Keeping Dogs Safe From Rattlesnakes


by Robert Hudson

The warm weather of spring brings rattlesnakes out from hibernation and presents opportunities for dangerous encounters for dog owners and their dogs.

There are two subspecies of the western rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) native to Oregon.

The brown to greenish-brown Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus) has large, squarish blotches. In western Oregon, they occupy oak habitats in the Klamath/Siskiyou Mountains and the Rogue River, Umpqua, and Willamette Valleys. In central and northeastern Oregon, they live in sun-drenched pine and juniper woodlands.

The other subspecies is the Great Basin rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus), which is native to the deserts and sagebrush steppelands in southeastern Oregon. Their buff-tan coloring and small, oval blotches match the arid surroundings there.

The ranges of these two subspecific variations meet along an arc that stretches northeastward from Klamath Falls, through Burns, to the Snake River near Baker City. Within that zone, all rattlesnakes have a blending of characteristics of both subspecies.  

Generally, rattlesnakes do not live in Oregon’s mountains above 6,000 feet, and the climate is too cloudy and wet for them along the coast. At northerly latitudes, rattlesnakes hibernate communally through the winter on south-facing slopes. In autumn, as conditions become colder, they congregate at rocky dens and retreat into deep crevices. When springtime warmth arrives, they emerge and disperse into the surrounding area for the summer.



Rattlesnake Expert, Donald Schultz in Southern California gave us some safety tips to keep you and your dog from being bitten.

Rattlesnakes are ambush predators and are likely to be hidden in small spaces along hiking trails and even in backyards and front porches. To best avoid encounters with rattlesnakes, Schultz recommends the following:

  • Clear out any debris, trash, rock piles and woodpiles around the house so snakes have no place to hide.
  • Be wary of outdoor pots and overgrown brush.
  • Avoid walks around dusk and dawn. When walking, stick to well-used trails.
  • Keep dogs close and on a leash.
  • Do not let dogs wander or sniff around on their own, especially around logs, holes and underbrush – all of which are likely rattlesnake hiding places.
  • Teach dogs to avoid rattlesnakes at rattlesnake aversion training courses.
  • If a pet does encounter a snake, do not approach it, do not attempt to catch it and do not attempt to kill it. Most snake bites occur when people go after snakes.
  • If the snake must be removed, call animal control or gently sweep it away from the area with a long stick.

Though following Schultz’s prevention tips is the best measure, snake bites can still occur. If a dog is bitten by a snake, it is important to remain calm. Though there is very little first aid a pet owner can administer alone, taking the following steps can vastly improve a pet’s chance of recovery.

  • Remain calm.
  • Remove any harnesses and leashes that can restrict breathing.
  • Immediately take the dog to the closest emergency animal hospital
  • If the dog is small enough to hold, carry it to the car.
  • If the dog is too large to carry, calmly walk it to the car.
  • If it is safe to do so, get a photo or description of the snake that bit the dog.

“Do not go after snakes,” said Donald Schultz, rattlesnake expert. “It’s the best thing to do to avoid bites and to avoid accidently killing their natural, non-venomous competitors like gopher snakes and king snakes, who actually eat rattlesnakes.”
Schultz recommends reading up on rattlesnakes and learning how to peacefully coexist with them, as they are part of the natural ecology. Donald Schultz has been working with reptiles since the age of 13 and is an expert in herpetology. Today, he works with VCA Animal Hospital in West Los Angeles in the zoo and exotic animal department.

About VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital VCA has over 600 neighborhood animal hospitals in the U.S. and Canada and over 1,900 primary care veterinarians as well as 36 specialty hospitals with over 200 board certified specialists who provide services in oncology, dentistry, surgery, orthopedics, diagnostic imaging, stem cell therapy and more. VCA West Los Angeles serves as a general practice animal hospital for the West Los Angeles area, a specialty treatment facility, a referral hospital for veterinarians in Southern California, and as a teaching hospital to provide post-graduate education for veterinarians. For more information, please visit