The Southwestern state of Arizona comes with beautiful desert landscapes, a wide variety of plant and animal life, and breathtaking sunsets. If you and your dog have just moved to the state, you’re on-board to see an abundance of natural beauty all around you. However, because of its desert climate, your pup is also at risk for some undesirable encounters.
Arizona is home to numerous plants, animals, and weather conditions that can be dangerous to canines big and small. From coyotes to cacti, dust storms to monsoons, this guide will cover the state’s greatest dangers to your pet and offer solutions to avoid them. The best way to keep your dog safe is to be knowledgeable about your new home so that you’re prepared in the event of an emergency.
Keep in mind that the first step to keeping your dog safe is by making sure she is up-to-date on all vaccinations and has proper identification, including tags and a microchip. If you’ve just moved, be sure to update her microchip information so that it reflects your current address and contact information. And don’t forget to always put her leash on her when going for walks. By taking on Arizona as prepared as possible ahead of time, you’ll both fall in love with your new home!
Coyotes, Bears, and Wildcats
One of the most common — and perhaps the most confusing to your dog — animal predators in Arizona is the coyote. These close canine cousins are excellent, dangerous manipulators. They usually hunt nocturnally in packs, working as a team to lure and attack their prey. Often one will act injured, howling and whining to gain a prey animal’s attention and get its guard lowered. When the prey is close enough, the others in the pack attack. You may come across them on an evening walk down the street or even find one hiding in brush by your house.
Black bears are the only remaining species of bear in the state of Arizona. Usually, they detect humans and move to another area before they are even noticed. However, they are unpredictable and can be very dangerous, especially if they’ve been conditioned to people and their food. They may find themselves attracted to your yard to snack on the seed in your bird feeder, raid your garbage cans, or steal delicious delicacies off your grill.
If you’ve ever owned a cat, you know their amazing agility. Imagine that at about ten times the size, and you’ll quickly understand why wildcats and mountain lions are no joke! Their size, agility, and fantastic strength make them one of Arizona’s fiercest predators and a significant threat to your pet’s safety. They may enter your yard looking for food, water, or even just a shady spot to rest. If you’ve noticed one hanging around your area, it may be a female who’s recently had a litter.
If you happen to see any of these predators approaching your yard from a distance, bring your dog inside immediately. Coyotes and wildcats are usually scared off by loud noise and even a spray from the garden hose. It’s important to make sure they know they aren’t welcome on your property; acting indifferent to their presence (letting them scope out your yard as long as no one is outside) can have the same effect as feeding them and they’ll continue to return, putting you and your neighbors in constant danger.
Encountering any of these animals close-up can be a shock, but the first thing to remember is to stay calm. Quickly but smoothly pick up your dog, or keep her as close as possible if she’s a large breed. Maintain eye contact with the predator to show you are dominant, then yell or make loud noises to scare him off. Make yourself as large and threatening as possible, even throwing sticks or rocks at him. Never run as this could ignite a chase instinct. If he holds his ground, stay calm and maintain eye contact while slowly backing away. Move toward the closest building or area with people.
Birds of Prey
Predatory birds in your area will depend on where you live, but overall the state has a great presence of red-tailed hawks, Harris’s hawks, and great horned owls. These birds pose a year-round threat, which increases from September through April when northern birds have migrated to the area. Small dogs (under 20 lbs.) are at the greatest risk from these animals; it’s not entirely uncommon for them to be scooped up off the ground and carried away.
Make it a habit to do a quick scan of outside from a window before leaving the house with your dog. Be especially wary of your surroundings anytime you take a walk with her, checking both the trees around you and the skies above for any feathered party crashers. If you see one in your yard, bring your dog inside if she isn’t already and try to scare off the bird from a safe distance with loud noise, whistling, even banging pots and pans together. Great horned owls can often be dismissed with the beam from a bright flashlight.
If you’ve noticed that one seems to have built a nest in your yard, be sure to keep your dog away until the babies have left the nest. (This keeps the babies safe from your dog and your dog safe from a run-in with a protective mom!) Once you’re positive that all the babies have left, remove the nest. Remember that disturbing a nest with eggs or hatchlings violates both state and federal laws.
Snakes, Toads, and Lizards
There are 18 different species of rattlesnakes in Arizona, all of which are poisonous. Though they generally don’t hunt or eat small pets, they still present a significant danger. Part of their threat lies in how easily they can hide and may feel threatened even if you and your pup haven’t realized their presence. They may venture under your car, porch, or any bushes around your home. Avoid going on walks together during summer nights when snakes are most active, and be especially careful to keep her from sniffing around brush areas or rocks where they may be hiding.
If your dog is bitten by a snake, keep her as calm as possible and get her to a vet immediately. Do your best to note what kind of snake it was or what it looked like so you can describe it to your vet to ensure the best treatment. There will likely be immediate, painful swelling around the bite area, so take care to keep it undisturbed.
Gila monsters are large, venomous lizards that can grow up to two feet in length and weigh more than five pounds. They can be identified by their black bodies with dramatic pink, orange, or yellow body markings. They are not usually aggressive, but will bite if they are provoked or feel threatened. They hibernate and sometimes end up trapped in the yards of new homes built during the winter, so if yours fits the bill you may want to check around your property and be wary and watchful until they emerge in the spring.
Should you and your dog encounter one, keep her as far away from the lizard as possible. Gila monsters will open their mouths very wide and hiss to warn off potential threats, so heed this warning seriously and keep your dog close. They tend to chew once they’ve latched onto a victim to better inject their venom into the wound, and the result is severe and painful.
Desert toads (also known as Colorado toads) spend much of their lives burrowed underground, so it may be difficult to truly know their presence in your area until they emerge during the summer monsoon season. Skin glands on the animal produce a potent, deadly toxin that can be fatal to a full-grown dog. Even a curious sniff or lick can be life-threatening, but she’s also at risk for passive ingestion of the toxin. The toads have been known to take a dip in dogs’ water bowls, meaning she could consume the venom without ever seeing a toad. Symptoms of ingesting the toxin include excessive salivation, pawing at the mouth, irregular gait, and irregular heartbeat. If your dog displays any of these signs, use a garden hose to rinse her mouth out from back to front and call a vet immediately.
Scorpions and Tarantulas
Though most species of scorpions aren’t poisonous to humans, the Arizona bark scorpion can be a dangerous adversary to your dog. Brown in color and about 7-8 centimeters in length, their sting is very painful and can cause drooling, itchiness, tremors, irregular eye movement, and abnormal heartbeat and blood pressure. They like to hide in cool areas like under brush, rocks, and tree bark, so watch her curious nose anytime she goes for a walk, to the park, or even explores the backyard. If she gets stung, apply ice and call a vet for further advice.
Tarantulas pose two main threats to your dog: they have barbed abdominal hairs causing extreme irritation, and fatal venom administered through bites. Often, an inquisitive dog will walk away with a face full of barbed hairs by either making contact with an introductory sniff or when the tarantula gets on his hind legs and brushes the hair off his abdomen toward her. The hairs are not only itchy and irritating, but also very difficult to remove. If your dog is attacked by a tarantula, keep her as calm as possible and prevent her from touching the affected area. Get to a vet immediately to safely remove the hairs or treat the bite.
Protecting Your Home from Animal Predators
There are several ways you can reduce the likelihood any of these predators will enter your yard:
- Never feed any wild animals. Even feeding the prey of dangerous predators can lead to their presence in your area.
- Store garbage in wildlife-proof containers — bear-proof garbage cans tend to be some of the strongest — and don’t take them out until the latest possible time on pick-up day.
- Always feed your dog inside and gather any of her rawhides or chew bones from the yard before you go inside.
- Always supervise your dog when she’s outside, and ideally keep her in a secure, roofed enclosure.
- Install a fence at least six feet high and bury the bottom a few inches underground to prevent climbing over or digging underneath. Keep in mind that a fence isn’t a guarantee, but you can make it more secure by adding barbed or electric wire.
- Add motion sensor lighting to your yard, especially by entrances and the garage.
- If your dog has an outdoor kennel, make sure it has a roof.
- Remove bird feeders from your yard. Though they can be a beautiful lawn ornament, they’re an enticing offer to predators.
- If you have fruit or nut trees, make it a habit to pick up fallen bits.
- Talk to your neighbors or neighborhood association about prevention. If one house on your street is inadvertently providing a food source, the predators will be active throughout the neighborhood.
- Remove brush and cover around your property to eliminate potential hiding spots (a 50-yard barrier is ideal if possible).
Experts estimate there are more than 700 species of plants that can sicken or kill pets. In Arizona part of the problem is a lack of grass, causing bored, curious, or ill dogs to instead ingest an unfamiliar shrub or flower. These dangerous plants may cause symptoms like drooling, vomiting, or diarrhea, or cause serious problems like kidney, liver, or heart failure. Never let your dog approach a plant you aren’t familiar with, even if it’s just a sniff, or let her drink directly from a creek, lake, or other natural source.
- Angel’s trumpet
- Black walnut
- Buckeye, horse chestnut
- Bushman’s poison
- Carolina Jessamine
- Castor bean
- Century plant
- Cestrum, jasmine
- Chinaberry tree
- Coral bean
- Cycad, sago palm
- Desert rose
- Dracaena, corn plant
- Euphorbias, spurges
- Fish tail palm
- Four o’clocks
- Golden shower tree
- Heavenly bamboo
- Jade plant
- Jimson weed
- Kentucky coffee tree
- Lily of the valley
- Locust tree
- Macadamia nut
- Mescal bean
- Mesquite bean
- Mexican bird of paradise
- Peacock flower
- Rhododendron, azalea
- Rubber vine
- Sacred datura, Jimson weed
- Slipper flower
- Tung nut
- Virginia creeper
Do research to find what plants are common to your area of the state and take note of what you see around your neighborhood. When trimming your own plants, be sure to clean away the clippings before allowing your dog in the area. Talk to any surrounding neighbors to find out the kinds of plants they have in their yards — if your dog were to get loose and return sick from eating the wrong plant, you’ll be able to save precious moments at the vet’s office by being able to narrow down the potential culprits. After ingestion, you likely only have an hour or two to help your best friend rid herself of the toxin.
If your dog does consume a questionable plant, remove any parts remaining in her mouth or around her snout. Rinse around her mouth with water from back to front, being careful not to force any water down her throat and potentially into her lungs. Allow her to drink only a small amount of water and call a vet or poison control center immediately. If you’re unsure what the plant is, take a clear photo or a clipping to bring to your vet.
Put together a canine first aid kit so you’re prepared for any situation. You may want to include:
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Oral dosing syringe (or turkey baster)
- Teaspoon/tablespoon set
- Liquid hand washing detergent
- Rubber gloves
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Vitamin E oil
- Ophthalmic saline solution or artificial tears
- Can of tuna packed in water or canned pet food
Then there’s that prickly plant predator: cacti. It’s natural for your pup to be curious about these bizarre-looking plants, but even the lightest brush-up against a cactus like the jumping cholla can mean pain and misery for your pup. This species of cacti has pads that easily separate from the main stem, often flinging a bigger piece of the plant onto a passerby. Plus, animals like small lizards and rats may run under a cactus for a quick hiding spot with a built-in defense system. Always bring tweezers and antiseptic on your walks and hikes with your dog just in case.
Probably the biggest weather risk your pooch faces in Arizona is extreme heat. Introduce her to the new climate as gradually as possible, especially if you come to the area in the summer. Pets with short, light-colored fur, especially on their ears, are especially susceptible to sunburns and skin cancer. Talk to your vet about a good dog sunscreen if you think yours may be at risk.
One of the most important things to remember is to, under any circumstance or deadline, never leave your dog in a parked car. On a warm day car interior temperatures can rise rapidly to dangerous levels — even with a window cracked — and the longer you’re gone, the hotter it gets. Leaving a dog in this condition is not only cruel torture, but it can also cause irreversible organ damage and even death in less than five minutes.
Even leaving the car running with the A/C on is risky; some dogs have accidentally hit the gear shift and sent the car rolling away.
It’s especially important to watch your pet’s heat tolerance when exercising. Consider the following tips when it comes to getting your dog the proper exercise in Arizona:
- Start small with light walks around the block, preferably during the cooler hours.
- Even as she gets used to the climate, adjust the intensity and duration of your workouts together based on the temperature outside.
- On hot summer days, limit exercise to mornings and evenings when it’s cooler.
- Check the asphalt before you let her walk on it; if it’s too hot for you to step on (or place your hand flat down on), it’s too hot for her. Limit her footpath to the grass.
- Pay special attention if your dog is a short-nosed breed like a pug or bulldog. These breeds have difficulty breathing, which is often amplified in intense heat.
- Always carry plenty of extra water, a drinking bowl, and some cold, damp towels in a plastic bag.
- Give her plenty of breaks in the shade. She may need more or longer rests than usual.
Your pup can overheat even while outside calmly exploring or resting, so find ways to keep her cool anytime she’s outdoors. Always provide a large, cool water source (adding ice cubes during heat waves never hurts), and plenty of shady, breezy spots to escape the heat. This may mean buying a tarp if your yard doesn’t have many large trees. You can even buy cooling vests, mats, and body wraps to fight against the scorching sun, or give her a yummy frozen treat to take the edge off.
Whether your dog is exercising or enjoying your own backyard, pay close attention to signs of heat stroke:
- Heavy panting
- Glazed eyes
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Deep red or purple tongue
If she exhibits these symptoms, get her inside to the A/C or to a shady spot if you’re hiking. Apply cold towels or ice packs to her head, neck, and chest and let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her immediately to the vet, and call them to let them know you’re coming.
Arizona is unique in that not only is extreme heat an issue, but also intense cold. The temperature at night may drop as much as 50 degrees depending on the area and season, so it’s important to be sure your dog is ready for colder temperatures as well. To fight the cold:
- Check the temperature before you leave the house. If it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your dog.
- Consider buying a sweater for your short-haired dog to wear on walks.
- Always bring her indoors overnight and for any extended period of time.
- Don’t let her sleep on a heating pad or electric blanket. It could burn her, or be even more dangerous if she decides to chew on it.
- Watch to see how much food she’s consuming; depending on her exercise level, she may need more to help her keep warm during her playful romps outside, or less if she’s older or more sedentary. Consult your vet before making any major diet changes.
- Take special care when storing antifreeze and clean up spills immediately. It tastes sweet to dogs but can be lethal.
Monsoon Season (Yes, you read that right!)
Arizona monsoon season begins June 15 and ends September 30, and storms typically peak between mid-July and August. It’s caused by a combination of factors. First, warm air creates surface low-pressure zones, which in turn pull in the moist ocean air. Next, the winds switch from their normal western direction to southeasterly summer winds, bringing even more moisture. The wind shift and moisture increase combined with the surface low pressure produces storms in a cycle of “bursts” (heavy rainfall) and “breaks” (reduced rainfall).
Because of this dramatic seasonal weather change, it’s important you never leave your dog outside in the summer while you are away from home. Though the rainstorms are usually short in duration, they bring heavy rainfall and strong winds. In especially mountainous areas, they can cause flash floods capable of relocating a grounded boulder — your pooch would be no match for the currents! Even if you’re only leaving the house for an hour and she has plenty of shade and cool water available to her, always bring your dog inside before leaving. These storms can be unpredictable and it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Dust storms usually occur quite suddenly and intensify quickly. They come in the form of an enormous dust wall that may be miles long and thousands of feet high. Though they can happen at any time, they are most frequent from May through September with a peak in June.
Dust storms, also known as haboobs (coming from the Arabic word for “wind”), are one more excellent reason to never leave your dog outside unattended. It’s important to protect her from the blinding, choking dust they bring, not to mention winds that could reach up to 30 miles per hour. If left outside when one strikes, she’s not only in physical danger but also at risk for becoming disoriented and getting lost. She could accidentally wander into the street, into a body of water with no clear way out, or into the wilderness where she may come face-to-face with any number of predators. Leaving her out in a dust storm also puts her at risk for catching valley fever, a fungal infection affecting her respiratory system.
It may be valuable to invest in a pair of dog goggles that will protect her eyes in the event you two are ever caught in a dust storm. Keep a pair for your pup and some goggles for yourself in the car or with your walking gear so you’re always prepared. If you’re driving when a dust storm strikes, safely pull off to the side of the road, put on your emergency brake turn off your lights, and wait out the storm. If you’re outside, keep your dog close and put on your goggles first, then put hers on. Shield your face and look for shelter; an enclosure is ideal, but anything that blocks you from the wind can help, even a parked car. Crouch down and cover yourself and your dog to avoid getting hit with debris.
Life in Arizona certainly comes with its own share of challenges, but with the proper preparation ,you can tackle your new home with ease. Remember, never put your dog in a situation that you wouldn’t want to be in, whether it’s volatile weather, easy access to dangerous predators, or walking on pavement that feels like burning coals. Face this journey as partners and you’ll be successful and happy in your new home state!