WHEN SNAKES BECOME ACTIVE, IT'S TIME TO PROTECT YOUR DOG
Spring hadn't even clocked in a full week before two dogs belonging to friends of mine were bitten by rattlesnakes. Both dogs survived and will recover fully, but the pain was significant -- and so was the cost of treatment.
Fortunately, most snakes aren't all that interested in biting; they prefer to hide or skedaddle when faced with a threat. If they can't escape, they'll bite. That's when dogs typically get bitten: They put their noses where they don't belong, and instead of letting a snake slither away, they bother the reptile until it strikes.
Dr. Tony Johnson, a veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care, spent part of his career practicing in the dry, brushy foothills of Northern California -- prime rattlesnake country. In his experience, terriers tended to be bitten more often than other dogs.
"It's almost always dogs and it's almost always terriers," he said. "Cats tend to be more cautious than dogs, and a terrier is more likely to put his nose where it will get him into trouble than many other dogs. And they don't learn from the experience."
What can you do to protect your dog? Here are some tips:
-- Keep your dog on leash if at all possible. While that's not possible for working dogs such as search-and-rescue or hunting dogs, it's likely the safest strategy for all others.
-- Work with your dog to ensure he comes when called, so that if you hear or see a snake, you can get your dog away and allow the snake room and time to escape.
-- Stay on established trails instead of hiking through areas where snakes can hide.
-- Don't allow your dog to burrow or otherwise try to tangle with wildlife. If he's looking for trouble, he may find it.
-- Consider snake-proofing. Many hunters take their dogs through clinics where professional trainers expose the animals to caged snakes and use electronic shock to establish a negative association. The clinics are controversial, however, because of the use of pain in teaching dogs to fear the reptiles. Balancing risk vs. benefit is an owner's judgment call.
Signs of a bite include puncture wounds from the fangs of the snake, bruising, blood and a rapid swelling as well as severe pain. If you suspect your dog may have been bitten, end your outing and immediately get to a veterinarian -- and call ahead, if at all possible, so the veterinary team can prepare.
Your pet will need emergency veterinary care to address both the immediate dangers of swelling and pain as well as the longer-term challenges, such as dead tissue and infection. Most dogs survive a bite, especially with prompt veterinary care.
"There's nothing you can do in the field to help your dog," said Dr. Johnson, "certainly not cutting the wound or sucking the venom out. Just get to the vet."
It's worth asking your veterinarian about vaccines that protect dogs from the venom of some snakes. But really, if you're going to be hiking with your dog in areas that are perfect habitats for snakes, you'll need luck as well as precaution.
And, as always, know where to find a veterinarian when you have to, quickly.
Bearded dragons tops
among reptilian pets
Q: Are bearded dragons good pets? -- via email
A: They're arguably the best pets among reptiles and amphibians, especially for beginners. Affectionately called "beardeds" by their fans, these lizards are not only tame around humans, but many also seem to enjoy the contact. Even better, they're relatively easy keepers, suitable for almost any pet lover or family situation.
The name comes from the display the pet puts on when trying to act tough. The puffed-beard display is only used defensively to scare away potential threats. Along with puffing out, beardeds also flatten out their bellies to look wider, as well as leave their rather large mouths gaping open to intimidate the potential threat.
Beardeds need human help to maintain their temperature in captivity, using heat lamps or warming pads. Beardeds do well with options, in tanks where some areas are cooler, some warmer, a range of 85 to 105 degrees by day, dipping down into the 70s at night. You'll also need special lighting, since these reptiles need UVB rays to properly absorb dietary calcium. A full-spectrum light should be provided 12 to 14 hours a day most of the year, and 10 to 12 hours in the winter.
Omnivores by nature, beardeds enjoy both plants and meat in their diet. Juveniles enjoy a carnivorous diet, while adults become primarily herbivores. All food given to a bearded should be shredded into easy-to-swallow, bite-size pieces.
Beardeds live to be about 10 years old and will mature at 18 to 24 inches in length, including the tail. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.
Knowing where to pet
can prevent a bite
-- Some cats don't like being petted, and may react with teeth and claws. To turn the situation around, work to eliminate the triggers for unwanted behavior while increasing your cat's tolerance levels for being petted. Some kinds of petting are easier for cats to tolerate than others. For a highly reactive cat, restrict your caresses to behind the ears, under the chin or the base of the tail. Always stop before tail twitching shows that your cat is overstimulated.
-- Buying in bulk can make pet-food budgets go further, a cost-cutting strategy already popular with many dog lovers. Nearly half of all dog owners buy kibble in either 20- to 40-pound bags or bags larger than 40 pounds, according to the American Pet Products Association.
-- Cat owners and even veterinarians often find it difficult to recognize when a cat is in pain. Cats are descended from small predators who instinctively know that if they show signs of illness, the hunter becomes the hunted. Subtle changes in a cat's interactions with the family may be a clue that pain is present. Be on the lookout for unexpected hiding, irritability, lack of appetite or just plain weird(er) behavior. While you should never give human pain meds (even the over-the-counter variety) to your cat -- they can be lethal -- your veterinarian can help you to ease your pet's pain with traditional and alternative medicine, as well as with strategies to help manage the cat's environment to ease the hurt. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.