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Pet Dangers: Ticks and Snakes

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With more and more RVers heading to the great outdoors this time of year, it’s time to sound two warnings. Depending on where you are, it’s now either snake season or tick season.

For some parts of the U.S., it’s both.

Both creatures post particular problems with pets. And humans, too, if they get bit. And both are very active right now.

And RVers, who are out there camping in the woods and wilds and deserts and fields, could very easily come into contact with them. RVers with pets need to be particularly vigilant.

My son, who lives in West Michigan, took his dog for their usual walk the other night, when they returned home, he found two ticks on him and seven ticks on the dog. In March, on an RV trip to Florida, we stopped on a nice spring day at the I-75 rest area near Jellico, TN. I took Tai out of the RV for a short walk on the dog run. He came back with two ticks.


Ticks survive by eating blood from their hosts. They burrow deep under the skin and gorge themselves.

At the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, ecological researchers are engaged in a four-year, National Science Foundation-funded study of ticks, and the risks they pose for transmitting several diseases. While investigating disease risks, their work is also yielding practical tips regarding ticks and tick bites.

These tips include the following.

  1. Machine washing and drying of your clothes after being in the woods is a good idea, because tiny immature ticks can be almost impossible to spot. UT undergraduate John Norris found that ticks can survive the water and detergent in a washing machine, but are often killed by being pounded against jeans and other bulky clothes. Putting the wet clothes through the dryer is even more deadly and will quickly kill all the ticks.
  2. If you discover a tick attached to your body, don't trust the folk remedies of matches, lighters or petroleum jelly. Instead use tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to its mouthparts as you can and remove it by pulling straight out. Be sure to remove the mouthparts, if you don't get them on the first pull.

This is one of the worst tick seasons on record. Ticks spread Lyme Disease, a very nasty disease that can cause short term discomfort and long term problems if left untreated. New cases of Lyme disease are cropping up all across the country. Same with Ricky Mountain Fever, another potentially dangerous disease. In Tennessee last year, there were almost 700 cases of Rocky Mountain Fever, most believed to have been caught from ticks.

Some of the areas where ticks like to congregate are fields with tall grass, wooded areas and the sand dunes.

The Center for Disease Control says pets and humans need to be checked very closely for ticks after every excursion into tick territory. Here’s a list of what to do.

Then there’s snakes. Late May and early June is when most snakes are on the move. In the deep south, where they’ve been out for some time, it’s about time for them to hatch young. Most snakes, of course, are harmless. Most snakes do good, as a matter of fact, eating insects and vermin.

But in the U.S., there are several very dangerous snakes with deadly venom, particularly for dogs and cats.

The three most commonly encountered venomous snakes in the U.S. are rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths, sometimes referred to as the water moccasin.

Poisonous snakes often have a heavy triangular head tapering toward the mouth, with elliptical cat's-eye pupils. An exception is the small but very poisonous coral snake. Mostnonpoisonous species have smoothly curved, U-shaped heads.

Here’s a quick guide with photos to help you spot the most dangerous ones in North America.


The snake picture here was taken a couple days ago by my friend William Browne, who was camped in his RV in California and was surprised to see this Mohave rattlesnake slithering through his camp space.

Snakes are particularly dangerous to pets, At a dog park not far from my Michigan house, several dogs are bitten each year by the diminutive Massasauga rattlesnake. A woman I know who has a large, 65 pound Weimerheimer said she was walking her dog on a leash when it stopped, stuck it’s nose in the grass and was bitten on the muzzle. By the time she returned to her car, her dog was stumbling. She rushed him to a 24 hour pet emergency hospital. Three days later and after $2,000 in vet bills, the dog was released.

At the same park not long before, a man and his beagle were bitten. A local sheriff’s deputy told me that the snake attacked the dog, a beagle, while walking near the woods. The man tried to stop the reptile from inflicting any further harm and was then attacked by the snake. He was released from the hospital the next day, the dog a couple days later.

The smaller the dog, the greater the danger but even a small rattlesnake like the Massasauga can kill if the pet is not quickly treated. Like humans, pets are given antivenom. It is extremely expensive, with treatment ranging between $900 and $1,200 for just the shots.

In Georgia earlier this year, I saw a sign outside a veterinarian’s office saying “Snakes are everywhere: Vaccinate your pets!” That’s good advice. In the south and southwest, most vets do offer snake vaccine. Regular shots help build up an animal’s immunity to the poison.

So be careful out there. Especially with your pets,

About the Author: Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who travels the country in a Roadtrek Type B motorhome, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, and their Norweigian elkhound, Tai. Mike is an FMCA member (F426141) and is FMCA's official on-the-road reporter. He enjoys camping (obviously), hiking, biking, fitness, photography, video editing and all things dealing with technology. His "PC MIke" technology segments are distributed weekly to all 215 NBC-TV stations. More from this author. Reach mike at openmike@fmca.com.

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