How to Protect your Pets and Prairie Rattlesnakes
I am worried that my best buddy, my dog Murphy, will be bitten by a Prairie Rattlesnake. I love dogs and want them to be happy and healthy. I love snakes, and want them to live in peace here in Lethbridge. How can we co-exist with the Prairie Rattlesnakes in Lethbridge, but also enjoy the coulees ourselves to run our dogs. I learned how we can have both, at the “Living with Snakes” presentation hosted by Ken Moore and Ryan Heavy Head.
The population of Prairie Rattlesnakes in Lethbridge, according to the experts, is larger than what was previously thought. Ryan Heavy Head estimates their population to be closer to 400 individuals, much higher than the original quote of 50-80. With 400 rattlesnakes going about their lives in the coulees, you have a pretty good chance of running into one when you are in their territory.
Popson Dog Run
In Lethbridge, the majority of rattlesnake sightings are in the southwest of the city in Paradise Canyon and surrounding area, Popson Park and Cottonwood Park Nature Reserve. This year, we have located a hibernaculum (den) at the University of Lethbridge, just beyond the east patio. Prairie Rattlesnakes are shy creatures and would rather not mingle with people. When they feel danger is near they will stay very still to avoid detection. If you are too close, they will rattle their tail in warning of their presence. But if they are stepped on, or feel trapped, they may bite to protect themselves as a last resort. Out of respect for these beautiful animals who have called Lethbridge their home for thousands of years, I choose not be conducting any off leash walks in Popson Park from now until September. I want these snakes to thrive here, because they are an integral part of the ecosystem. Besides their importance, I just think they are beautiful animals and I want them to be here forever.
Peenaquim Dog Run
I do have great news for dog walkers; there has never been a Prairie Rattlesnake sighting in Peenaquim Dog Park. There have been sightings of Bullsnakes in this park, but these snakes are not venomous. This is a great park to let your dogs off leash to run and socialize with other dogs. You will find me here almost every morning, with the rising sun, walking my dog.
Scenic Dog Run
Scenic Heights has had a few confirmed rattlesnake sightings in the past years. Scenic Heights is south of Scenic Dog Run on the south side of the cemetery. If you stick to the gravel trails when walking your dogs at Scenic Dog Run, you are less likely to come across a rattlesnake. You are more likely to find these snakes in the long grass on the dry coulee slopes where they can find cover when the temperatures reach above 25C. I will still walk my dog here, because the chance of a rattlesnake encounter is low.
If you are worried about your dog encountering a Prairie Rattlesnake, you can get them vaccinated. The Rattlesnake Vaccine was developed to provide protection for dogs against the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake venom. Because the venom of the Diamondback is similar to the venom of the Prairie Rattlesnake, it can provide protection against their venom. The vaccine was shown in dogs to generate protective antibodies against rattlesnake venom. Dogs with protective antibodies are reported to experience less pain and have a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bite. For more information:
The Rattlesnake Vaccine is only available in the United States. You can drive to Montana to get them. Northern Veterinary Clinic in Cut Bank, Montana says they get a lot of Canadians crossing the border to get their dogs vaccinated. When you cross the border, you need to show proof that your dog has their Rabies Vaccination. This is provided by your vet here in Canada in the form of a certificate. If this is the first time your pet has gotten the Rattlesnake Vaccine, you will be required to get two shots. The first one is the vaccine and it will cost $51.80 (which includes the exam). Three to four weeks later, you will need to go back to get the booster shot, which is $37.30. The vaccine is most effective within the first 6 months of receiving it, and slowly wears off over time. To maintain its effectiveness you would need to go back again next year to get re-vaccinated. For the remainder of the vaccinations, you will not need to get the booster shot.
Dogs Bitten By Prairie Rattlesnakes
Dogs can recover from rattlesnake bites if you quickly, and calmly, take them to a vet after they have been bitten. Dogs are not given antivenin but instead are treated with antibiotics and cortisone. In 2002, Reg Ernst interviewed vets who said that one or more dogs are bitten each year. According to Ryan Heavy Head, in the past decade at least one dog had been killed from a rattlesnake bite. Ryan also said that several other dog owners had corresponded with him to express their opinion that their dogs passed prematurely of various organ failures several months after being bitten. His advice is that it's not safe to take dogs off leash anywhere on the westside from now until late September. He believes that those who do are really playing a game of Russian roulette with their dog's well-being, if not life.
Ryan has a great page dedicated to Prairie Rattlesnakes:
You can see where snakes have been spotted, on a daily basis.
I urge you to protect your dogs by not taking them off leash in Popson Park from now until September. We have so many alternative parks to enjoy. Let us leave the southwest to our favourite rattlesnake; the Prairie Rattlesnake.