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 smelt before, of course it’s going to draw their attention. They want to figure out if the reptile he/she just discovered is the playful type, something to avoid, or get aggressive with depending on the dogs personality, if they have the time. 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, in fact, most don’t – especially if you’ve moved from a city suburb into a more rural environment.
Once bit, most dogs take off. What happens after envenomation (if this is a rattlesnake the dog has bumped into) 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.
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. Even if it’s a smaller dog, it still is going to be taller and probably heavier than most snakes. 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 knows how to: 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.
If you have a dog, cat, or horse, and live in a location prone to reptilian visitors of the venomous sort, it’s probably a good idea to get your pet rattlesnake-vaccinated. What it does, or is reported/studied to do, is generate more antibodies to combat the venom of a rattlesnake. It’s by no means a cure-all, and you’ll want to still take your dog to the vet as soon as possible after a bite should one occur, but it’s been noted that these vaccines lessen potential permanent injury to the dog.