(Don’t) Bite Me! …Rattlesnake Safety for Pets

Rattlesnake safety for pets is an important part of outdoor pet safety, especially when hiking with pets.When spending time outdoors with your pet in the great state of Pennsylvania, hazards like bears and ticks probably come to mind. However, did you know there are some venomous snakes that live in our neck of the woods?

Rattlesnake safety is important for pets and owners alike when venturing into the great outdoors. Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital is here to help our clients understand how to avoid encounters with venomous reptiles in our home state.

Snakes 101

Pennsylvania is home to a few species of venomous snakes, most notably the timber rattlesnake. These creatures reside in more heavily forested regions of the state, and while greatly misunderstood, they are an important part of our ecosystem.

Rattlesnakes fall into the pit viper variety, along with copperheads. Pit vipers can be identified by their vertical, slit-like pupils and the pits on each side of their head. They have a narrow neck and a triangle-shaped head. Of course, they also have rattles at the end of their tails.

Snakes, such as the timber rattler, do a great deal to keep the area’s rodent population in check and prevent the spread of many serious diseases. For this reason, many snakes, including rattlesnakes, fall under governmental protections.

Snakes are cold-blooded animals that depend on ambient heat. They’re most active during warmer parts of the year and may be out and about even at night during the summer months. The rest of the time, they do their best to stay warm in sheltered areas, such as under rocks or brush.

Rattlesnake Safety for Pet Owners

As important as rattlesnakes are to our natural habitats, they do pose a hazard to people and pets. When threatened, rattlesnakes may strike, and envenomate their target. Up to 40% of pets who are bitten can have a severe reaction; 5% result in death.

Rattlesnake venom causes local swelling and prevents blood from clotting. Excessive bleeding in the area can lead to dangerously low blood pressure and shock. Eventually, the venom can paralyze the muscles required to breathe, resulting in death.

It you suspect your pet may have been bitten by a rattlesnake, it’s important to keep calm and call us right away. Snake bites are true emergency situations, and we’re here to help.

Of course, it’s even better to avoid a bite altogether. There are certainly some things you can do to minimize the chance of a bite:

  • Keep your property clear of potential snake habitats, such as brush or woodpiles.
  • When out hiking, stick to the trails.
  • Avoid walking through tall grass, brush, or rock piles.
  • Be sure to keep your dog on leash so you can supervise closely.
  • Do not allow your pet to pester wildlife of any kind.
  • Do not handle or allow your pet to inspect a snake, even if it appears dead.
  • Train your pet to “leave it” so you can interrupt any potential interactions.

There’s no reason that snakes, people, and pets can’t live in harmony. We must maintain respect for these creatures and their role in our environment. With a little effort, we can help make sure everyone gets along safely. The veterinarians at Barton Heights Veterinary Hospital are always here to help give us a call if you have additional questions!