Q: My neighbor's dog was bitten recently by a rattlesnake, and I'm terrified that my dog will also get bitten! What can I do to protect him, and what do I do if he is bitten?
A: We have seen a significant increase in dogs being bitten by rattlesnakes this year compared to other recent years. In the past month alone, we’ve treated eight dogs that were bitten by a rattlesnake. In an average summer month in years past, we would have seen between 1-3 rattlesnake bites.
There are 13 different species of rattlesnakes in Arizona with the Western Diamondback being the most common and the Mohave being the most poisonous. Mohave rattlesnakes tend to be located in Southern Arizona, and not many are seen in the Northern parts of the state.
There are many theories as to why there are more rattlesnake bites this year compared to other years. One is that the Prairie rattlesnakes that typically tend to stay in the prairies and away from the ponderosa have started to move west into the higher elevations. This is likely due to following their food source but unfortunately this places them closer to homes and animals.
Another theory is that people are out more these days hiking in the woods with their dogs, thereby increasing their risk of exposure. Either way, the risk of running across a rattlesnake in Northern Arizona is a definite possibility.
Typically, dogs will try to sniff at the snake and thereby tend to get bitten in the face. If the bite is dry, meaning the snake bit but did not inject any venom, this will be painful and cause mild inflammation but tends to resolve within a few hours. However, a full venomous bite causes extremely serious side effects that include severe swelling, infection, skin death, and clotting disorders. If your dog receives a full venomous bite on its face that is an absolute emergency!
If you're walking in areas that might have rattlesnakes, I recommend keeping your dog on a leash and getting your dog vaccinated with the rattlesnake vaccine. The vaccine does not preclude needing medical attention in the case of a bite, but it has been shown to decrease the clinical signs and speed up recovery.
With any rattlesnake bite, you must take your dog to a veterinarian immediately for treatment, which will include anti-venin and supportive care.
Q: I just got a puppy, and I want to socialize him, but I'm afraid of him getting an infectious disease such as Parvo. Any suggestions?
A: The first four months of a puppy’s life are the most essential time in the formation of its behavior. This is when you must expose them to other dogs, other people, children, other animals, etc. If a dog is not properly socialized in the first 4 months or undergoes any sort of traumatic event, it will affect it for the rest of its life.
Even though these first 4 months are vital to establishing a dog's lifelong behavior, that's also the time they're most susceptible to infectious diseases. This is because they don't complete their series of vaccines until they are 4 months of age.
This is why I recommend socializing your puppy at home by having other people come over and interacting with the puppy. If you have children, make sure they are interacting with the puppy throughout the day. Training your pup on basic commands such as sit, and stay, is a great way to start, as is taking them on many short walks on a leash throughout the day.
If you don't have other dogs at home, then having friends bring older, healthy dogs over to your house to play can help teach puppies their "dog" manners.
I only recommend avoiding dog parks and areas that are highly trafficked by other dogs while puppies are not fully vaccinated. Once they are fully protected, then I recommend getting them into a training class as soon as possible to get them thoroughly socialized!
Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at email@example.com