Southern California is home to a native population of rattlesnakes (genus Crotalus) that can harm our pets.
On average, the doctors at The Drake Center treat one snake bite per week in peak rattlesnake season, between the months of May and September. Thankfully, a preventative vaccine is currently available for dogs—but is it a good fit for your family?
This vaccine—given in two doses one month apart the first year, followed by an annual booster— stimulates the immune system to generate protective antibodies against rattlesnake venom. These protective antibodies function by neutralizing the venom in the case of a bite. After vaccination, dogs are reported to experience less pain and have a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bites. Testing has been performed to show that serum from vaccinated dogs and other animals neutralizes venom from a number of species of Crotalus found in the United States.
Photo Credit: Ann Althouse
It is essential to note, however, that the vaccine does not eliminate the need to seek emergency veterinary care after the pet is bitten. Even a vaccinated dog may still go into shock and need lifesaving medical care, including an injection of antivenin to neutralize the toxicity of the venom. The vaccine also does not provide protection against venom from the Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth), Mojave Rattlesnake or Coral Snake.
Treatment for rattlesnake evenomation involves:
- Treating for shock with intravenous fluids, pain medications and steroids
- Treating the wound with topical therapy and antibiotics
- Testing and treating for coagulopathies (trouble clotting the blood)
- Administration of intravenous antivenin and monitoring for anaphylactic reactions
All pets will need to be hospitalized and most pets will need 24-hour care at an emergency hospital. If the pet was bitten by a Mojave Rattlesnake, a second type of antivenin will be needed to combat the neurologic toxicity associated with this type of venom.
At The Drake Center, we do not recommend the rattlesnake vaccine for all dogs, but we do carry it for clients who request it for their pets. The best way to know whether the rattlesnake vaccine is a good choice for your dog is to speak with your veterinarian.
Photo Credit: Jasper Nance
What is the best way to protect my pet against rattlesnakes?
- When it comes to preventing snake bites, avoidance is key. If you see a snake, walk the other way or pass at a safe distance and keep your dog on a short leash. The rattlesnake vaccine is just another defense against a possible bite.
Is the rattlesnake vaccine safe for my pet?
- For most, yes. However, dogs that are ill, have an immunosuppressive condition or have had an adverse reaction to any other vaccine should not receive the rattlesnake vaccine.
Does my pet’s lifestyle put him/her at an increased risk for a rattlesnake bite?
- Increased risk may include living in an area with high rattlesnake activity, such as Rancho Santa Fe, Santaluz or Olivenhain, frequent walks along trails or any other regular exposure to rattlesnakes. It may also include camping or hiking in areas where veterinary care is not readily available.