Desert Pet Threats: Snakes, Toads, Spiders & Scorpions

By Dr. Kirstin Young, D.V.M. — The desert can be a dangerous place for humans, but it can also present a serious threat to our four-legged friends. Here are some of the dangers and what you need to know.


Rattlesnake Bite

The diamondback is the most common rattlesnake we see in this area, and it can be deadly to dogs and cats. Rattlesnakes can control the amount of venom they inject, and about one-quarter of all rattlesnake bites are dry, meaning no venom is injected. Best not to assume this is the case if you suspect your pet has been bitten.


Usually appear within 30 minutes to two hours, but can take up to eight hours.

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain at the site of the bite
  • The venom can affect the blood and various organs leading to death.

Get to the veterinarian immediately. Many animals survive a rattlesnake bite with appropriate treatment.


The vaccine may decrease the amount of pain and swelling, and give you a little more time to seek treatment. But it is not a substitute for treatment. Vaccinated dogs can die from a rattlesnake bite. Snake avoidance classes for your dog are available. Ask your veterinarian about both of these options.

Colorado River Toad (Sonoran Desert Toad) Poisoning

These creatures are seen at night, commonly near water, from May through September. They grow up to 7 inches long and are olive green or mottled brown with a white underbelly. Glands behind the eyes, at the corner of the mouth and on the legs release a bitter, irritating venom.

Dogs often lick at the toad before actually biting it. The bitter taste is usually enough to stop most dogs and cats from exploring further.


While just a lick of venom is usually not dire, it can cause excessive drooling and pawing at the mouth. A larger dose of venom can cause:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Disorientation and stumbling
  • Death

Rinse your pet’s mouth well using a faucet or hose aimed from the back of the mouth towards the front of the mouth. This will help dilute any toxin and flush it out. Then, immediately take them to the veterinarian for further treatment.


Be observant while walking your dog at night. These toads can find their way into backyards, so you might not want to leave your pets unattended in the yard at night.

black widow spiderBlack Widow Spider Bite

The bite of a black widow can be fatal to dogs and especially cats.


Unlike other spider bites, there is not a lot of local redness, swelling or pain.


  • Cramping and rigidity of the muscles around the chest and belly
  • Extreme pain, some difficulty breathing and seizures


  • Salivation
  • Restlessness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Severe pain and tremors

Get to the veterinarian immediately.

scorpionScorpion Sting

Although scorpion venom can be just as harmful to dogs and cats as it is to people, it seems that they just don’t get stung that often. The scorpion stinger is very short and has a hard time getting through all that fur to penetrate the skin. Animals also tend to spot scorpions faster than people and are more agile. Like rattlesnakes, scorpions can control the amount of venom they inject and may not find dogs and cats as threatening as people.

  • Local pain, but not a lot of redness or swelling
  • With a large amount of venom, look for fever, excessive drooling, or other unusual behavior

If you suspect a more serious sting, seek medical treatment as scorpion venom can be fatal to your pet.

Dr. Kirstin Young, a Phoenix native, owns Daisy Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Anthem. This article was first published on Anthem News.


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