Musings, Coyotes and Snakes

Musings, Coyotes and Snakes

June 19, 2014

From the Desk of Dr. Voorheis


As I sit here typing and wondering about writer’s block, I am also reflecting at the success of the blog over these first six months. The blog has (so far) accomplished exactly what I intended for it to do. I will acknowledge it is still a work in progress and I haven’t exactly been consistent with it over the past few weeks, but overall I am pleased with the effort. Some topics I have tackled have been a bit more intense than I had originally planned, but I think most have been right on target. I’ve also been able to get a little more personal and invite you all to get a glimpse of a different side of Dr. Voorheis. Those entries seem to be the most popular. So I’m reminded of Sally Field……you like me…you really, really like me! I crack myself up!

Looking forward, upcoming topics will include pain management, gastrointestinal disease with a focus on IBD, pancreatitis, gastric dilatation-volvulus, physical rehabilitation, diabetes mellitus and an extra special one on cancer. On a personal note, look for an upcoming topic on “aquaponic gardening” which is another passion of mine. I will also update everyone very soon on the progress of our new building, a project which has been two years in the planning and is getting closer and closer to fruition. Of course, this does take a great deal of my time and thus the delayed blogs of late. I can’t blame all the delays on critter care. I will say that the new building will be something to behold and I know you will all enjoy it a great deal!

 This week I have a shorter blog than those of recent weeks. I actually have a couple of warnings for all the WBAH pet parents. As you know, we are in the midst of a drought here in Southern California. This will not be a blog to lecture you about conserving water. I will leave that to your own common sense. So I won’t mention things like switching to native landscapes and sweeping the driveway instead of washing it down etc. No, this blog is a reminder that we share our suburban lives with wild animals. How does that tie in with a blog written by a veterinarian? Well, the wild animals that normally do not impact us too much are leaving the hills in search of water and food. Sadly, cats and dogs qualify as a food source. This week alone, we have had 4 animals attacked by coyotes. It is beginning to feel like coyote attacks are coming close to outnumbering dog bite wounds. Coyotes do not attack to win a fight and wander off. They attack with the intent to make a meal of your dog or cat. I suspect we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. As I drive through Whittier, there is always a sign or two about a missing dog or cat. Sadly, a significant number of these missing cats and small dogs have probably fallen victim to being carried off by a coyote. Coyotes are primarily nocturnal hunters but MANY daytime attacks have been documented as well. In fact, a rather old documentary shown on public television many years ago showed that coyotes around Griffith Park in Los Angeles have long adapted their lifestyle to suburban life in the communities surrounding the park. They begin their hunt as people leave for work. Most of our Whittier area coyote attacks are in the evening and over night, but not all of them are.


Prevention of coyote attacks:

1. Cats – Keep your cats inside – this one is foolproof. Indoor cats do not get eaten by coyotes. For those cats that must go outside or remain indoor/outdoor cats, please understand there is a risk. I’m not saying all cats must be kept inside. I’m saying that there is risk for a cat to be outside. The longer the cat is outside, the risk will of course increase. Cats that spend the night outside are in the highest risk group. In Whittier, the risk is greatest up near the hills. The neighborhoods surrounding Uptown Whittier, Friendly Hills and La Serna HS are probably at the highest risk. However, we have seen coyote attacks in neighborhoods below Whittier Blvd as well. Coyotes are not adverse to trotting down our streets. They can easily use the green beltway as a conduit to cross busy streets and access neighborhoods you would not think they can get to.

2. Dogs – the smaller the dog, the greater the risk. The highest risk dogs are dogs under 20 to 25 lbs. Small dogs might think they are tough, but are no match for a coyote. Most coyote attacks on dogs are small dogs being attacked in their backyard at night. Coyotes have no difficulty hopping a 5 foot fence. Many clients think their dogs are safe in their own backyard but that is where most attacks occur.  Keep an eye on your small dogs when they are out in the backyard. On that final trip outside at night to go potty, go with your dog. Don’t leave food outside, pet or human. If you feed outdoors, feed only what the dog can eat in a few minutes then pick up the uneaten food. If your dog is leaving food in the dish, you may be feeding too much. That’s a subject for another blog which I believe I have already written. Remember the nutrition blog? The point is that uneaten food will attract wildlife. Everything from ants to possums, raccoons and coyotes. Always leash walk all dogs. Don’t let small dogs walk off leash.  As a matter of fact, don’t let big dogs walk off leash either.

A number of years ago, we had clients who lived just off a golf course. They enjoyed strolling in the evening with their small dogs on the fairway that was near their home. As the two small dogs scampered ahead of them, no more than 100 feet from the owners, a coyote dashed out from the bushes lining the fairway, grabbed one of the dog’s and took off. They never saw their dog again. Don’t let this happen to you. If a coyote grabs your pet and you witness it, do all possible to make a lot of noise. Yell, scream and give chase because there is a chance that the animal will drop your pet. We have had a number of clients save their dog’s lives by chasing the coyote off. Now, I am not advocating getting into a physical confrontation with a coyote but sometimes startling the coyote will make them drop their prey. Treatment is obviously based by what and where the damage is on your critter.



This spring has also produced the greatest number of rattlesnake bites we have seen in a number of years.  It is estimated that about 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by snakes each year in this country. The vast majority of these snake bites (99%) are bites by Crotalidae. By what? Pit vipers. The family Crotalidae includes rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins. In our neck of the woods, it’s the Western Diamondback rattlesnake.

The venom is a complex mix of bioactive enzymes and peptides. Some of these enzymes aid in spreading the venom through the tissues. Other enzymes in the venom lead to coagulopathies (clotting problems) and tissue necrosis. The venom damages small blood vessels called capillaries and causes them to leak red blood cells and plasma. This accounts for the swelling and bruising. Snake bitten dogs suffer from clotting problems (coagulopathies), low platelet numbers (more bleeding problems), pain (snake bites are PAINFUL), and renal failure. If the dog is unfortunate enough to be bitten by the Mohave Green rattlesnake we can add neurotoxicity to the mix as well.

The severity of the signs directly correlates to the amount of venom introduced into the dog or cat. Snakes have control over how much venom they release. The more they feel threatened the more they release. Most snake bites occur on the head and face. Dogs frequently investigate with their nose. Curiously, cats will often be bitten either on the face or the front feet, because they also investigate with their feet. The symptoms include fang marks (sometimes hidden under the hair coat), swelling, edema and considerable pain. We will also see redness and bruising. Did I mention pain? Swelling worsens with time. Upon presentation at the animal hospital, we will run laboratory work, including clotting profiles. These may need to be repeated depending on response to therapy. Treatment includes treatment for shock, fluid support, and pain management. The cornerstone of treatment is antivenin which works by neutralizing venom. The sooner it is administered the better. That is not to say a dog that doesn’t receive antivenin won’t survive. Many still do survive, but the best chance for survival is administering antivenin as soon as possible. Other medication may be used at the discretion of the treating veterinarian depending on severity of signs.

copperheadsnake                     diamondbackrattlesnake

Copperhead Snake                                                                       Diamondback Rattlesnake


Water Moccasin Snake

Prevention of Snake Bites:

Keep dogs on leashes and closely supervised when in or near known or prime snake habitats. Cats are safest inside if you live in areas of high snake density. If you hunt with your dog in areas where rattlesnakes are known to be in abundance, enroll in a snake avoidance class. There is also a rattlesnake toxoid vaccination. Two doses are given about one month apart. We still don’t know just how effective this vaccination is. By that I mean if your dog has been vaccinated and gets bitten by a rattlesnake, I would not take that to mean you don’t have to rush your dog to a veterinarian. I would still advise immediate emergency treatment. The hope with the vaccination is that the dog would have less severe symptoms than one who had not received the vaccination.

 Well, that’s all I’ve got for this week’s blog. Certainly shorter reading than the renal failure treatise I wrote. Until next time……..

 Dr. Voorheis

Leave a comment