GREAT FALLS — On July 19, 2023, Tamra Pontow was walking along Sulphur Springs Trail just northeast of Great Falls - near Morony Dam - with her two dogs.
While the trail is one of many places in North Central Montana to enjoy the outdoors, that comes with some precautions. That is what Tamra learned as one of her dogs was struck by a prairie rattlesnake.
Tamra recalled the events leading up to the incident.
"I decided to take the dogs up for a walk as it was nice out. I didn't have anything in mind. I just started driving and ending towards the Sulphur Springs Trailhead. I've hiked it before, and honestly, in all of the camping and hiking I've ever done, I've never seen a rattlesnake. It was not on my mind. I got there and walked maybe 100 feet down the trail and saw two snakes in the path and decided not to continue. I turned around and right at the edge of the parking lot, I heard Cricket (the dog) yelp. I didn't see anything in her paws. I Just saw a couple little blood spots on her leg and immediately panicked."
The dog spent the night at an emergency vet clinic.
Tamra said, "I called my best friend to have her meet me at the emergency vet to pick up my other dog and take him home. I was just sobbing the entire time. I had zero experience with rattlesnakes, so I had no idea what to expect or how quickly or dangerous it could be for a dog her size. I called a couple emergency vets to see who's open. Fortunately, Big Sky (Animal Medical Center) was open, and they were closest to the edge of town.
Tamra said Cricket has been doing much better than she expected. She said the swelling and limping is still there, but she has been taking antibiotics and pain killers.
"She's wanting to run and play again, although I have to remind her to take it easy for a few more days at least. I'm just happy to have her back to normal."
The prairie rattlesnake, Montana’s only native venomous snake, is found throughout the state, according to the Montana Field Guide.
The prairie rattler likes tall grass, riverbanks, and rocky outcrops that face the sun. If you go out for a hike, walk with a group, keep your dog on a leash, and consider a walking stick. If you do hear a rattle, check your surroundings.
We checked in with First People's Buffalo Jump State Park near the town of Ulm to hear how common rattlesnake sightings are.
Park manager Clark Carlson-Thompson stated, "Rattlesnakes are pretty common, especially out here on the prairies. They love to get out in the sun during the day to warmed up. Being cold-blooded, they really seek that outside source, but they also make sure they aren't getting too hot. So shady or covered areas are where you are also going to find rattlesnakes.
Clark added as far as he knows, there have not been any reports of bites on humans, although there have been instances of dogs getting bit in the past.
"We try to let folks know and keep them aware," Clark said. "We have warning signs on each of the trail heads letting folks know about rattlesnakes. A lot of it is keeping your ears and eyes open as you are hiking, and making sure you are seeing where your feet are so you're not in inadvertently stepping on them.
Last year, MTN News reported on the availability of a rattlesnake vaccine for dogs.
Anna Sims, DVM for Associated Veterinary Services, said at the time, "The rattlesnake vaccine is to build immunity against a rattlesnake bite for your dogs. The idea behind that is if or when your pet would get bit by a snake, then they would have some immunity of their own to that to be able to fight that bite, hopefully causing less of a severe reaction in buying you time to get to a veterinarian."
Veterinarians acknowledge that more clinical trials need to be done, which is why it's not a recommended core vaccine - such as rabies - but for those looking to head outdoors this summer, the vaccine will be offered if requested.
"I do recommend it on a case-by-case basis," Sims said, "and so what that means is I would recommend it if you are hiking, camping, fishing, going hunting, anything like that. I definitely recommend you talk to your veterinarian and see if it's right for your pet."
The veterinarians we talked with all said while the rattlesnake vaccine may be recommended, it is also important to discuss this with your dog's vet.
Veterinarians say it is a two-shot series that they give to start initially, and then booster annually after that. It is recommended during the spring time,
For basic tips on how to stay safe regarding rattlesnakes, click here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5393596.pdf
- Missing AZ teen found alive in Montana
- Driver charged with running over man
- Woman dead in grizzly bear attack
- Montana State Fair starts Friday in GF
- RECENT OBITUARIES