake bite is very costly as it includes tests, IV fluids, medications and a hospital stay.
If your dog has been bitten, you will notice these symptoms almost immediately:
panting or drooling
weakness and inability to walk
Depending on the size of your dog and how much venom they received, death could take only a few short hours.
What to do if your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake:
Don’t panic, but act fast.
Pick your pet up (if you can) and immediately drive them to the nearest animal hospital. Allowing them to run or jog back to the car increases their heart rate which enables the venom to spread more quickly through the bloodstream.
Alert the hospital.
On your way to the animal hospital, call them to let them know you’re coming and that your pet was bitten by a rattlesnake. Not all animal hospitals keep antivenin onsite, so they may direct you to another hospital that can help your pet.
What Are The Benefits To Vaccination?
The rattlesnake vaccine won’t eliminate the need for medical attention, but it will slow down the spread and reaction to the venom, giving you more time to get your dog the help it needs. The vaccine is proven to be relatively safe with very few side effects. If you live in a high-risk area or do a lot of hiking, traveling or outdoor activities, then you should consider getting the vaccine as a preventive measure.
Contact ABC Veterinary Hospital to learn more and schedule an appointment for your pet.
ABC Veterinary Hospital performed lifesaving surgery on Penny, the Chi-weenie, to remove necrotic tissue from a rattlesnake bite. The surgery was funded by the FACE foundation and Penny was their 500th pet saved. Established in 2006, The Foundation for Animal Care and Education partners with local veterinary hospitals to enhance and preserve the quality of life of animals by providing access to necessary medical care. FACE provides financial grants to pet owners who are unable to cover the cost of their pet’s emergency or critical care. Read more
Dr. Barry Neichin
Chief of Staff
ABC Veterinary Hospital
San Marcos CA
When he's not busy with his duties at the hospital, Dr. Neichin can be found outside, either on the trails hiking and camping or in the water snorkeling and skin diving, as well as spending time with his two children. His family also includes Tonka, a Golden Retriever; Leo, a miniature Golden Doodle; Cosmo, a Siamese, and Ruffles, a rabbit. More about Dr. Neichin -->