Pet Dangers: Ticks and Snakes

 Pet Dangers: Ticks and Snakes

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 three ticks. In just 10 minutes!

tickTicks 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 didn’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 on 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 towards the mouth, with elliptical or cat's-eye pupils. An exception is the small but very poisoness coral snake. Most nonpoisonous 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.

billssnakeThe 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 campspace.

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,


Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • Where is the dog park in Michigan that you were referring to in this article?

  • The dog park referenced above is Orion Oaks Park in Orion Township, MI. They have a fairly large resident population of Massasauga rattlesnakes. They populate the grassy areas to the north and west of the park but snakes do sometimes slither into the wooded area inside the fence. Massasaguas are small and very timid snakes. But dogs like to poke their snouts where they shouldn’t and usually every year, a couple are bitten there.

  • Wow! Very good reminders as we begin our summer! I walked out into the woods by our house the other day to inspect a recently fallen tree. Later in the day found a tiny tick on me, and the next morning, felt another that had attached itself to my back! Really need to be vigilant …

  • In South East TX we also have to worry about gators. Had a park ranger warn me once when I let my dog get too close to the waters edge. He said they hide just under the surface at the edge and unfortunately campers have lost some pets.

  • We generally treat our dogs with ‘Advantage’ which protects the animal against fleas (heartworm preventative) and ticks if we are heading anywhere that we think might be a problem. Your vet ca advise you. Better to be safe than sorry. I will have to look into the snake vaccine as well.

  • I’ll take a tick any time compared to gators!

  • I don’t like spiders & snakes & gators

  • Last summer I saw something in the air over the street ahead of me, then it turned down a street and I saw it was an eagle with a snake that big in it’s talons.

  • Wow good information – Thank you – being from the big city of Toronto Canada we would not have thought of any of this!

  • Watch for large birds and tiny pups as well. They will swoop down and carry them off.

  • Were ever you people are camping I’m not going there. Lol

  • That would make a great hat band…and dinner…

  • Get the gun and blow his head off.

  • Whoa!

  • This is not a Mohave

  • This is not a Mohave

  • Party

  • That’s a big snake.

  • Thank You for warning us!

  • Up in Maine. Bears ate an issue, where I camp! And I got a toy fox terrier “”

  • In much of the country snakes are your best friends! And they eat ticks! The pic looks like a simple garter snake, the perfect yard &garden protector, but even rattlers eat mice and rats. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. Ticks are by far a greater danger, Hundreds are sickened and many suffer or even die from Lyme Disease. Look here: Sorry to be so preachy, but the irrational fear of snakes is way too prevalent in our supposedly “enlightened” environment!

  • In the Pacific Northwest, in and around the cities, the raccoons, coyotes and eagles are main predators of the smaller pets. My small dog was nearly picked off by an eagle. Fortunately I was very close and able to stop the eagle from picking her up. Remember, they are silent when winging on a glide path for prey. Of course, one always has to be vigilant when camping for the big cats and bears. I always give my pups Sentinel when travelling to other parts, particularly inland, to ward off all sorts of little problems such as ticks.

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