First, she heard rattling.
Moments later, Rene Lamendola saw Curtis, her 2-year-old Corgi mix, sprinting away from a bush “and acting really weird … When I looked down I saw two spots on his nose that were starting to bleed.”
Curtis was bit twice in the snout by a rattlesnake as the pair took part in a recent community cleanup in the desert outside Mound House.
Lamendola’s case isn’t an isolated incident as people and pets have run-ins with snakes every year, according to Jessica Wolff, urban wildlife coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s (NDOW) western region.
“Every year it seems like people think there’s a big increase in rattlesnakes, but that’s not really the case,” she said. “It’s just them coming out and people having more interactions since people are out on the hiking trails and out and about.”
Snakes and other cold-blooded reptiles need temperatures to consistently hover around 60 degrees Fahrenheit to be out and about. In Northern Nevada, snakes are in a state of brumation (essentially, hibernation) from about November to February.
“It’s far too cold for them to be active year-round,” Wolff said. A good rule of thumb, she said, is if lizards are out and about, snakes are likely out as well.
Many of Nevada’s snakes are completely harmless, although a few are poisonous.
In Nevada, there are six types of rattlesnakes. The Great Basin Rattlesnake lives in northern Nevada, along with its non-venomous look-alike, the Great Basin Gopher Snake, commonly known as a bull snake.
Bull snakes have similar markings to rattlesnakes and have evolved to flatten their heads into diamond shapes – similar to a rattlesnake – when threatened. They will also vibrate their tails in grass, leaves or gravel to mimic the sound of a rattle.
According to NDOW, nine out of 10 reports of rattlesnakes are bull snakes.
“It can be pretty tricky, for sure,” Wolff said of telling the difference between the two.
Hiking with pets in rattlesnake country
A large part of staying safe from rattlesnakes, or any negative wildlife encounter, is just being aware of surroundings, Wolff said. Other tips for recreating with pets in snake country include:
- Keeping dogs on a six-foot leash when hiking
- Making sure dogs don’t stick their heads into holes or brush where animals might be resting
- Stepping on top of rocks instead of over rocks
- Wearing long pants and socks
Greenfield Animal Hospital Veterinarian Jody Roderick suggests dogs that are regularly on outdoor excursions such as hiking or hunting trips get vaccinations that stops anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, and signing them up for rattlesnake avoidance classes.
She also suggests people carry Benadryl to reduce swelling “that could potentially be deadly before you can get to help.”
If you come across a rattlesnake
If you come across a rattlesnake while hiking, give it a wide berth.
“With rattlesnakes, they really don’t want to bite you. That’s their last resort,” Wolff said. “They are saving that for a meal. If they inject it into you, they aren’t getting a meal out of it.”
If you find one in your yard, “let it leave on its own,” she said. “We live in Nevada, there will be snakes here. They don’t differentiate between our backyard and the sagebrush.”
Wolff suggests making yards undesirable for snakes to inhabit by removing excess brush, piles of wood and “places where rodents and things they might eat might hide. If you have animals they might eat, you might have a snake in your yard. Keep in mind the full food chain you’re attracting.”
Roderick also suggests keeping sight lines clear near doors.
“Have it so you can see out,” she said. “Don’t put plants or things that hold water near doors.”
And, if you or your pet gets bit?
Stay calm and head to a hospital as quickly as possible. Don’t tourniquet the bite or put ice on it, Wolff said.
About 50 percent of rattlesnake bites are dry bites, meaning the snake didn’t inject any venom. If the snake did inject venom and “your heart is pumping a lot, you’re just going to be pumping that venom faster in your system,” Wolff said.
Curtis’ return home
Within minutes of being bit, Curtis’ face swelled up, Lamendola said. During the car ride, he alternated between dozing off and acting frantic, and “by the time we got to the vet, his little muzzle was about three times the size it should have been,” she said.
Curtis was places in a pressure chamber to reduce the swelling and pain. Several days and $4,000 later, he was released from the vet.
“I want people to watch out for snakes. I don’t want others to go through this. It’s heart wrenching,” Lamendola said.
Amy Alonzo covers Mason Valley and rural Nevada. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (775) 741-8588. Here’s how you can support ongoing coverage and local journalism.
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