Prairie Rattlesnake

Western Rattlesnake

Prairie Rattlesnake

The most commonly seen snake in our area is the prairie or western rattlesnake.  This has been a “banner” year for rattlesnake spotting in our area.  Zell found one in mid-June, curled up just beyond where he was sitting on the ground, petting Coda.  A few weeks later, I was coming up a hill near the house after a hike with the dogs and we almost stepped on one under a tree.  In both cases, Zell was able to “escort” the snake to a far-away wash.  He uses a long hiking stick to get under the snake, which drapes itself over the stick.  He then moves it to a bit further away from the house.  (A rattler can’t strike if it’s not coiled.)  He developed and perfected this technique when he was a volunteer hawk enumerator at the Dinosaur Ridge Hawk Watch in Morrison, CO–a place with numerous snakes sunning themselves in the spring sunshine.  Below is a short video of Zell escorting a rattler out of one of our dog runs.

And below is an even shorter video clip of a rattler being a rattler just before Zell escorted it out of the dog run.

Healthy adults rarely die from a rattlesnake bite, especially if they receive prompt medical attention.  We had a young dog (who is no longer with us, but for other reasons) bit by a rattler as well; it looked like only one fang made contact on his nose.  It was a long night before we could get him to the vet–his face swelled up dramatically and he was having trouble breathing.  But luckily, the nose doesn’t have as many blood vessels in it to carry the toxin to the rest of the body (unlike our neighbor’s dog’s bite in the blood-vessel-rich thigh).  That night, we did one good thing and one bad thing to try to help him (and us) through the night.  The good thing–we gave him a dose of Benadryl for the allergic reaction; the bad thing–we gave him aspirin for the pain (which thins the blood and could have made the situation much worse).  By the time we could get him to the vet in the morning, he had passed the crisis stage and we mostly just treated him to prevent infection.

A vaccine exists for dogs, although it appears to be a bit uncertain as to whether it is really worth the time, effort, or money.  However, it may lessen the effects of a bite—although it doesn’t prevent all negative effects.  Antivenin is available at many vets, but it has to be administered pretty soon after the bite.  As is true for both humans and animals, the best snake bite kit is a set of car keys.  Keep the site of the bite below the level of the heart and drive like crazy to medical help.


© 2008 Tina Mitchell


2 Responses to Prairie Rattlesnake

  1. Marc Shaw says:

    Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

    – Marc Shaw

  2. Cathy Bell says:

    Ah, Tina! Such a sad story about the dog. When Izzy was a puppy she found a rattlesnake coiled up in a bush at Cherry Creek State Park. I heard the snake and ran to her to get her away. Scary! It was a HUGE snake. I would hate to lose an animal that way. I’m glad your dog didn’t die and am glad to know about the no asprin.

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