6 Dangers of Living in the Desert & How to Protect Your Pets

arizona desert
Living in Phoenix, AZ we are surrounded by a ton of beautiful desert landscape. Even though it is a large metropolitan city, we still have many things native to the desert right in our backyards. Here are 6 of the most common dangers associated with living in the desert and some tips on protecting your pet(s) from them.


This is a pretty obvious danger as Phoenix can reach temperatures of 120°F plus on a hot summer day here. One thing to be aware of is walking your pet on the hot ground. They can easily burn their paw pads which is very painful for them. Even short walks around the block and getting in and out of the car on the hot pavement or asphalt poses a risk to our pets. Some tips for dealing with the heat:

  • You can look into pet shoes if your pet will tolerate wearing them if you do have to take them out for potty walks.
  • Park close to entrances of the vet or groomer or wherever you must take your pet so they do not have to walk on the hot ground.
  • Leave your pet at home if they don’t NEED to go with you.
  • Never leave your pet in the car even if you are running a quick errand because temperatures in the care can rise quicker than you realize.
  • Find grassy areas to take your dog potty so they don’t have to stand on the hot rocks.
  • And remember, if you are not comfortable leaving your bare foot on the ground for at least 5-10 seconds then your pet isn’t either!


Even in the heart of the city you can encounter coyotes, javelinas, bobcats, and birds of prey. These are all dangerous to our pets, especially small dogs and cats that have outdoor access. The wildlife is very brave and will jump right in some ones yard to get a drink from the pool or go after a pet. Birds of prey including hawks and owls have been known to watch small dogs from rooftops and then swoop down and pick them up. Wildlife encounters are not uncommon and since we have encroached upon their territory they are often not even afraid of a human presence, especially if they have young with them. Tips for dealing with wildlife:

  • Keep your cats indoors.
  • Never let your dog outside unattended.
  • Close doggy doors at night.
  • Build an enclosed dog run for your dog to go outside to potty.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when walking.
  • Don’t walk in areas surrounded by desert around dusk and dawn when wildlife is more active.


There are many species of cactus in the desert and some are more dangerous than others. I try to avoid all cactus because even the ones that don’t look as prickly can still have tiny spines that you may not be able to see well. Jumping cholla is a species that people and pets very commonly find themselves battling with. Pieces easily break off and blow in the wind so they are often found in the middle of the sidewalk or road. These can easily stick to you or your pet even if you just brush by them. Here are some tips for dealing with cactus:

  • Stay on the sidewalk or well-marked trails when walking your dog.
  • Teach a “leave it” cue so that you can stop your pet before they decide to stick their nose in a cactus.
  • Keep your dog on a leash so they do not run off and step on a cactus.
  • Keep your cats indoors.
  • Carry tweezers or small pliers with you on walks in case you or your pet requires any to be removed.
  • Relocate any cactus in your back yard to your side yard or front yard where your pet will not have access to it.


Snakes are creatures tend not to bother us unless we bother them. Most often a dog will get bit in the face because they were sniffing around the area that the snake was hanging out or sniffing the snake itself. Snakes like to sunbath in the warm weather so they are often out and about during the day when you may be walking your dog. When you are walking, always remain aware of your surroundings so that you see any potential snakes before your dog does. They also can be found in bushes, under houses and sheds, right up against a house if its chilly outside, or in holes that they or other critters have created. There is a rattlesnake vaccine, but even if you choose to get your dog vaccinated you still need to get them to the vet right away for treatment if they’ve been bit. It can help reduce the symptoms and the need for as much anti venom but it does not make your dog immune. “Snake training” is something that trainers advertise that use shock collars to “teach” your dog to stay away from snakes. I will NEVER recommend “snake training” done with a shock collar or e-collar because there is no scientific evidence that it works and I have seen too many dogs have personality changes due to the fear and pain of the collar. Tips for dealing with snakes:

  • Snake proof your yard with snake proof fencing to help lessen the likelihood that snakes will wander over.
  • Teach your dog a “leave it” cue so that if you do encounter a snake they will not go over to sniff it.
  • Go outside with your pet to check to and make sure they do not find any sneaky snakes.
  • Keep your cat indoors.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when walking.


The Colorado River Toad, also know as the Sonoran Desert Toad, is toxic to dogs when they lick or eat them. They have poison on their skin which can make pets very ill or even cause death if they ingest it. The are most often found at night during monsoon season so that is when you should be on the lookout. Tips for dealing with toads:

  • Teach your dog a “leave it” cue.
  • Go outside with your dog.
  • Turn outside lights on when going out at night to be able to see what’s in the yard.
  • Keep your dog in a leash when walking.


Scorpions are creepy crawly creatures that look like they belong with the dinosaurs. They are quick moving and pretty intimidating for being such small creatures. If your pet or you is stung by one there isn’t always a reaction, but like a bee sting, if you are allergic the reaction can be severe. Benadryl is good to have on hand for any sort of bite or sting to lessen the symptoms so you are able to get to the vet. Cats are thought to be immune to them and while that may be true, I also think it’s because cats are faster than scorpions and typically play with them until they are dead. Tips for dealing with scorpions:

  • Have your house and yard treated regularly to get rid of the scorpions food source.
  • If your pet is pawing or barking or just acting funny at a spot on the ground, go check it out because they could be telling you there is a scorpion there!
  • Shake out bedding often.
  • Don’t leave shoes outside as they might make that their home.
  • Close your drains if you are in an area that you feel you have many.
  • Use a blacklight to find them in the dark in your yard so you know where they are coming from and also where to treat.

All of these dangers can seriously hurt or even kill a pet so it is very important to be diligent about knowing your surroundings and keeping an eye on your pet. Most encounters can be prevented by diligence. In the event that your pet encounters one of theses dangers and does get hurt, make sure you know where the nearest full service as well as emergency vet is since often accidents don’t happen at home.

While the desert is a wonderful place to live it has its dangers, just like any other area, that all pet owners need to be aware of. Arm yourself with the knowledge of your surroundings and you and your pet will be safer!