Sudden Disappearance of an Older Dog

Rattlesnake Bite is a Strong Possibility


When I was hiking in the foothills with my two female rottweiler mixes (age 9 and 12) I realized that the older one was gone. We have hiked this same trail so many times. She has always found her way back to me. Now I’ve lost her. I didn’t hear or see anything and my other dog didn’t either. What could have happened?


Dr. Nichol:

I’m so sorry for your loss. I suspect a wild animal attack- most likely a rattlesnake, perhaps a mountain lion. You may wish you’d left your older girl home that day but you were actually doing a good thing.


Large breed dogs over age 8 are highly prone to degenerative joint disease. A couple of brisk walks every day has been shown to slow arthritic changes-but there are risks. Temperatures of 70 degrees or higher guarantee the dispersal and activity of desert reptiles. A rudely disturbed rattlesnake could have quickly incapacitated your canine senior.


The damage from rattlesnake bites is a function of the amount of venom injected and the physical condition of the victim. These toxins cause shock and severe pain. Some dogs develop a life-threatening clotting disorder called DIC. Treatment with antivenin is often necessary but it carries its own risks and it’s expensive.


You can stack the deck in your other dog’s favor with the rattlesnake vaccine. It does not prevent all of the damage in every case but it will diminish the severity of injury. Treatment ASAP at the nearest veterinary hospital should be considered essential for every suspected bite.


I also recommend snake proofing. There are local trainers who can help you. A company called Natural Solutions ( is another option.





Reader Response to Loose Dogs & Rattlesnake Bite Risk


Last week’s Pet Care Column missed an important opportunity to comment on responsible pet ownership and use of a leash during hikes. A dog would not be missing if the owner used a leash as required in both Albuquerque Open Space and the Cibola National Forest. Question: what would you recommend when dogs (always on leashes) are attacked by a loose German shepherd and the owner swears at you when you demand that he use a leash?


Dr. Nichol:

You’re right, of course. Leashed dogs get into less trouble. But, (there is always a but) canine behavior is more complex than that. Our highly social companions need to explore, read the bulletin boards, and post a few messages-unrestrained. They have to stop and smell the rear ends along the way.


We dog owners are responsible for more than just physical care; behavioral well-being is equally important. The risks of rattlesnakes and dog bites and fights can be mitigated by reliable voice control in places where the law does not require leashes. I carry a can of Spray Shield ( to deter canine marauders. Bring a bar of soap to wash out the mouths of naughty people who swear.