Rattlesnakes are out to bask in the sun and help keep the world from being overrun by rodents, but they do not enjoy being surprised or stepped on by dogs or humans. This is generally not enjoyable for the pets or humans either. The best strategy is to avoid encounters altogether, but here are some tips if you don’t feel that walling yourself into a stone tower, or moving to Ireland or Alaska, is a valid option.
When out on walks, avoid areas near woodpiles, with tall grass or rocks, especially during peak season, from April to October. Keep pets on-leash and stay on trails. If you do see a snake, keep your pet away – bearing in mind that rattlesnakes can strike half their length. You might want to use a walking stick to rattle bushes along the trail to alert snakes to your presence.
To discourage snakes from taking up residence in your yard, you need to remove the resources they find desirable. Exterminate rodents and remove hiding places like old sheds, woodpiles, and dense underbrush. Mow grass frequently, and consider underground fencing. Use wire mesh to block small holes, and update worn weather-stripping under doors to keep snakes from seeking shelter in garages. Do not use lye, or other advertised substances such as gels, powders, ropes, etc. to deter snakes. These are ineffective and can harm your pets.
If a snake bites your pet, keep calm. Wash the bite with clean water and soap. Keep your pet quiet. Do not apply ice, cut bite area, suck venom out or use a tourniquet. Keep the bitten area immobile and lower than the heart. Seek veterinary help immediately; call ahead if possible, so they can prepare. Remove snug collars and choke chains, etc. before swelling begins.
The rattlesnake “vaccine” – Crotalus atrox toxoid – for dogs, can give you more time to get to the vet if your dog is bitten. The current protocol is 2 initial doses given 3 to 6 weeks apart, with boosters every four to six months for dogs at high risk. Large dogs over 100 pounds may need a third initial dose. If a vaccinated dog is bitten this is still an emergency; they will need antivenin and other forms of supportive care.