If you live near rattlesnake habitat, there’s always the chance of you or your pets bumping into one. All encounters differ in many ways, but generally humans are more aware of what the creature is and what not to do with it. When it comes to pets, they aren’t always as quick on their feet or realize what the strange creature is in front of them (if they see it, that is). This comparison gives you an idea of what goes through each animals’ mind during an encounter with one-another.
Pet’s Point of View
Imagine you’re a dog outside playing or even just trying to find a place to, well, take care of business. Either of these may result in sniffing around, and this is how most bites to dogs occur. When dogs are sniffing around and they bump into an interesting creature that they may not have seen or smelled before, of course it’s going to draw their attention. Mister or misses doggo is likely going to investigate further, continuing to sniff or paw at the snake. Most of the time, the snake ends up defending itself via biting or trying to escape after the dog makes contact. Some dogs instinctively know snakes aren’t to be bothered, but not all do. Most bites happen on the snout as dogs nudge into a snake.
Once bitten, most dogs take off. What happens after envenomation varies, but most dogs’ behavior will change fast as pain increases and swelling increases. Most people notice the effects on their dog within 20 minutes. A bite can kill a dog within hours if left untreated, depending on how the dog reacts to the venom, and how much venom was dispensed. That said, it is rather rare for a bite to kill a dog if treated within a hour – as modern veterinarian treatment for envenomation is quite successful.
Cats are a bit different. Cats are generally (much) more aware of their surroundings, and instead of accidentally running into a snake, they more or less seek them out whilst on the prowl (assuming it’s an outdoor cat). Cats are top predators in their size/weight class in the animal world, and killing to them is more of a sport than anything else. Rattlesnake bites to cats are a fair amount less common because of the agility cats have. Their reaction times are crazy fast, so if a rattlesnake is to make a move to defend itself the cat jump back in time to miss the snake’s attempted strike. But, if the cat is inexperienced when it comes to hunting or is just overall less agile, bites can and certainly do happen. Usually it’s the other way around, and cats (unfortunately) take out snakes among other native wildlife.
Snake’s Point of View
When a snake is out and about, it’s usually to find a place to hang out, hunt prey (birds, mice, rats, and lizards primarily, not your pets), or perhaps take a drink of water if it’s lucky enough to find some. This can occasionally bring a snake into your yard if you’re living in or near areas that has a snake population.
Snakes typically use bushes, rocks, or just about anything they can fit under for shelter and shade to hang out near. Dogs like to sniff around, and to a snake that huge creature poses a potentially significant threat. In reality, the dog may not pose any threat and is just curious, but to the snake, it has no idea and has to carefully decide how to respond to what it views is a big threat.
In a lot of cases, the dog bumps its nose into the snake, startling the snake. At this point, the snake is probably nervous and rapidly working to make a decision on how to react to this curious animal. Of course the snake isn’t going to want any part of a big animal trying to play with it, and will respond in the only ways it can: 1). try to escape, 2). vibrate its tail (rattle, assuming it’s a rattlesnake), and 3). if all else fails or if it’s cornered, it’ll likely end up striking.
Snakes try not to turn their backs during an encounter with a potential predator, as this makes them most vulnerable to attack. This is especially true with cats. From what I’ve seen, a lot of snakes will try to hold their ground as long as they can if a definite predator such as a cat is onto them. If the snake decides to bite the threat and the threat runs, the snake will take this opportunity to try and escape before it returns.
Rattlesnake Vaccine vs. Aversion Training
Chances are you’ve heard of one or both of these methods of risk mitigation for your dog(s). Honest vet offices will generally inform you that the vaccine isn’t exactly proven, and it is quite true. There are a couple studies suggesting it might, just might, provide a hint of protection when the vaccine is at peak effectiveness – but chances of a bite happening during peak effectiveness is low, by chance.
Rattlesnake avoidance training teaches your dog to, as you might imagine, avoid rattlesnakes altogether. Why get chose something that *might* provide a tiny bit of protection over something that could completely prevent a bite? If your pup is remotely trainable, I highly suggest getting aversion training done by a reputable trainer. Not getting bitten is far better than getting bitten and hoping a weak vaccine does something.