Arizona Pet Care Issues
The AZ page is a discussion of local health issues effecting our pets in the desert Southwest and is also intended as a source of fun and interesting local web sites and a local rescue and resource list.
Dangerous Critters in our Desert
The desert does hold some dangers for our pets that every owner should be aware of so that they can keep their pet safe. Some of these potential problem critters include: scorpions, spiders, bullfrogs, cacti (okay not a critter but nasty!), rattlesnakes and insects including bees.
Bullfrogs ( Bufo alvarius & Bufo marinus) – actually a toad.
Bullfrogs (Sonoran desert toads) will come out in the valley at night after we have had a good rain. Many dogs seem to think that these toads make a good chew toy and they will lick and mouth the frogs. Bullfrogs have a salivary gland that produces a substance which coats their body and is toxic to mammals. The dogs will absorb the toxin through their mucus membranes (gums) while licking the toad. Bullfrog toxicity can be very serious and will result in what is often described as “brick red mucus membranes” and salivation. Often neurological signs develop such as walking drunkenly, shaking or even seizures. If you see your pet mouthing a toad you should rinse the pets mouth out with water and your pet should be taken immediately to a veterinarian who will administer supportive care. The care involves giving medications for seizures or shaking, fluids for shock +/- fever and cardiac support.
Problems with cacti can be relatively common depending upon the area of the valley you’re in and also the activities you engage in with your pet. Most cacti can be removed from the pet with mild sedation or anesthesia often needed. Dogs will often attempt to get the cactus off with their feet and their mouth so frequently they will also have foot and oral spines present. We often will place the pet under anesthesia and than do a complete body check for potential hidden spines. While under anesthesia, we will check the eyes for corneal abrasions and the mouth, ears and genital area for “hidden” spines. Many times all parts of the spine cannot be removed and these will form abscesses. Typically, we’ll place the pet on anti-inflammatory medication for pain and an antibiotic.’
Scorpion stings are toxic to humans and animals and will cause local swelling and pain. Scorpions occur throughout the desert, although they do appear to often be clustered in certain areas. They hide under debris on the ground and will emerge at night to search for insects. Scorpions can be difficult to eliminate entirely and the best source of eradication is your local exterminator. Often spraying the house and yard on a regular basis to reduce the insect population will also reduce their predators, the scorpions.
Coyotes are commonly seen in the suburbs and pose a particular danger to cats and small dogs. As we build our homes farther and farther into the desert, the coyotes are in much closer proximity to humans and their pets.
In our area we have seen coyote attacks on small dogs in their own yard, and unfortunately fatalities in cats. Cats left outdoors at night are at an increased risk because this is often when the coyotes are out hunting. Don’t think your walled yard will keep them out because they are more then capable of jumping up onto the wall. If your cat must be outside, I recommend using a kitty door leading out to a fully enclosed cat run. This will not only keep your cat safe from coyotes, but will also protect them from other cats. Another danger that coyotes can pose to pets is the spread of viruses. In particular, coyotes can get parvo virus which
is contagious to dogs and can also get rabies.
Snake bites can be a problem in the valley, but this will vary with the location and the time of year. In our area of the N.E. valley we do occasionally see snake bite victims. Usually the bite victim is a dog that found the snake too interesting to resist pestering. Fortunately, not all bites result in envenomation and not all envenomations are equally severe. However, all pets suspected of having been bitten should be taken to a veterinarian. The human antivenin is used in dogs, but the product is not commonly available at all hospitals and its administration in veterinary medicine is controversial. Many pets exposed to antivenin will develop a severe allergic reaction to it and conversely many pets bitten by a snake will recover fully without treatment. It is imoportant to realize that as a pet owner you will not be able to predict the outcome of a bite and the single best thing you can do is to have your pet examined promptly after a known or suspected bite. Your doctor will complete a comprehensive physical exam and recommend the best plan of treatment for your individual situation. Also, if you regularly take your dog out hiking in the desert I’d recommend first putting the dog through a snake avoidance class. A link is provided below. I’ve also provided a link of contact numbers for snake removal from homes. Not sure if the snake you are seeing is dangerous? Look here for AZ Snake ID. See also this link for Snake Avoidance Classes at Alta Mesa Animal Hospital. One last comment, there is now a Rattle Snake Vaccine available but it is not a guarantee of safety and in fact pets bitten may still have to receive antivenin therapy. Read more here.
Link to snakes of Arizona – http://www.reptilesofaz.org/snakes.html
Problem spiders in our area are the brown recluse (Loxosceles) and the black widow spider (Latrodectus). The black widow is shown on the left panel. Both of these spiders can cause disease in dogs and cats. The brown recluse bite will cause very severe local tissue destruction (necrosis) and the black widow bite will cause intense pain and neurological signs including muscle weakness and paralysis. Supportive care (support of body systems and prevention/treatment of shock) should be initiated as early as possible by your veterinarian.
Tarantulas: these guys are of very low risk to you or your pets and should be left along if encountered. They will not attack but if threatened are most likely to flick hairs ( like little cactus spine) from their rump.
Insect stings are often suspected but seldom definitively diagnosed. We frequently will see pets with a sudden onset of facial swelling that is likely an allergic reaction to the sting. The patients can often have very severe swelling but will typically respond well to treatment. They should be seen as soon as the problem is recognized. If they have facial/body swelling and are vomiting this may indicated a more severe form of allergy and the pet should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Are very low risk animals and should be left alone. The Gila Monster is the only potentially dangerous animal but will not attack if unprovoked.