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.
Toads from Pet Poison Helpline
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.
Scorpions Pet Poison Helpline
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
Pet Poison Helpline for More information
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 alone if encountered. They will not attack but if threatened are most likely to flick hairs ( like little cactus spine) from their rump.
Arizona Spider ID
Black Widow Spiders
About Brown Recluse Spiders
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.
About Gila Monsters
Other Problems for Pets in our Desert:
Valley Fever (Coccidioides immitis)
What is it?
Valley fever is caused by a fungus which grows in the soil of our native desert environment. The fungus causes a disease commonly called valley fever because it occurs throughout the Sonoran desert valley. How does my pet get this disease?
The fungus is inhaled into the lungs and can spread to just about any part of the body.Do all exposed pets become ill?No, many pets, like people, will become infected and quickly develop immunity having never shown signs of disease. However, some pets (dogs and cats to a lesser extent) will develop the disease and we see clinical signs from the growth, spread, and location of the fungus in the body
What are the signs of infection?
Some signs seen in dogs are respiratory disease, limping, inner eye infections (uveitis), skin lesions (wounds, lumps) and seizures. Some dogs will not show any specific sign of infection, but the owners notice that they are lethargic and often have a decreased appetite.
Does it occur in cats?
Cats less commonly develop disease from the organism but they can become infected. They can show the same signs as dogs, but will often have open draining lesions from bone infections.
How do you diagnose the disease?
Diagnosis is via an antibody (blood) test specific for the organism. Scanning radiographs may be helpful depending on the body system involved. Radiographs (x-rays) will often show inflammation and enlarged lymph nodes on chest films but definitive diagnosis still requires a blood test.
What is the treatment?
Once infection is confirmed treatment can begin. Treatment for this infection should always be considered a long term process of at least a year. Typically, we’ll start medication after the diagnosis and recheck the blood titer every 3 months until negative. A titer is a measure of the patient’s immune response to the infectious organism. It is not an actual measure of the organism. However, a declining titer often correlates with an improvement in clinical signs (outward signs of illness) and resolution of the infection. Antibiotics are not useful in treating this fungal infection. Specific antifungal medication is needed. The more common medications are Ketoconazole, Fluconazole and Itraconazole. All the medications commonly occur in a pill form and are given once or twice daily by mouth. In the past the medications were cost prohibitive, but now they are widely available at many pet pharmacies at a reasonable price. All “azoles” can elevate the patient’s liver enzymes with continued use so liver values should be a routine part of screening. Ketoconazole tends to be the least expensive of the group and is widely used. Fluconazole is able to cross into the central nervous system and is the only drug used to treat “central” valley fever infection (typically the seizuring pet). I’ll often start pets on Fluconazole because in my experience it seems to have fewer side effects. But, all pets are different and many will respond well to Ketoconazole. Regardless of the drug used it is important to monitor the appetite and advise your veterinarian if a loss of appetite or vomiting is noted. As I’ve said, treatment for this disease is long term and you should not expect to quickly see an improvement. Often it is weeks before improvement is noted. You should not, however, see a progression of the disease.
How can I prevent infection in my pet?
Unfortunately, there is not a vaccine to prevent this disease. The best we can do in the valley is to reduce the risk factors for our pets and respond quickly to signs of disease. It is also important to realize that many pets will live all their lives in the valley and never become ill from this organism.
What are some factors that increase the risk of exposure? Dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors
- – Hiking/ hunting – Dogs that spend a lot of time in the native desert environment .
- – Dogs that like to dig
- – Dust storms
- – New Developments
- – caused by a fungus that grown in the soil
- – infects both dogs and cats
- – is inhaled into the lungs
- – can infect any part of the body
- – often see limping, coughing, respiratory distress, eye infections, seizures and weight loss
- – diagnosis is via blood testing and radiographs
- – treatment is with an azole type of drug
- – treatment is long term (at least a year)
- – regular blood testing of the liver is needed while on these medication
- Link for More information – http://www.vfce.arizona.edu/ValleyFeverInPets/