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Snakes and Pets

May 30, 2016 07:59PM ● By Becky Coburn

By Dr. Louisa Asseo

As the weather warms up, a lot of us, including our local wildlife, head outdoors to play and enjoy the sunshine. Native Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes emerge from hibernation in the spring and are frequently seen sharing our hiking trails and even our backyards. The familiar sound we associate with a rattlesnake strikes fear in some and intrigue in others. The rattlesnake’s rattle is a unique appendage at the tip of the tail formed of keratin (like our fingernails). Rattlers add a new rattle to their tail with each shed, sometimes reaching 10-20 rattles long. They hold the tail vertically and vibrate it to create the rattle sound.

It is important to remember that rattlesnakes are not aggressive snakes. They are, in fact, quite docile and timid animals. The telltale rattle sound is the snake’s way of communicating fear. It is his way of warning others he feels threatened and wants us to back away. This sound is so effective at warding off threats that other snakes have tried using this technique. Although lacking a rattle, snakes such as the non-venomous California King Snake and the Gopher Snake, will vibrate their tails in leaves or brush to mimic the sound of a rattlesnake.  If the warning is not heeded and the snake is provoked, he will strike in defense. Rattlesnakes, like most snakes, can strike a distance equivalent to 2/3 of their body length. For example, a 3-foot snake can strike at a distance of 2 feet. So if you hear a rattle sound, it is best to give the scared animal a wide berth. 

While we know to heed its warning, the sound of a rattle is often too intriguing for a lot of our canine companions to pass up. As a result, rattlesnake bites commonly occur on the muzzle of a curious dog investigating the rattle sound or on the paws or underbelly of an exuberant dog running over a snake without seeing it. 

To the casual observer, it may be difficult to identify a rattlesnake from one of its non-venomous “cousins.” For this reason, all snakebites and suspected snakebites should receive immediate emergency veterinary care. It is helpful to know the hours and locations of nearby veterinary hospitals if you are hiking in an unfamiliar area.

Have fun enjoying our beautiful outdoors this summer, but please respect our wildlife. Remember, our outdoors is their home. 

Dr. Louisa Asseo, owner of Oasis Veterinary Hospital, can be reached at (925) 954 – 8087, 6635 Alhambra Ave, Suite 100, Martinez, or visit