Sunday, August 29, 2010

Keep Your Pets Safe from Poisonous Creatures

By Ruthie Bently

Growing up in northern Illinois, I didn’t see many venomous creatures, though my friends and I found a nest of baby rattlesnakes one day under a railroad trestle; we figured they’d fallen off a train car passing overhead. While venomous creatures exist in most of the United States and around the world, many employ flight over fight unless cornered. Venomous creatures use their venom when hunting, and at times we and our pets are in the wrong place at the right time.

There are many poisonous spiders that are dangerous to our pets. The best known are the black widow, brown recluse and tarantula. There are three black widow spiders indigenous to the U.S. The Western (Lactrodectus hesperus) is found from southwestern Canada down into Mexico; the Northern (Lactrodectus variiolus) ranges from southeastern Canada to the northeastern U.S., and the Southern black widow’s (Lactrodectus mactans) range covers New York to Florida, the southeastern U.S., and to the west across Oklahoma and Texas. The black widow’s venom (a neurotoxin) is reputed to be fifteen times more dangerous than a rattlesnake’s, and symptoms include increased blood pressure, limb rigidity, shortness of breath, abdominal spasms and dizziness.

The brown recluse ranges from Illinois south to Texas and from West Virginia to Georgia. Its range is expanding due to inadvertent transport by humans, and might be found in any of the lower 48 states. Its venom causes tissue damage around the bite and in extreme cases liver or kidney damage. While the bite of a tarantula may be painful and not usually fatal to humans, it may be lethal to small pets. When threatened, tarantulas have the ability to kick hairs from their abdomen which cause a burning sensation to mucous membranes or sensitive skin. Their range in the U.S. covers the southwest, central California, and they’ve been found in southern Illinois. Symptoms include the wound becoming red and feeling warm, skin rash, itching, swelling of throat and lips, and cardiovascular collapse in extreme cases.

There are between 1,500 and 2,000 scorpions worldwide; over 70 species are found in North America. Scorpions are nocturnal and possess a sting used to capture and overcome prey. Scorpions can be found under stones, bark on trees, leaf litter on the ground, in dark crevices and dry abandoned dirt roads. All scorpions are venomous though the most toxic in the U.S. is the Bark Scorpion (also known as the Sculptured Scorpion). Its range covers southern Nevada, southern and western Arizona and southern Utah. Its sting is acutely toxic and can be life-threatening to a pet. The Hentz’s Striped Scorpion range covers Florida, the Gulf States and as far west as Arizona and Mexico. The Giant Hairy Scorpion (H. arizonensis) is the largest species of nine species of Hadrurus scorpions in the U.S., and is found in the southwest. The range of these species goes as far north as Idaho and as far east as Colorado.

There are venomous snakes in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. Three species of toxic coral snakes (elapids) inhabit the U.S. The coral snake is a banded snake with bands of red, yellow and black. It’s sometimes confused with the king snake which has the same color bands, but is non-venomous. There is an easy way to remember the difference.  Just remember this: “red on black, friend to Jack” (describes king snake banding pattern); “red on yellow, can kill a fellow” (describes coral snake banding pattern).

The pit vipers include five species of copperheads, three species of cottonmouths (water moccasin), and thirty-one species of rattlesnakes including the Massasauga which is on the Endangered and Threatened Species List in several states. Some of these snakes may not be dangerous to humans, but they are to our pets. Hawaii doesn’t have a venomous terrestrial snake, but it does have the Yellow-bellied sea snake, a cobra family member. Its range encompasses the Pacific Ocean, from Africa to the western coast of the Americas, including many Pacific islands to Hawaii, and it’s found near the coasts of Costa Rica and Panama. They’re helpless if beached, but should be avoided. For more information see Linda Cole’s article What to Do If a Snake Bites Your Pet. If snakes are numerous where you live, consider snake aversion therapy.

Being a responsible pet owner means keeping your pet safe from venomous creatures. If you sight an animal on your property, your pet catches one, or one bites your animal here are two good websites for information. At you can find species by identification and locate a species you’ve seen or find out what dangerous creatures are indigenous to your area of the country. lists venomous species by state.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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