Protect Your Pet From Scary Summer Visitors

The following article has been provided by Dr. Phil Zeltzman, a board-certified veterinary surgeon from Whitehall, Pennsylvania as a courtesy to goodnewsforpets readers. To subscribe to his newsletter, click here.

by Dr. Phil Zeltzman


Rattlesnakes can kill dogs as well as people, or at least cause some nasty wounds or severe sickness. Usually, cats tend to be smarter about snakes.

There are rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania as well, including in the beautiful Pocono Mountains. A few days ago, a subscriber in Nevada wrote:

“It’s pretty hot right here now. Temperatures are in the 100s. I killed my first rattlesnake the other day. I figured if I didn’t, the darn thing would crawl into the back yard where the dogs are. I’ve had them vaccinated against rattlesnakes, but I really don’t want to test it!”

If snakes are an issue in your area, you might want to look into “rattlesnake avoidance training,” offered by a trainer who uses defanged rattlesnakes. It is an interesting process, which seems to be pretty effective. Dogs end up learning to recognize the smell of the snake and will (should) avoid them like the plague in the future.

Some veterinarians offer a “rattlesnake vaccine.” It is difficult to know how well it works in certain areas, as it is designed for the Western Diamondback, but there may be some cross-protection with your local rattlesnakes.

It is not a cure-all but may decrease the amount of anti-venom needed. It is mostly recommended in hunting, hiking and search and rescue dogs. If you are interested, you may want to ask your family veterinarian about this vaccine.

Pest control

Products used to kill pests are very often toxic to pets. The most well-known is rat poison, as well as slug and snail bait. These are definitely major pet killers to be aware of.

Fleas and ticks

These are the most commonly seen “external” parasites, so talk to your regular veterinarian about the best and safest ways to fight the evil bugs. Lyme disease, transmitted by ticks, is a common problem in Pennsylvania, and it has been diagnosed virtually all over the country.

More biting bugs

Beware of other insect bites. Some dogs love to try to catch flying bugs. If your dog is bitten or stung, remove the stinger and watch the site for an allergic reaction. If a reaction occurs or there have been multiple wasp, bee or mosquito bites, play it safe and take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

“Fly strike”

You may want to skip this paragraph… as we are going to talk about maggots. I’m not too sure why, but some people think maggots are gross… This is one of the very few things that can make some of my toughest nurses feel sick.

Flies can lay eggs on drainage, bodily fluids or in diseased tissues. For example, it could be a wound, diarrhea, urine, eye drainage, pus etc. Sure, it is not very likely to happen to a toy dog who goes from her personal armchair to her owner’s lap.

It is more likely to happen to pets who have a thick or long hair coat, who have sustained an open wound or who live outside. Preventive measures include bathing and grooming, treating conditions such as diarrhea and infections quickly, keeping pets indoors, and fly-control programs.

After flies lay eggs, they become larvae, aka maggots, in as little as 12 hours. To grow, maggots feed off animal flesh. Actually, this is used to our advantage in human medicine to treat certain difficult open wounds.

Maggots eventually become flies, and are soon ready to lay eggs on the next victim… and the wonderful circle of life continues.

Told you it was gross!

Heartworm disease

Mosquitoes transmit heartworms, which can be a deadly condition in dogs and cats. Please talk to your veterinarian about testing for heartworms and when to give preventive medications.

Just like you, your pet can be stung indoors, so not giving preventive medications because your pet lives strictly indoors is not appropriate. In fact, one study showed that almost 1/3 of infected cats were strictly indoors. What’s worse, there is no treatment for the condition in cats.

By the way, heartworm disease is a misnomer: it mostly affects the lungs, not just the heart.


Today’s list could be endless, so I just wanted to include this tip for our new readers as we have discussed this topic previously.

Please check to see if there are porcupines in your area. They may be fascinating creatures, but they have no intention of playing nice with your dog.

(More) Pets under attack

Pet owners sometimes learn the hard way about the dangers of outdoor life for our cats and dogs.

VPI, the insurance company, recently released the top 10 list of wild animals which most frequently attacked and injured companion pets in 2008. Bites led to over 500 laceration/bite wound claims.

And the culprits are…

1. Snake

2. Coyote

3. Raccoon

4. Squirrel

5. Scorpion

6. Javelina

7. Porcupine

8. Ground hog

9. Skunk

10. Rat

Not sure what a Javelina is? It’s the same as a peccary, which of course is a “wild pig with a rudimentary tail and small tusks, native to the southwestern United States.” Javelina and scorpion claims were exclusive to the state of Arizona.

In Pennsylvania, we do see injuries due to snakes and porcupines.

By the way, less common attackers were a goat, a beaver, a black bear, a mountain lion, a hawk, a rabbit, a sea urchin, and a jellyfish.

This is yet another reason to keep cats indoors and dogs closely supervised, and to keep up with their rabies vaccination.

I asked a few local colleagues (i.e. around Allentown, Pennsylvania and toward the Poconos) what their experience had been with animal attacks:

“I have removed porcupine quills and also sutured dogs who fought with groundhogs (including my own Labrador mix).”

“We see a lot of ground hog bites. They have very long teeth. Most dogs are bitten in the lip or head area. Ground hogs are not usual carriers of rabies but ANY MAMMAL MAY CARRY RABIES! If you find a dead ground hog, you must think rabies. It is very important to bring the dead ground hog to your veterinarian, with your dog, for rabies testing.”

“Lots of porcupine quills in dogs – the owner often tries to pull them but they really should not! It is very painful and without heavy sedation or anesthesia you really can’t get a complete exam of the mouth done. The quills end up under the tongue, cheeks, between teeth usually. Dogs also need antibiotics and pain meds afterward.”

“We see a couple of snake bites in dogs every summer – both rattlesnake and copperhead bites. A lot of time the owner never sees the snake but the dog yelps in pain while playing near a stream and the classic fang marks are there.”

“We have seen cases of raccoon bites (some were positive for rabies). Many dogs were sprayed by skunks. If they are sprayed directly into the eyes, dogs become very uncomfortable.”

“I have seen at least 3 bear attacks with major injuries – all survived. Attacks by a deer (CENSORED). I had a fox infected with rabies chase an owner and their dog and cat in their home, but no one got injured.”

“My own Boston terrier was almost carried away by a red tailed hawk.”

So what’s the moral of the story?

1. Don’t let your pet wander outside with no supervision if you suspect they may have an encounter with any of the above dangers – or others.

2. Prevent preventable problems: fleas, ticks, heartworms etc.

3. Prevent contagious or transmittable diseases: rabies, parvo etc.

4. Play it safe and have a wonderful summer!


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