Sunrise Pet Clinic: Educational Information

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Southern Arizona Desert Creatures

How can I protect my pet?

There are many potentially toxic animals here in the Southwest desert not found in other parts of the country. Provided here is a brief listing of animals, their effects and first aid measures that can be taken in case your pet encounters a dangerous species.

Rattlesnakes: Common during the warmer months in yards, washes and trails. Very active in August-October when baby rattlers are born and they move to their winter hibernation site. Rattlesnake bites causes rapid, severe and painful swelling around paired puncture marks. First aid = Keep pet quiet and transport to veterinarian ASAP. There is snake aversion training available for dogs.

Colorado River Toads: Large greenish toad present during/after summer rains. Dogs contact toxin by "mouthing" toad. Symptoms of hyper salivation, red gums, collapse, seizure and heart arrhythmias can be seen. First aid = First use a hose to flush dog's mouth to remove toxin. If possible do this for 15 minutes. NOTE: You do not want the hose pushing the water to the back of the dog's throat, which would encourage the dog to swallow toxin; have the hose to one side of the mouth or the other and have the water go through the mouth to the other side. Transport to veterinarian for supportive care.

Scorpions: Often seen in garages and around woodpiles. Most are not severely toxic. Sting is painful and can cause numbness and local mild swelling. Neurologic signs such as abnormal eye movements and head position can occur temporarily. Treatment is supportive.

Gila Monsters: These are slow-moving large lizards. They are not severely toxic. The bite is painful and tiny teeth can remain embedded in the wound. Wound debridement and antibiotics may be required.

Spiders: Brown Recluse bites can cause infected, nonhealing ulcers on the skin. Initially there can be a "target" lesion and systemic effects. Black Widow envenomation can cause nausea, cramping and neurologic signs such as muscle contractions. There is an antivenin that may need to be administered. Tarantulas are harmless!

Ticks: These are small brown/tan parasites that attach to the skin (especially around the neck and shoulders). Ticks in this area are not carriers of "Lyme Disease." They do carry tick-borne rickettsial diseases such as Ehrlichia (Tick Fever), Babesia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Read more about Tick Fever...

Tarantula: Do not build webs, but hide in a silk-lined nest that is built in rock crevices, debris, or small abandoned burrows. They emerge toward nightfall and move swiftly across the desert in search of large beetles, a favorite food. With legs extended the tarantula may measure from around three to seven inches. Although these spiders look alarming, they are not dangerously poisonous to humans or pets. The tarantulas found in the United States are quiet creatures, and their bite is no more dangerous than a bee sting. Their chief means of defense consists of rubbing their hind legs to release thousands of microscopic, irritating body hairs. Tarantulas are part of the desert ecological system. They should never be killed. Pet owners should take care in seeing that these creatures are left to themselves and respected.

Collared Peccary or "Javelina:" Can be seen during morning and in late afternoon. They measure 16 inches in height, weigh 45 pounds, and are related to the domestic pig. Javelina travel in herds, browsing and digging the ground for tubers, insects and sometimes small lizards. Using its elongated snout, the javelina turns and aerates the soil, a function vital to the continuance of life in the desert. Javelina do not see well and rely on hearing and smell, therefore they are apt to charge "blindly" and are not intimidated by human (or canine) size. A javelina will only become aggressive if it feels threatened, especially when there are baby javelinas in the group needing protection. Javelina can and will bite, inflicting deep puncture wounds upon their attackers — human and canine. Never allow your dog to chase or harass these animals.

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How To Protect Your Pets From Coyotes and Bobcats

Keep your pets out of their way and do not attract these two predators to your property!

Coyotes are anything but finicky eaters. In natural desert habitats they feast on everything from crickets and cactus fruits to quail, cottontails, carrion, and deer. It's no stretch for them to add domestic cats and small dogs to their nutritional repertoire. Ever heard of Pavlov? Coyotes are very adept at learning that the jingle of dog/cat tags equals a possible meal on the other side of the wall, try and keep your pets tags silent.

Bobcats, on the other hand, have more refined tastes; they eat mostly rodents, rabbits and jackrabbits (less often birds and lizards). They are less inclined to make a meal of your pet, but it happens!

Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep your dog or cat off the menu:

  • Don't give your pet free run of the neighborhood. Stay with it when it's outdoors, and when you take it for a walk, carry it or keep it on a leash. If you want to leave a small dog unattended in your yard, an enclosure will at least make it less convenient prey. A six-foot chain link fence with the base buried in six inches in the soil is a good deterrent, but a highly motivated bobcat can jump over it; adding a chain link or shade screen roof would increase security. Note too that chain link will not keep rattlesnakes out; chicken coop around the edges will help. A solid wall keeps your pet out of sight, but it's easier for a coyote or bobcat to jump up on top. Still, any barrier is better than none.
  • If you provide food and water for birds and rabbits, they may attract coyotes and bobcats. Avoid overdoing your wildlife feeding and watering. Spilled birdseed from feeders is a frequent attractor for coyotes.
  • Avoid providing other temptations around your home. Don't leave pet food outdoors, and keep garbage containers securely covered.
  • If you see a coyote or bobcat near your house, you can make the neighborhood seem less hospitable by shouting and clapping your hands, though it's best to avoid up-close confrontations. (But if you don't have outdoor pets and the animal is not making a nuisance of itself, why not just reach for your binoculars?)
Neither coyotes nor bobcats confine their activities to the open desert and the suburbs. Coyotes are quite common in urban habitats, and even bobcats show up surprisingly often in cities, especially where cottontails graze on watered lawns.

Sunrise Pet Clinic invites you to enjoy and appreciate your desert surroundings, respecting the desert habitat of all living creatures. And when walking your dog, always keep it on a leash, and use extreme caution when walking in rocky areas, scrub brush, and washes. Please, NEVER allow your pet to torment, attack, or injure any of our desert wildlife companions!

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