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Here's what to do if a rattlesnake bites your dog

Visitors to North Table Mountain Park reported two rattlesnake bites to dogs in recent days

DENVER — Rattlesnake season is underway along the Front Range, with snakes biting two dogs at North Table Mountain Park in Jefferson County in recent days.

A park ranger for Jeffco Open Space tweeted Monday that visitors had reported two rattlesnake bites to dogs in two days.

Rattlesnakes usually come out of their winter shelters in April or early May. This spring, they have likely been in and out of their dens, keeping warm as late season storms have moved through, according to Jason Clay with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).

The snakes bask in the sun or on warm surfaces for much of the day. They can lie in one location for hours or even days, waiting for a prey animal to pass by. They're not built for speed and flight when threatened. If a snake perceives a threat, it will stand its ground and defend itself.

This means hikers should be prepared. Wear sturdy boots and watch where you put your hands and feet. Use extra caution in the evening, when snakes become more active, Clay said.

What do you do if you're hiking with your dog, and a rattlesnake bites your dog?

Clay and Dr. French Aguirre-Wong of Golden Paws Animal Hospital in Golden offer the following tips:

1) Remove yourself and your dog from danger.

Freeze in place until you locate the snake, and then calmly and quietly back yourself and your dog away and to safety. Put at least 5 feet between you and the snake. Don't try to catch, provoke or kill the snake.

2) Clean the wound.

Calm your dog and clean the wound with soap and water, and use antibiotic ointment, if you have it. Rattlesnakes tend to bite dogs on the face, chest or front leg. Don't use a venom extractor; your dog's hair will prevent a good seal from forming.

3) Return to your car as quickly as possible.

If you and your dog are out on the trail, you might be a long distance from where you parked. Try to limit your dog's physical exertion on the way back. If your dog is small, pick them up and carry them to your vehicle. If you have a big dog, they should be able to walk back themselves. 

4) Take your dog to an animal hospital immediately.

Don't wait. Take your dog to a veterinarian. If your dog gets bit on a weekend, find a 24/7 emergency animal hospital. The dog needs treatment that will include doses of anti-venom, post-bite observation and hospitalization.

5) What if your dog is vaccinated?

You can have your dog vaccinated against rattlesnake venom. It's a yearly vaccine that helps your dog create antibodies to kick-start the body's process of defending itself in case of a bite. Even if your dog is vaccinated, you still need to seek immediate treatment for them. The vaccine decreases pain from the bite, the amount of antivenom required and the length of hospitalization.

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