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.
Pet Dangers: Ticks
A friend, 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.
On an RV trip to Florida, we stopped on a nice spring day at the I-75 rest area near Jellico, TN. I took our dog out of the RV for a short walk on the dog run. He came back with three ticks. In just 10 minutes!
Ticks survive by eating blood from their hosts. They burrow deep under the skin and gorge themselves.
Tips for Ticks and Tick Bites
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.
Machine Wash & Dry Clothes
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. However, they 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.
Don't Trust Folk Remedies
If you discover a tick attached to your body, don’t trust the folk remedies of matches, lighters, or petroleum jelly. Instead, use tweezers. Or, better yet, use The Tick Key (I keep one on my key chain).
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.
Tick Seasons are Getting Worse
This is one of the worst tick seasons on record and that seems to be the case every year.
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 Rocky 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.
How to Keep You and Your Pets Tick-Free
The Center for Disease Control says pets and humans need to be checked very closely for ticks after every excursion into tick territory. Their website provides maps of tick regions where various species of ticks are found.
We have also written a helpful article on How to Keep Ticks Off Dogs & Out of Your RV.
Pet Dangers: Snakes
Then there are snakes.
They can be active all yea.
But late May and early June are when most snakes are on the move.
They hatch their young in mid-summer..
Most snakes, of course, are harmless. As a matter of fact, most snakes do good, eating insects and vermin.
But in the U.S., there are several very dangerous snakes with deadly venom, particularly for dogs and cats.
How to Identify Venomous Snakes
The three most commonly encountered venomous snakes in the U.S. are rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths, sometimes referred to as the water moccasin.
Venomous 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 venomous 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.
If you're curious about the difference between venomous and poisonous, know that most dangerous snakes are venomous. Venom is injected by bite or sting. Whereas, poison is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed.
Therefore, there are almost no poisonous snakes. One exception is the garter snake, which is poisonous if eaten.
Real Stories of Snakes as Pet Dangers
The snake picture here was taken by my friend William Browne. He was camped in his RV in California and was surprised to see this Mojave 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 its 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 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 of days later.
Antivenom and Snake Vaccines
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 vaccines. Regular shots help build up an animal's immunity to the poison.
So be careful out there. Especially with your pets.
Other Pet Dangers: Getting Lost!
Another major pet danger while traveling is getting lost. When your pets are in unusual situations or new places, they can act unpredictably. So, it's important to take extra measures to prevent them from getting lost.
Here is a Pet Detective's Advice for RVers who want to ensure their pets come home with them.